Commentary Magazine


Topic: Persian Gulf

Obama’s Iran Policy Is Producing Arab Fallout

A key concern of those who believe a nuclear Iran would be disastrous is that it would prompt “moderate” Arab states to switch into the Iranian camp — due to fear that America would be unable to protect them against a nuclear-armed neighbor and a desire to align themselves with the “strong horse,” which succeeded in going nuclear despite American opposition, rather than the “weak horse,” which proved unwilling or unable to prevent this development. But it now seems Iran won’t even need to obtain the bomb to make this happen: the growing realization that Washington has no real stomach for stopping it is enough.

This conclusion emerges from two incidents reported by Haaretz Arab affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el. First, Iran’s military exercises in the Persian Gulf this week were observed by “a high-level military delegation from Qatar. It was headed by Admiral Abed al-Rahim al-Janahi, who said his country wants to benefit from the Iranian experience, and that he was planning joint exercises for the two armies.”

This is particularly noteworthy given a fact that Bar’el didn’t mention: U.S. forces used Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base for their campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Qatar originally upgraded the base to lure the U.S. military. Now it’s planning joint military exercises with Iran.

Bar’el also quoted an Al-Arabiya interview with Turki al-Faisal, head of the King Faisal Institute of Global Strategic Studies — and also a former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, a former ambassador to London and Washington, the Saudi foreign minister’s brother, and King Abdullah’s cousin. As such, Bar’el wrote, al-Faisal most likely represents the ruling family’s views.

And what are those views? Hitherto, Riyadh has considered Tehran its chief regional rival. But al-Faisal termed the Gulf states’ ties with Iran “historic ties that are built on interests, blood relationships and proximity.” He also opposed sanctions on Tehran, saying he prefers “dialogue,” and said Israel posed a far greater threat to the region than Iran does.

The prospect of a shift in Saudi Arabia’s allegiance ought to alarm even the Obama administration. Saudi Arabia is not only one of America’s main oil suppliers; it’s also the country Washington relies on to keep world oil markets stable — both by restraining fellow OPEC members from radical production cuts and by upping its own production to compensate for temporary shortfalls elsewhere.

Granted, Riyadh is motivated partly by self-interest: unlike some of its OPEC colleagues, it understands that keeping oil prices too high for too long would do more to spur alternative-energy development than any amount of global-warming hysteria. And since its economy depends on oil exports, encouraging alternative energy is the last thing it wants to do.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been generally effective as stabilizer-in-chief of world oil markets and has no plausible replacement in this role. And since the U.S. economy remains highly oil-dependent, a Saudi shift into Iran’s camp would effectively put America’s economy at the mercy of the mullahs in Tehran.

That’s a prospect that ought to keep Washington policymakers awake at night.

A key concern of those who believe a nuclear Iran would be disastrous is that it would prompt “moderate” Arab states to switch into the Iranian camp — due to fear that America would be unable to protect them against a nuclear-armed neighbor and a desire to align themselves with the “strong horse,” which succeeded in going nuclear despite American opposition, rather than the “weak horse,” which proved unwilling or unable to prevent this development. But it now seems Iran won’t even need to obtain the bomb to make this happen: the growing realization that Washington has no real stomach for stopping it is enough.

This conclusion emerges from two incidents reported by Haaretz Arab affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el. First, Iran’s military exercises in the Persian Gulf this week were observed by “a high-level military delegation from Qatar. It was headed by Admiral Abed al-Rahim al-Janahi, who said his country wants to benefit from the Iranian experience, and that he was planning joint exercises for the two armies.”

This is particularly noteworthy given a fact that Bar’el didn’t mention: U.S. forces used Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base for their campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Qatar originally upgraded the base to lure the U.S. military. Now it’s planning joint military exercises with Iran.

Bar’el also quoted an Al-Arabiya interview with Turki al-Faisal, head of the King Faisal Institute of Global Strategic Studies — and also a former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, a former ambassador to London and Washington, the Saudi foreign minister’s brother, and King Abdullah’s cousin. As such, Bar’el wrote, al-Faisal most likely represents the ruling family’s views.

And what are those views? Hitherto, Riyadh has considered Tehran its chief regional rival. But al-Faisal termed the Gulf states’ ties with Iran “historic ties that are built on interests, blood relationships and proximity.” He also opposed sanctions on Tehran, saying he prefers “dialogue,” and said Israel posed a far greater threat to the region than Iran does.

The prospect of a shift in Saudi Arabia’s allegiance ought to alarm even the Obama administration. Saudi Arabia is not only one of America’s main oil suppliers; it’s also the country Washington relies on to keep world oil markets stable — both by restraining fellow OPEC members from radical production cuts and by upping its own production to compensate for temporary shortfalls elsewhere.

Granted, Riyadh is motivated partly by self-interest: unlike some of its OPEC colleagues, it understands that keeping oil prices too high for too long would do more to spur alternative-energy development than any amount of global-warming hysteria. And since its economy depends on oil exports, encouraging alternative energy is the last thing it wants to do.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been generally effective as stabilizer-in-chief of world oil markets and has no plausible replacement in this role. And since the U.S. economy remains highly oil-dependent, a Saudi shift into Iran’s camp would effectively put America’s economy at the mercy of the mullahs in Tehran.

That’s a prospect that ought to keep Washington policymakers awake at night.

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PowerPoint Run Amok in the Military

I have been spending the past few days with American military forces in the Persian Gulf region. Everywhere I have gone with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, military briefers have sheepishly prefaced their remarks by saying, “I read that story about PowerPoint, but I have a few PowerPoint slides I’d like to present anyway.” The story they’re referring to is this New York Times article, which suggests that the military is dangerously over reliant on this Microsoft program, which makes it all too easy to substitute glib bullet points for serious thought about pressing issues. Granted, PowerPoint in the right hands can be an efficient way to convey a lot of information, but Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster makes a good point when he says: “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” Undoubtedly true, but as my experience of the past few days demonstrates, PowerPoint isn’t going away anytime soon.

If only officers devoted as much time to the study of military history and strategy as they do to creating PowerPoint presentations, I suspect our armed forces would be even more formidable than they already are. And this is an addiction that is spreading: Armed forces tutored by Americans, including those of Afghanistan and Iraq, are using PowerPoint too. I’m generally a fan of American imperialism, but this is one habit we might be better off not exporting.

I have been spending the past few days with American military forces in the Persian Gulf region. Everywhere I have gone with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, military briefers have sheepishly prefaced their remarks by saying, “I read that story about PowerPoint, but I have a few PowerPoint slides I’d like to present anyway.” The story they’re referring to is this New York Times article, which suggests that the military is dangerously over reliant on this Microsoft program, which makes it all too easy to substitute glib bullet points for serious thought about pressing issues. Granted, PowerPoint in the right hands can be an efficient way to convey a lot of information, but Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster makes a good point when he says: “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” Undoubtedly true, but as my experience of the past few days demonstrates, PowerPoint isn’t going away anytime soon.

If only officers devoted as much time to the study of military history and strategy as they do to creating PowerPoint presentations, I suspect our armed forces would be even more formidable than they already are. And this is an addiction that is spreading: Armed forces tutored by Americans, including those of Afghanistan and Iraq, are using PowerPoint too. I’m generally a fan of American imperialism, but this is one habit we might be better off not exporting.

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Containment Is Coming

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami –  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.’” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

Two reports today strengthen the argument of those who suspect that sanctions on Iran are too little, too late, and that they are simply another stall for the Obami –  who are slow-walking toward containment. First, we learn that foreign investors are continuing to bolster the Iranian economy:

Forty-one foreign companies had some form of commercial activity in Iran’s energy sector over the past five years, despite American laws that could prompt U.S. sanctions against such firms, according to U.S. government auditors.

The report, to be released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office, found that some of the companies are headquartered in some of the U.S.’s closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. A similar GAO study conducted three years ago found half as many companies involved in Iran’s energy sector.

The GAO doesn’t say whether the companies are violating U.S. law but it’s obvious that, to date, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in squeezing Iran. (“The report is likely to add fuel to arguments made by congressional critics that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to punish companies doing business with Tehran.”) Will new international sanctions be any more successful in isolating the regime? Highly unlikely, especially since the most exacting (e.g., restricting sales of refined petroleum) ones are not even under consideration.

Then the Washington Post helpfully assists the administration in laying the groundwork for containment:

After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call “crippling” sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable — diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies.

The reporter then dutifully lines up a whole slew of containment advocates, with one lonely note of criticism from the other side. (“So far, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the pressure has ‘cost the Iranian economy but not affected Iranian decision-making.’ But he warned that containment will be ‘hard and difficult and may require the use of force to enforce red lines.’” Translation: it won’t work.)

But, but, but . . . Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. How could this be that we’re now throwing our hands in the air? Ah, those who took Obama literally — assuming Obama meant that we would not accept an nuclear-armed Iran — missed the “nuance.” Unacceptable plainly doesn’t mean unacceptable. You see, it’s the only option now — the gurus tell us:

Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is “exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies.” Iran may make what he called “tactical overtures” — such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.

Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. “We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?” he said. “One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse.”

For months, many of us have been predicting that this is precisely where the administration is heading. They never had a Plan B to engagement — at least not a viable one. Now, the Congress, the American people, Israel, and its supporters will have to decide how to respond to this outrageous abdication of American responsibility.

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Obama’s Perfect Record of Foreign Policy Failure

Obama has a knack for devising national security policies that do the opposite of what he intends — or at least tells us he intends. He engaged the Iranians to pierce through all that “mistrust”; they have come to view him with contempt. He avoided support for the Green Movement to prevent accusations of “foreign meddling”; the protesters hold up signs pleading with the U.S. not to legitimize the regime. He bashes Israel to ingratiate himself with the Palestinians; they resort to rock throwing and dig in their heels, awaiting the next round of concessions to be delivered to their doorstep. He announces the return of our ambassador to Syria; Bashar al-Assad cozies up to Iran and refuses any cooperation on human rights, Hezbollah support, or the Middle East “peace process.” Obama has a perfect record: our national interests are always undermined.

And now he declares a “no nuclear retaliation” stance against any Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty signatory that might hit us with chemical or biological weapons. As Charles Krauthammer points out:

Apart from being morally bizarre, the Obama policy is strategically loopy. Does anyone believe that North Korea or Iran will be more persuaded to abjure nuclear weapons because they could then carry out a biological or chemical attack on the United States without fear of nuclear retaliation?

The naivete is stunning. Similarly the Obama pledge to forswear development of any new nuclear warheads, indeed, to permit no replacement of aging nuclear components without the authorization of the president himself. This under the theory that our moral example will move other countries to eschew nukes.

The result? Certainly, it won’t be to deter North Korea or Iran from pursuing their own nuclear plans, which in turn will encourage others to do the same. Instead, as Krauthammer sums up, the more likely consequence of all this is: “Fend for yourself. Get yourself your own WMDs. Go nuclear if you have to. Do you imagine they are not thinking that in the Persian Gulf?” And we certainly must expect that Israel has gotten the “fend for yourself” part loud and clear. His nonproliferation will proliferate nuclear weapons, just as his Middle East “peace effort” foments violence and heightened tension.

So why is it that Obama is so often unproductive in his foreign policy forays? After all, with George W. Bush out of the way, Obama’s arrival was supposed to herald a new era of international cooperation. Alas, the kumbaya moment is fast becoming a dangerous food fight. Well, it turns out there aren’t “shared values” between the U.S. and its foes. It turns out that Obama’s personal charm is lost on despots. It turns out that American military force and the threat of it are the best guarantors of international peace and security. It turns out that downplaying human rights encourages thuggish behavior. It turns out that turning on our allies does not impress our enemies. In sum, nearly everything Obama believes about foreign policy is wrong and has been disproved by history and the current behavior of our adversaries. So until his vision aligns with reality, expect Obama’s “perfect” track record to continue.

Obama has a knack for devising national security policies that do the opposite of what he intends — or at least tells us he intends. He engaged the Iranians to pierce through all that “mistrust”; they have come to view him with contempt. He avoided support for the Green Movement to prevent accusations of “foreign meddling”; the protesters hold up signs pleading with the U.S. not to legitimize the regime. He bashes Israel to ingratiate himself with the Palestinians; they resort to rock throwing and dig in their heels, awaiting the next round of concessions to be delivered to their doorstep. He announces the return of our ambassador to Syria; Bashar al-Assad cozies up to Iran and refuses any cooperation on human rights, Hezbollah support, or the Middle East “peace process.” Obama has a perfect record: our national interests are always undermined.

And now he declares a “no nuclear retaliation” stance against any Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty signatory that might hit us with chemical or biological weapons. As Charles Krauthammer points out:

Apart from being morally bizarre, the Obama policy is strategically loopy. Does anyone believe that North Korea or Iran will be more persuaded to abjure nuclear weapons because they could then carry out a biological or chemical attack on the United States without fear of nuclear retaliation?

The naivete is stunning. Similarly the Obama pledge to forswear development of any new nuclear warheads, indeed, to permit no replacement of aging nuclear components without the authorization of the president himself. This under the theory that our moral example will move other countries to eschew nukes.

The result? Certainly, it won’t be to deter North Korea or Iran from pursuing their own nuclear plans, which in turn will encourage others to do the same. Instead, as Krauthammer sums up, the more likely consequence of all this is: “Fend for yourself. Get yourself your own WMDs. Go nuclear if you have to. Do you imagine they are not thinking that in the Persian Gulf?” And we certainly must expect that Israel has gotten the “fend for yourself” part loud and clear. His nonproliferation will proliferate nuclear weapons, just as his Middle East “peace effort” foments violence and heightened tension.

So why is it that Obama is so often unproductive in his foreign policy forays? After all, with George W. Bush out of the way, Obama’s arrival was supposed to herald a new era of international cooperation. Alas, the kumbaya moment is fast becoming a dangerous food fight. Well, it turns out there aren’t “shared values” between the U.S. and its foes. It turns out that Obama’s personal charm is lost on despots. It turns out that American military force and the threat of it are the best guarantors of international peace and security. It turns out that downplaying human rights encourages thuggish behavior. It turns out that turning on our allies does not impress our enemies. In sum, nearly everything Obama believes about foreign policy is wrong and has been disproved by history and the current behavior of our adversaries. So until his vision aligns with reality, expect Obama’s “perfect” track record to continue.

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Procrastination on Iran

At a weekend retreat in Finland, the foreign ministers of the EU met alongside the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Among the topics discussed was Iran. And among the conclusions emerging from the gathering, there is the admission by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, that there is little chance that new sanctions will be passed by the UN Security Council before June. Citing objections from China and Russia, Kouchner said: “We are … talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I’m not so sure.”

Nor is there certainty about the alternative – which, according to the news report, would be unilateral sanctions by the EU and the U.S.

Clearly, there are obstacles on the road to unilateral sanctions – philosophically, many EU countries oppose unilateralism and wish to proceed only after the UN has given the green light. Then, there is the skepticism about sanctions that are not binding on some of Iran’s main trading partners because such measures would fail to bite.

In short, sanctions, even limited ones, are a long way away, and it does not offer any succor to know that EU ministers are “talking about it.”

The fact of the matter is, the last time sanctions were approved was in March 2008, when UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was approved. That was two years ago. Then there was a U.S. presidential election. Then there was a U.S. policy review. Then there were Iranian presidential elections that nobody wished to interfere with. Then there was a summer holiday that nobody wished to spoil. Then there was a U.S. effort to engage the Iranian regime that nobody wished to undermine. Then there was a failed nuclear deal that everyone thought was a win-win situation. Then there was an end-of-the-year deadline that came and went without any Plan B ready to roll out on Jan. 1. Then there was the talking to convince China and Russia (to say nothing of Turkey, which meanwhile became a member of the Security Council), and now there is more talking for Plan C in case Plan B fails. What will the next reason for delay be?

The bottom line is that these are excuses, pretexts, and little else.

There is abundant evidence of Iranian mischief. There is nothing new by now about Iran’s policy of stalling talks. Russian and Chinese interests remain unchanged. The available options for sanctions have been dissected, debated, weighed, assessed, and are known.

It therefore comes down to the following: do the U.S. and the EU wish to stop Iran’s nuclear quest? If so, are they prepared to pay the political price required to make, at least, an honest and worthy effort? Are they willing to face up to the reality that there is simply no international backing for the kind of policies needed to stop Iran now and to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf later?

If the answer to these questions is yes, there is no need to wait for June. Otherwise, we know what a June deadline means – it means more stalling, more temporizing, more talking, and more procrastinating.

At a weekend retreat in Finland, the foreign ministers of the EU met alongside the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Among the topics discussed was Iran. And among the conclusions emerging from the gathering, there is the admission by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, that there is little chance that new sanctions will be passed by the UN Security Council before June. Citing objections from China and Russia, Kouchner said: “We are … talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I’m not so sure.”

Nor is there certainty about the alternative – which, according to the news report, would be unilateral sanctions by the EU and the U.S.

Clearly, there are obstacles on the road to unilateral sanctions – philosophically, many EU countries oppose unilateralism and wish to proceed only after the UN has given the green light. Then, there is the skepticism about sanctions that are not binding on some of Iran’s main trading partners because such measures would fail to bite.

In short, sanctions, even limited ones, are a long way away, and it does not offer any succor to know that EU ministers are “talking about it.”

The fact of the matter is, the last time sanctions were approved was in March 2008, when UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was approved. That was two years ago. Then there was a U.S. presidential election. Then there was a U.S. policy review. Then there were Iranian presidential elections that nobody wished to interfere with. Then there was a summer holiday that nobody wished to spoil. Then there was a U.S. effort to engage the Iranian regime that nobody wished to undermine. Then there was a failed nuclear deal that everyone thought was a win-win situation. Then there was an end-of-the-year deadline that came and went without any Plan B ready to roll out on Jan. 1. Then there was the talking to convince China and Russia (to say nothing of Turkey, which meanwhile became a member of the Security Council), and now there is more talking for Plan C in case Plan B fails. What will the next reason for delay be?

The bottom line is that these are excuses, pretexts, and little else.

There is abundant evidence of Iranian mischief. There is nothing new by now about Iran’s policy of stalling talks. Russian and Chinese interests remain unchanged. The available options for sanctions have been dissected, debated, weighed, assessed, and are known.

It therefore comes down to the following: do the U.S. and the EU wish to stop Iran’s nuclear quest? If so, are they prepared to pay the political price required to make, at least, an honest and worthy effort? Are they willing to face up to the reality that there is simply no international backing for the kind of policies needed to stop Iran now and to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf later?

If the answer to these questions is yes, there is no need to wait for June. Otherwise, we know what a June deadline means – it means more stalling, more temporizing, more talking, and more procrastinating.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Democrats  get fingered, again, as much less supportive of Israel than Republicans and Independents. Thankfully, however, overall support for Israel is up, “Which should be a comfort to supporters of the Jewish State, who have felt an icy breeze wafting from the White House over the past year.” Still it does reraise the question, given Jews’ overwhelming identification as Democrats: “Why do they despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them—and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him?”

The Climategate participants get fingered, again, for playing fast and loose with the facts. “The scientist who has been put in charge of the Commerce Department’s new climate change office is coming under attack from both sides of the global warming debate over his handling of what they say is contradictory scientific data related to the subject. … [A] climatologist affiliated with the University of Colorado who has crossed horns with [newly appointed Thomas] Karl in the past, says his appointment was a mistake. He accused Karl of suppressing data he submitted for the [UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] most recent report on climate change and having a very narrow view of its causes.”

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett get fingered, again, as flacks for the Iranian regime. (“The Leveretts’ sensitivity to suggestions they are in touch with Revolutionary Guards representatives is especially curious given that that Flynt Leverett has in the past boasted of his contacts with the Guards.”) And Lee Smith smartly concludes that “Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran has gone nowhere, and true believers are dropping by the wayside. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is calling for regime change, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reviving a promise from her own presidential campaign to extend a nuclear umbrella to protect Washington’s allies in the Persian Gulf. … The United States must stop the Iranians by any means necessary, and it must do so now.”

Barack Obama gets fingered, again, as a hypocrite. In 2005, he said: “You know, the Founders designed this system, as frustrating it is, to make sure that there’s a broad consensus before the country moves forward.”

Sen. Arlen Specter  gets fingered, again, in a poll for defeat. Pat Toomey leads by 10 points in a potential general-election match-up.

Eric Holder gets fingered, again, by Andy McCarthy: “Their typical scandal pattern is: (a) make bold pronouncements about unprecedented transparency, (b) show a little leg, and then (c) stonewall, after which (d) White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel assures some friendly journalist that everything would have been different if only they’d have listened to him. The result is the trifecta: the administration ends up looking hypocritical, sinister and incompetent.”

Nancy Pelosi gets fingered, again, for lacking the votes for ObamaCare II: “There are 15-20 House Democrats who are withholding their support for President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposal, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Wednesday. Stupak led a broad coalition of anti-abortion rights Democrats in November, demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) include tough abortion restrictions in the lower chamber’s legislation lest she lose a chance of passing the bill. … In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) accused [Eric] Cantor of ‘playing games’ but did not say whether House Democrats have the votes to pass the president’s fixes.”

Kirsten Gillibrand gets fingered, again, as a vulnerable Democrat. The newest potential challenger is Dan Senor, foreign-policy guru and co-author of  Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

Democrats  get fingered, again, as much less supportive of Israel than Republicans and Independents. Thankfully, however, overall support for Israel is up, “Which should be a comfort to supporters of the Jewish State, who have felt an icy breeze wafting from the White House over the past year.” Still it does reraise the question, given Jews’ overwhelming identification as Democrats: “Why do they despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them—and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him?”

The Climategate participants get fingered, again, for playing fast and loose with the facts. “The scientist who has been put in charge of the Commerce Department’s new climate change office is coming under attack from both sides of the global warming debate over his handling of what they say is contradictory scientific data related to the subject. … [A] climatologist affiliated with the University of Colorado who has crossed horns with [newly appointed Thomas] Karl in the past, says his appointment was a mistake. He accused Karl of suppressing data he submitted for the [UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] most recent report on climate change and having a very narrow view of its causes.”

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett get fingered, again, as flacks for the Iranian regime. (“The Leveretts’ sensitivity to suggestions they are in touch with Revolutionary Guards representatives is especially curious given that that Flynt Leverett has in the past boasted of his contacts with the Guards.”) And Lee Smith smartly concludes that “Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran has gone nowhere, and true believers are dropping by the wayside. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is calling for regime change, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reviving a promise from her own presidential campaign to extend a nuclear umbrella to protect Washington’s allies in the Persian Gulf. … The United States must stop the Iranians by any means necessary, and it must do so now.”

Barack Obama gets fingered, again, as a hypocrite. In 2005, he said: “You know, the Founders designed this system, as frustrating it is, to make sure that there’s a broad consensus before the country moves forward.”

Sen. Arlen Specter  gets fingered, again, in a poll for defeat. Pat Toomey leads by 10 points in a potential general-election match-up.

Eric Holder gets fingered, again, by Andy McCarthy: “Their typical scandal pattern is: (a) make bold pronouncements about unprecedented transparency, (b) show a little leg, and then (c) stonewall, after which (d) White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel assures some friendly journalist that everything would have been different if only they’d have listened to him. The result is the trifecta: the administration ends up looking hypocritical, sinister and incompetent.”

Nancy Pelosi gets fingered, again, for lacking the votes for ObamaCare II: “There are 15-20 House Democrats who are withholding their support for President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposal, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Wednesday. Stupak led a broad coalition of anti-abortion rights Democrats in November, demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) include tough abortion restrictions in the lower chamber’s legislation lest she lose a chance of passing the bill. … In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) accused [Eric] Cantor of ‘playing games’ but did not say whether House Democrats have the votes to pass the president’s fixes.”

Kirsten Gillibrand gets fingered, again, as a vulnerable Democrat. The newest potential challenger is Dan Senor, foreign-policy guru and co-author of  Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

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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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Did Israel Just Acquire a New Bombing Capability?

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

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Iranians Send Wrong Rat into Outer Space

More than a month after Barack Obama’s “deadline” for Iran to reply to his various attempts at diplomatic engagement expired without a peep out of the administration, the Islamist regime sent up a signal that they continue to view Washington’s effort at appeasement with contempt. Iranian television announced today that the country had launched a rocket into space capable of carrying satellites. The Kavoshgar rocket was the third Iranian satellite launched in the last year and a half and is an indication that they are pressing ahead with developing a missile program to compliment their nuclear-weapons project.

The rocket is said to have carried a rat, two turtles, and worms into space in what we are supposed to think is a scientific program with only peaceful intentions. Meanwhile, the rat that the Iranians left on the ground, Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, bragged that the launch was “just the start” of a new era of development, though he claims it’s all for science, not military threats. The point here is that this launch, like so many other Iranian provocations, proves that Tehran thinks it can act with impunity and that Obama’s declared intention to stop it from gaining nuclear capability is something to be laughed at. Last week, reports noted that the United States is stepping up its efforts to protect Persian Gulf countries against Iranian missile attacks. The Iranians seem to be reminding other nations in the region that the Americans aren’t to be taken seriously.

Whatever the actual implications of this particular launch, it is certainly a sign that while the West has spent the last year talking about talking and immersed in diplomatic dithering, the Iranians are proceeding at full speed to develop both nuclear arms and a system that could potentially deliver a device to a target. News reports filtering out of Washington claim that the United States is preparing to ask the United Nations to enact sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the military group that controls the nuclear-arms program. But we already know that neither China nor Russia will never let serious sanctions pass. In fact, we knew that a year ago but Obama’s feckless attempts to appease both nations by betraying our allies in Eastern Europe as well as the Chinese human-rights movement in the intervening months have only reinforced this realization. After the expected failure at the UN, the administration’s next option will be to ask our European allies to join us in unilaterally imposing these sanctions. But given the reluctance of many of our European friends to give up doing business with Iran, the outcome of this gambit is far from certain. Even if the West unites to back sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards, this will take many months, providing even more time for Iran to make further nuclear “progress.” Meanwhile, the regime will continue secure in its knowledge that Obama will not actively support Iranian dissidents, some of whom seem to have given up on reversing the fake election that put Ahmadinejad back into office last summer. Barack Obama’s lapsed deadline and the prospect of many more months of failed “engagement” are just what Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who control Iran wanted.

More than a month after Barack Obama’s “deadline” for Iran to reply to his various attempts at diplomatic engagement expired without a peep out of the administration, the Islamist regime sent up a signal that they continue to view Washington’s effort at appeasement with contempt. Iranian television announced today that the country had launched a rocket into space capable of carrying satellites. The Kavoshgar rocket was the third Iranian satellite launched in the last year and a half and is an indication that they are pressing ahead with developing a missile program to compliment their nuclear-weapons project.

The rocket is said to have carried a rat, two turtles, and worms into space in what we are supposed to think is a scientific program with only peaceful intentions. Meanwhile, the rat that the Iranians left on the ground, Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, bragged that the launch was “just the start” of a new era of development, though he claims it’s all for science, not military threats. The point here is that this launch, like so many other Iranian provocations, proves that Tehran thinks it can act with impunity and that Obama’s declared intention to stop it from gaining nuclear capability is something to be laughed at. Last week, reports noted that the United States is stepping up its efforts to protect Persian Gulf countries against Iranian missile attacks. The Iranians seem to be reminding other nations in the region that the Americans aren’t to be taken seriously.

Whatever the actual implications of this particular launch, it is certainly a sign that while the West has spent the last year talking about talking and immersed in diplomatic dithering, the Iranians are proceeding at full speed to develop both nuclear arms and a system that could potentially deliver a device to a target. News reports filtering out of Washington claim that the United States is preparing to ask the United Nations to enact sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the military group that controls the nuclear-arms program. But we already know that neither China nor Russia will never let serious sanctions pass. In fact, we knew that a year ago but Obama’s feckless attempts to appease both nations by betraying our allies in Eastern Europe as well as the Chinese human-rights movement in the intervening months have only reinforced this realization. After the expected failure at the UN, the administration’s next option will be to ask our European allies to join us in unilaterally imposing these sanctions. But given the reluctance of many of our European friends to give up doing business with Iran, the outcome of this gambit is far from certain. Even if the West unites to back sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards, this will take many months, providing even more time for Iran to make further nuclear “progress.” Meanwhile, the regime will continue secure in its knowledge that Obama will not actively support Iranian dissidents, some of whom seem to have given up on reversing the fake election that put Ahmadinejad back into office last summer. Barack Obama’s lapsed deadline and the prospect of many more months of failed “engagement” are just what Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who control Iran wanted.

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Prepping the Pressure Track?

Several commentators have remarked on the Obama administration’s weekend PR offensive touting the accelerated deployment of ballistic-missile defense systems to the Persian Gulf. George Friedman of STRATFOR is one, and in an excellent article in Spero News from Monday, he posits that President Obama is “preparing to accept a nuclear Iran.”

Friedman makes the case that February 2010 is a decision point for President Obama, in part because of Israeli statements to that effect. Friedman’s sense is that Obama cannot politically get away with letting another month go by. He suggests that with events developing that will require a decision, Obama wants to convince Israel that a nuclear Iran can be tolerable – if the right defenses are in place. Obama’s hope with this policy would be to avert unilateral Israeli action. The pieces of this assessment certainly fit, if we stipulate that Obama’s conscious priority is maneuvering to block Israel. I’m not sure, however, that his thinking process is that pristinely linear.

There may be another prospect in view. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that Obama is preparing the ground for sanctions; indeed, sanctions at a level that could enrage Iran. (A “graduated pressure track” sounds like a formula his advisers would endorse.) The political benefits of proceeding with sanctions would include, among others, the perception of keeping the “negotiation” going. The longer the outcome remains uncertain, the more latitude Obama retains, and the longer the key decision points can be forestalled. Sanctions would also, of course, give the appearance of doing something “tough” on foreign policy.

Obama hasn’t shied away from the difficult – at times even impolite – task of twisting China’s arm to join sanctions against Iran. If he has no intention of acting on sanctions, he has burned a lot of bridges to no purpose. Although he will assuredly have to act without China’s agreement, and probably without Russia’s, he would approach sanctions with bipartisan support already lined up in Congress. His policy stance has been quite consistent on sanctions, and he would have support for meaningful measures, at least initially, from much of the Western media. The argument that tough sanctions are the inevitable “next step” and must be at least tried would appeal to many.

The political calculation for a president seeking to bolster his image with unhappy constituencies at home could well argue for sanctions. It’s another question whether Obama understands what he would be getting into, with sanctions that might be meaningful in the sense of inflicting loss or inconvenience but are unlikely to be effective for the intended purpose. If a tougher sanctions regime produced restive European allies, overt realignment by Russia and China, and an Iranian terror backlash in the Middle East, we might well find ourselves wishing that George Friedman had been right. The possibility certainly remains that he is; but Obama has a lot of political capital invested in the prospect of a “pressure track,” and more incentive to proceed with it than to choose now as the time for accepting a nuclear Iran.

Several commentators have remarked on the Obama administration’s weekend PR offensive touting the accelerated deployment of ballistic-missile defense systems to the Persian Gulf. George Friedman of STRATFOR is one, and in an excellent article in Spero News from Monday, he posits that President Obama is “preparing to accept a nuclear Iran.”

Friedman makes the case that February 2010 is a decision point for President Obama, in part because of Israeli statements to that effect. Friedman’s sense is that Obama cannot politically get away with letting another month go by. He suggests that with events developing that will require a decision, Obama wants to convince Israel that a nuclear Iran can be tolerable – if the right defenses are in place. Obama’s hope with this policy would be to avert unilateral Israeli action. The pieces of this assessment certainly fit, if we stipulate that Obama’s conscious priority is maneuvering to block Israel. I’m not sure, however, that his thinking process is that pristinely linear.

There may be another prospect in view. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that Obama is preparing the ground for sanctions; indeed, sanctions at a level that could enrage Iran. (A “graduated pressure track” sounds like a formula his advisers would endorse.) The political benefits of proceeding with sanctions would include, among others, the perception of keeping the “negotiation” going. The longer the outcome remains uncertain, the more latitude Obama retains, and the longer the key decision points can be forestalled. Sanctions would also, of course, give the appearance of doing something “tough” on foreign policy.

Obama hasn’t shied away from the difficult – at times even impolite – task of twisting China’s arm to join sanctions against Iran. If he has no intention of acting on sanctions, he has burned a lot of bridges to no purpose. Although he will assuredly have to act without China’s agreement, and probably without Russia’s, he would approach sanctions with bipartisan support already lined up in Congress. His policy stance has been quite consistent on sanctions, and he would have support for meaningful measures, at least initially, from much of the Western media. The argument that tough sanctions are the inevitable “next step” and must be at least tried would appeal to many.

The political calculation for a president seeking to bolster his image with unhappy constituencies at home could well argue for sanctions. It’s another question whether Obama understands what he would be getting into, with sanctions that might be meaningful in the sense of inflicting loss or inconvenience but are unlikely to be effective for the intended purpose. If a tougher sanctions regime produced restive European allies, overt realignment by Russia and China, and an Iranian terror backlash in the Middle East, we might well find ourselves wishing that George Friedman had been right. The possibility certainly remains that he is; but Obama has a lot of political capital invested in the prospect of a “pressure track,” and more incentive to proceed with it than to choose now as the time for accepting a nuclear Iran.

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Defense Spending and Defense Needs: Not in Sync

The Conservative party in Britain has pledged to adopt the American practice of carrying out a “strategic review” every four years. Based on the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, which came out today, I’m not sure why they would bother. The QDR is not terrible or wrong-headed; in fact, I think it’s fairly sensible on the whole. But it’s also not particularly interesting or surprising — which is pretty much what you would expect from a report produced by a large committee and overseen by the same defense secretary who has put into place many of the policies under review. I agree with Robert Haddick’s take in the Small Wars Journal:

Rather than reading a document about strategies for the future, I had the sense that I was reading a business corporation’s annual report covering the past fiscal year. I stopped counting how many times the QDR said, “the Department will continue to …” or something similar.

Haddick goes on to note that the QDR “hints at, but leaves unsaid, many necessary and sometimes painful changes the Pentagon will need to make. In this sense the QDR seems incomplete; it kicks several important cans down the road, leaving important decisions that should have been in the QDR for future reports.”

Some of the challenges left unaddressed by the QDR are spelled out in this study by Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation. She notes a number of disturbing long-term trends, including the fact that  “core” defense spending (excluding contingencies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is already just 3.9 percent of GDP and set to decline under the Obama blueprint. Defense spending, even with a current budget of $690 billion, is less than 18 percent of federal spending and has been rapidly declining as a share of the federal budget over time, while entitlement spending (currently 35 percent of the budget) continues to grow.

Within the defense budget, an ever-growing share of the spending is being consumed by personnel expenditures and current operations, which leaves not enough money to recapitalize aging equipment (the U.S. Air Force continues to operate transport aircraft and tankers that are over 40 years old) and an ever-shrinking storehouse of advanced weapons systems (the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships since 1916). She might have mentioned, but didn’t, that the U.S. doesn’t have enough soldiers to meet all its commitments. The Army was 710,000 strong at the end of the Cold War in 1991; today it’s down 553,000 personnel.

In other words, there is a fundamental mismatch between ends and means — between what we’re willing to spend on defense and what we need to meet our global commitments. And that’s not even taking into account all the new challenges laid out in the QDR relating to areas such as cyberspace and “anti-access” threats (e.g., long-range cruise missiles that can pick off our naval ships in the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Strait). This QDR, like the preceding QDRs, is better at laying out the challenges than it is at suggesting realistic ways they can be met. It might at least have sounded a warning about some of these looming problems. Instead, it is largely a ratification of the status quo.

The Conservative party in Britain has pledged to adopt the American practice of carrying out a “strategic review” every four years. Based on the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, which came out today, I’m not sure why they would bother. The QDR is not terrible or wrong-headed; in fact, I think it’s fairly sensible on the whole. But it’s also not particularly interesting or surprising — which is pretty much what you would expect from a report produced by a large committee and overseen by the same defense secretary who has put into place many of the policies under review. I agree with Robert Haddick’s take in the Small Wars Journal:

Rather than reading a document about strategies for the future, I had the sense that I was reading a business corporation’s annual report covering the past fiscal year. I stopped counting how many times the QDR said, “the Department will continue to …” or something similar.

Haddick goes on to note that the QDR “hints at, but leaves unsaid, many necessary and sometimes painful changes the Pentagon will need to make. In this sense the QDR seems incomplete; it kicks several important cans down the road, leaving important decisions that should have been in the QDR for future reports.”

Some of the challenges left unaddressed by the QDR are spelled out in this study by Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation. She notes a number of disturbing long-term trends, including the fact that  “core” defense spending (excluding contingencies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is already just 3.9 percent of GDP and set to decline under the Obama blueprint. Defense spending, even with a current budget of $690 billion, is less than 18 percent of federal spending and has been rapidly declining as a share of the federal budget over time, while entitlement spending (currently 35 percent of the budget) continues to grow.

Within the defense budget, an ever-growing share of the spending is being consumed by personnel expenditures and current operations, which leaves not enough money to recapitalize aging equipment (the U.S. Air Force continues to operate transport aircraft and tankers that are over 40 years old) and an ever-shrinking storehouse of advanced weapons systems (the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships since 1916). She might have mentioned, but didn’t, that the U.S. doesn’t have enough soldiers to meet all its commitments. The Army was 710,000 strong at the end of the Cold War in 1991; today it’s down 553,000 personnel.

In other words, there is a fundamental mismatch between ends and means — between what we’re willing to spend on defense and what we need to meet our global commitments. And that’s not even taking into account all the new challenges laid out in the QDR relating to areas such as cyberspace and “anti-access” threats (e.g., long-range cruise missiles that can pick off our naval ships in the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Strait). This QDR, like the preceding QDRs, is better at laying out the challenges than it is at suggesting realistic ways they can be met. It might at least have sounded a warning about some of these looming problems. Instead, it is largely a ratification of the status quo.

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Threatening Israel Isn’t Enough Anymore

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did. Read More

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did.

(Intriguingly, a clear majority of Saudis interviewed in the same survey think their own terrorism and religious extremism is more troubling than either Iran or Israel. There may be hope, at least in the long run, for that region yet.)

Iran’s rulers constantly threaten Israel with violence and even destruction because they know the Arabs are against them. They need to change the subject to something they all can agree on. Ever since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in 1979 and voided Iran’s treaty with Israel, regime leaders have believed they’ll meet less resistance while amassing power for themselves in the region by saying, Hey, we’re not after you, we’re after the Jews.

It isn’t enough anymore. Even arming and bankrolling terrorist organizations that fight Israel isn’t enough anymore. Most Arabs simply do not believe Ahmadinejad and Khamenei when they not-so-cryptically suggest that their nuclear weapons will be pointed only at Israel. By a factor of 3-to-1, Saudis believe Iran would use nuclear weapons against either them or another Arab state in the Persian Gulf before using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Most Arabs hate or at the very least have serious problems with Israel, and I expect that will be true for the rest of my life, even if the Arab-Israeli conflict comes to an end. Yet the Middle East is forever interesting and surprising, and “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” even applies to an extent when “the enemy of my enemy” is the “Zionist Entity.”

This was made abundantly clear during the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, when Sunni Arab regimes tacitly took Jerusalem’s side by blaming Hezbollah for starting it and saying nothing, at least initially, about the Israeli response. The war was fought in an Arab country, but it was a proxy war between two non-Arab powers. Lebanon merely provided the battle space.

The Sunni Arab “street,” so to speak, didn’t take Israel’s side. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah managed to turn himself into a heroic big shot for a while by taking the fight to the enemy, but the most recent victims of Hezbollah’s violence were Sunnis in Beirut in 2008, and no one in the Middle East has forgotten it.

With only a few exceptions, the region has been firmly controlled by Sunni Arab regimes since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, yet none of these governments are strong enough to project power abroad. As author Lee Smith notes, they can’t even defend themselves. A number of analysts have pointed out in the last couple of years that the political agenda in the Arab Middle East is now set by non-Arabs in Jerusalem, Tehran, Washington, and to a lesser extent, Ankara. Syria’s Bashar Assad helps set the regional agenda as the logistics hub in the Iranian-Hezbollah axis, but he’s a non-Muslim Alawite, not a Sunni, and he’s doing it as a mere sidekick of the Persians. If all that weren’t enough, the Sunnis now depend on Israelis to defend them, and they’re not even sure the Israelis will do it.

We’ll know Iran’s power play is actually working if and when Sunni Arab governments issue not just boilerplate denunciations of the “Zionist Entity” but actually join the Iran-led resistance and fight Israel like they used to. In the meantime, they’re falling in behind their enemy, although they dare not admit it to anyone.

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The Dubai Effect

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules. Read More

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules.

Lebanon and Iraq have both been hailed as possible models for the rest of the region, but they aren’t really. Maybe they will be someday, but they aren’t today. Freewheeling Lebanon is more or less democratic, but it’s unstable. It blows up every year. The Beirut Spring in 2005 ousted the Syrian military dictatorship, but shaking off Iran and its private Hezbollah militia has proved nearly impossible. Iraq is likewise still too violent and dysfunctional to be an inspiring model right now.

Many of the skyscrapering steel and glass cities of the Persian Gulf feel like soulless shopping malls. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to suggest that one of these places is “the Paris of the Middle East,” as Beirut has often been called. Dubai’s outrageous attractions and socially liberal atmosphere, however, makes it something like a Las Vegas of the Middle East as a traveler’s destination. And it really is something like a Hong Kong or Singapore as a place to do business.

It features prominently in Vali Nasr’s compelling new book Forces of Fortune, where he argues that the Middle East may finally liberalize politically after it has first been transformed economically by a middle-class commercial revolution. Most in the West haven’t noticed, but that revolution has already begun. And what he calls “the Dubai effect” is a key part of it.

“People in the region who visit Dubai,” he writes, “return home wondering why their governments can’t issue passports in a day or provide clean mosques and schools, better airports, airlines and roads, and above all better government.”

He’s right. Most Beirutis I know look down on Dubai as artificial and gimmicky, but just about everyone else in the region who isn’t a radical Islamist thinks it’s amazing.

It’s different geopolitically, too. The government is more sincerely pro-American than the nominally pro-American governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Michael Yon put it this way when he visited in 2006 on his way to Iraq: “Our friends in the UAE want the Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to succeed, and they are vocal about it. While much of the west, including many of our oldest allies, postures on about how the war on terror is a horrible mistake, the sentiment in the UAE is that it would be a horrible mistake not to face the facts about our common enemy, an enemy that might be just as happy to destroy the UAE as America.”

Its leadership has also stepped a long way back from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither Dubai nor any of the other UAE emirates have gone so far as to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but they also aren’t participating in the conflict or making it worse. Israeli citizens can and do visit, which is unthinkable almost everywhere else in the Arab world. A rotating tower designed by an Israeli architect is slated to be completed next year. There isn’t a chance that even Egypt or Jordan, both of which have signed peace treaties, would let an Israeli design one of their architectural set pieces.

Dubai has problems, of course, aside from the inevitable bursting of its financial bubble. Its government is a fairly benign dictatorship, especially compared with the likes of Syria and Iran, but it’s a dictatorship all the same. Many of its imported laborers live and work in ghastly conditions, and some are lured there under false pretenses.

It’s flawed, it’s weird, and its overall model of development can’t be ported everywhere else. Only so many cities can build ski resorts in the desert and underwater hotel rooms that go for $5,000 a night. But Dubai’s model needn’t be copied and pasted as-is, and Nasr’s “Dubai effect” is a powerful thing. The city proves to everyone who goes there that when an Arab Muslim country opens up its economy, keeps the clerics out of the saddle, and eschews radical causes, it can build places that are impressive not just by local standards but by international standards as well. If even half its foreign and domestic policies are adopted by its neighbors, the region will be a much nicer place for the people who live there, and less of a headache for everyone else.

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The Middle East Needs Dubai

There is a large element of Schadenfreude in the media coverage of Dubai’s financial mess. The Gulf emirate has suspended payment on the debt of its flagship holding company, Dubai World, causing financial jitters around the world and raising suspicions that its balance sheet is a lot worse than it has been letting on. For years Dubai has been on a spending binge, which includes building the world’s tallest building, an indoor ski slope, and a series of artificial islands in “an artificial archipelago that would reconfigure the Persian Gulf coast into a thicket of trees, a map of the world, a whirling galaxy, a scythe and a sun that looks like a spider.”

It is easy to look down one’s nose at the excesses of this global parvenu, which is trying to become the Hong Kong or Singapore of the Middle East, thereby usurping Beirut’s traditional position as the place where Arabs unwind. When I visited Dubai a couple of years ago with a group of foreign-policy analysts, we were all amazed by the frenetic pace of construction. A sizable proportion of the world’s building cranes had been arrayed in this city-state and they were putting up too many skyscrapers to count. It was pretty obvious that the good times wouldn’t last forever, and they haven’t. The result of a building boom, we all know, is a glut of new structures, a lack of tenants, and a crash. That’s what has happened in the U.S. with residential homes in the past few years and now it appears to be happening with commercial real estate in Dubai.

So much, so familiar. But still for all of Dubai’s excesses it is a wonder that it has gotten this far. It deserves not ill-disguised glee at its misfortunes but a degree of respect for its willingness to flout traditional Arab taboos. It is, for example, a place where Emiratis in white robes rub shoulders with Russian hookers in mini-skirts — a place where it’s perfectly possible to get a nice cocktail (and not a “mocktail,” as in Kuwait) in a public bar, and to do so in the middle of Ramadan if you’re feeling parched at that point. No doubt some of Dubai’s competitors, the likes of Doha and Kuwait City and its sister emirate Abu Dhabi, are licking their chops at the prospect of benefitting from Dubai’s downturn but they will be hard put to it to match its dynamism because they remain much more in thrall to traditional Arab/Muslim pieties: a combination of religious and tribal traditions that have made the Middle East a laggard in many dimensions of development. Dubai has been a leader in the Arab world with respect to embracing modernity — which has repercussions both good and bad but in general is a force for positive change. We should all hope that it will get on its feet again soon. The Middle East needs Dubai.

There is a large element of Schadenfreude in the media coverage of Dubai’s financial mess. The Gulf emirate has suspended payment on the debt of its flagship holding company, Dubai World, causing financial jitters around the world and raising suspicions that its balance sheet is a lot worse than it has been letting on. For years Dubai has been on a spending binge, which includes building the world’s tallest building, an indoor ski slope, and a series of artificial islands in “an artificial archipelago that would reconfigure the Persian Gulf coast into a thicket of trees, a map of the world, a whirling galaxy, a scythe and a sun that looks like a spider.”

It is easy to look down one’s nose at the excesses of this global parvenu, which is trying to become the Hong Kong or Singapore of the Middle East, thereby usurping Beirut’s traditional position as the place where Arabs unwind. When I visited Dubai a couple of years ago with a group of foreign-policy analysts, we were all amazed by the frenetic pace of construction. A sizable proportion of the world’s building cranes had been arrayed in this city-state and they were putting up too many skyscrapers to count. It was pretty obvious that the good times wouldn’t last forever, and they haven’t. The result of a building boom, we all know, is a glut of new structures, a lack of tenants, and a crash. That’s what has happened in the U.S. with residential homes in the past few years and now it appears to be happening with commercial real estate in Dubai.

So much, so familiar. But still for all of Dubai’s excesses it is a wonder that it has gotten this far. It deserves not ill-disguised glee at its misfortunes but a degree of respect for its willingness to flout traditional Arab taboos. It is, for example, a place where Emiratis in white robes rub shoulders with Russian hookers in mini-skirts — a place where it’s perfectly possible to get a nice cocktail (and not a “mocktail,” as in Kuwait) in a public bar, and to do so in the middle of Ramadan if you’re feeling parched at that point. No doubt some of Dubai’s competitors, the likes of Doha and Kuwait City and its sister emirate Abu Dhabi, are licking their chops at the prospect of benefitting from Dubai’s downturn but they will be hard put to it to match its dynamism because they remain much more in thrall to traditional Arab/Muslim pieties: a combination of religious and tribal traditions that have made the Middle East a laggard in many dimensions of development. Dubai has been a leader in the Arab world with respect to embracing modernity — which has repercussions both good and bad but in general is a force for positive change. We should all hope that it will get on its feet again soon. The Middle East needs Dubai.

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Two Real Alternative Models of Development

In the backlash against the Bush administration’s (first-term) pro-democracy agenda, a lot of critics have been singing the praises of “alternative” models of development. Exhibits A and B are usually Russia and China, which have been prospering of late without such pesky inconveniences as free elections and independent judges.

But we tend to forget two other major rising powers, India and Brazil, which are solid democracies and whose economies have been picking up steam lately. The Wall Street Journal has a useful article on Brazil’s economic resurgence. The country, according to reporter Matt Moffett, is seeing its “greatest burst of prosperity . . . in three decades.”

The article goes on to note:

Brazil has enough money lying around that Monday it announced it would follow other booming countries like China and Persian Gulf oil states in setting up a sovereign-wealth fund, worth between $10 billion and $20 billion, to invest its excess cash.

Much of this new-found growth is a tribute to Brazil’s nominally leftist president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has put in place pro-business policies which are attracting foreign investment. India is seeing a similar growth spurt because its government also is abandoning the socialist nostrums of the past. Both Brazil and India have a long way to go, but in the long run, they’re a better bet than Russia or China, whose long-term futures are clouded by the existence of illiberal regimes run by parasitic elites.

In the backlash against the Bush administration’s (first-term) pro-democracy agenda, a lot of critics have been singing the praises of “alternative” models of development. Exhibits A and B are usually Russia and China, which have been prospering of late without such pesky inconveniences as free elections and independent judges.

But we tend to forget two other major rising powers, India and Brazil, which are solid democracies and whose economies have been picking up steam lately. The Wall Street Journal has a useful article on Brazil’s economic resurgence. The country, according to reporter Matt Moffett, is seeing its “greatest burst of prosperity . . . in three decades.”

The article goes on to note:

Brazil has enough money lying around that Monday it announced it would follow other booming countries like China and Persian Gulf oil states in setting up a sovereign-wealth fund, worth between $10 billion and $20 billion, to invest its excess cash.

Much of this new-found growth is a tribute to Brazil’s nominally leftist president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has put in place pro-business policies which are attracting foreign investment. India is seeing a similar growth spurt because its government also is abandoning the socialist nostrums of the past. Both Brazil and India have a long way to go, but in the long run, they’re a better bet than Russia or China, whose long-term futures are clouded by the existence of illiberal regimes run by parasitic elites.

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The Failings of Successful Democracy

How best to acknowledge the precious democratic exercise in civic responsibility we’re witnessing this Tuesday? If you’re the New York Times, you run a disingenuous story about the failings of democracy. Today’s lesson in American hubris comes from Kuwait:

“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” [Parliamentary candidate Ali al-Rashed] said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”

It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.

[...]

The collapse of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the region and the continuing chaos in Iraq, just to the north–once heralded as the birthplace of a new democratic model–have also contributed to a popular suspicion that democracy itself is one Western import that has not lived up to its advertising.

The article’s writer, Robert F. Worth, has it on good authority that Kuwaitis are now suspicious of democracy. His source? The 24-year-old son of another Parliamentary candidate (who himself rejected that view). But that’s enough for a New York Times primary day headline.

It’s no surprise that Worth doesn’t cite any figures in trying to make the case that Kuwait’s economy and productivity is stalling. If he did, here’s what he’d confront: Kuwait’s human development is the highest in the Arab world. The country has the second-most free economy in the Middle East, and its GDP rate of growth is 5.7%, which makes its economy one of the fastest growing in the region.

The only attributable monarchy-envy comes from Worth himself, who virtually taunts Kuwaitis with their neighbors’ ostentation:

Although parts of Kuwait City were rebuilt after the Iraqi invasion of 1990, much of it looks faded and tatty, a striking contrast with the gleaming hyper-modernity of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar.

Well, you know how dingy free-market, parliamentary democracy can be.

How best to acknowledge the precious democratic exercise in civic responsibility we’re witnessing this Tuesday? If you’re the New York Times, you run a disingenuous story about the failings of democracy. Today’s lesson in American hubris comes from Kuwait:

“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” [Parliamentary candidate Ali al-Rashed] said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”

It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.

[...]

The collapse of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the region and the continuing chaos in Iraq, just to the north–once heralded as the birthplace of a new democratic model–have also contributed to a popular suspicion that democracy itself is one Western import that has not lived up to its advertising.

The article’s writer, Robert F. Worth, has it on good authority that Kuwaitis are now suspicious of democracy. His source? The 24-year-old son of another Parliamentary candidate (who himself rejected that view). But that’s enough for a New York Times primary day headline.

It’s no surprise that Worth doesn’t cite any figures in trying to make the case that Kuwait’s economy and productivity is stalling. If he did, here’s what he’d confront: Kuwait’s human development is the highest in the Arab world. The country has the second-most free economy in the Middle East, and its GDP rate of growth is 5.7%, which makes its economy one of the fastest growing in the region.

The only attributable monarchy-envy comes from Worth himself, who virtually taunts Kuwaitis with their neighbors’ ostentation:

Although parts of Kuwait City were rebuilt after the Iraqi invasion of 1990, much of it looks faded and tatty, a striking contrast with the gleaming hyper-modernity of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar.

Well, you know how dingy free-market, parliamentary democracy can be.

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Abu Ghraib America vs. 9/11 America

Lee Smith has a terrific piece today that asks: If and when Obama talks to our enemies, what will he say to them? Lee thinks the answer, in keeping with the theme of dignity promotion, will be: “We’re sorry.”

What’s unique about Obama, we now recognize, is that the notion of “talking to your enemies” is not just a diplomatic cliché. He will indeed hear out the obscurantist regimes that plot against U.S. citizens, allies, and interests, just as he sat still while his obscurantist preacher fulminated against “white America.” Will he manage to persuade his interlocutors in Tehran and Damascus to modify their behavior in Iraq, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, Israel, and the Palestinian territories? Of course not . . .

The candidate appeals to many Americans who agree that the United States deserves to be taken down a peg or two, not just because of Iraq, or Guantanamo, or for failing to sign the Kyoto protocols, but because of historical grievances, like slavery — what Senator Obama called this secular republic’s “original sin.” America is too powerful, too arrogant, and needs to be humbled, and Obama is the man to do it, for the sake of the rest of the world.

It has always struck me that in terms of foreign policy, Obama appeals most profoundly to people who view the current age primarily through the lens of Abu Ghraib, in which American arrogance and cruelty has caused a great deal of suffering in the world — suffering that has engendered resentment and grievances that must be addressed at the highest levels of government. Perhaps the subtext of the presidential race, assuming an Obama-McCain matchup, will be the cultural clash of the Abu Ghraib Americans versus the 9/11 Americans.

Lee Smith has a terrific piece today that asks: If and when Obama talks to our enemies, what will he say to them? Lee thinks the answer, in keeping with the theme of dignity promotion, will be: “We’re sorry.”

What’s unique about Obama, we now recognize, is that the notion of “talking to your enemies” is not just a diplomatic cliché. He will indeed hear out the obscurantist regimes that plot against U.S. citizens, allies, and interests, just as he sat still while his obscurantist preacher fulminated against “white America.” Will he manage to persuade his interlocutors in Tehran and Damascus to modify their behavior in Iraq, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, Israel, and the Palestinian territories? Of course not . . .

The candidate appeals to many Americans who agree that the United States deserves to be taken down a peg or two, not just because of Iraq, or Guantanamo, or for failing to sign the Kyoto protocols, but because of historical grievances, like slavery — what Senator Obama called this secular republic’s “original sin.” America is too powerful, too arrogant, and needs to be humbled, and Obama is the man to do it, for the sake of the rest of the world.

It has always struck me that in terms of foreign policy, Obama appeals most profoundly to people who view the current age primarily through the lens of Abu Ghraib, in which American arrogance and cruelty has caused a great deal of suffering in the world — suffering that has engendered resentment and grievances that must be addressed at the highest levels of government. Perhaps the subtext of the presidential race, assuming an Obama-McCain matchup, will be the cultural clash of the Abu Ghraib Americans versus the 9/11 Americans.

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Our No-Contact Policy

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

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How to Talk to Iran

This morning, the New York Times reacted to Iran’s recent naval maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz. On Monday, U.S. officials reported that five Iranian speedboats threatened three Navy warships in international waters at the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf on Sunday. The small boats, probably operated by the Revolutionary Guard, closed within two hundred yards of the American vessels, communicated a threat to destroy them, and dropped boxes into the water in an apparent attempt to disrupt free passage in the waterway. Abe Greenwald reported and discussed this troubling development in this forum yesterday.

The Times, predictably, saw Saturday’s hostile act as an opportunity to begin a dialogue with Tehran. “At a minimum, the administration should use this incident to engage Iran in formal talks on conduct in the strait,” the paper said in an editorial. Why? “It is not clear what game the Iranians were playing or even who was giving the orders. President Bush’s refusal to engage Iran diplomatically makes it even harder for American officials to deconstruct Iran’s motives and increases the risk of future miscalculation on both sides.”

The principal flaw in the Times’s argument is that Iran’s motives for its dangerous conduct are relevant. They are not. The fact that Iranians sought to disrupt traffic in the waterway carrying 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is all we need to know.

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This morning, the New York Times reacted to Iran’s recent naval maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz. On Monday, U.S. officials reported that five Iranian speedboats threatened three Navy warships in international waters at the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf on Sunday. The small boats, probably operated by the Revolutionary Guard, closed within two hundred yards of the American vessels, communicated a threat to destroy them, and dropped boxes into the water in an apparent attempt to disrupt free passage in the waterway. Abe Greenwald reported and discussed this troubling development in this forum yesterday.

The Times, predictably, saw Saturday’s hostile act as an opportunity to begin a dialogue with Tehran. “At a minimum, the administration should use this incident to engage Iran in formal talks on conduct in the strait,” the paper said in an editorial. Why? “It is not clear what game the Iranians were playing or even who was giving the orders. President Bush’s refusal to engage Iran diplomatically makes it even harder for American officials to deconstruct Iran’s motives and increases the risk of future miscalculation on both sides.”

The principal flaw in the Times’s argument is that Iran’s motives for its dangerous conduct are relevant. They are not. The fact that Iranians sought to disrupt traffic in the waterway carrying 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is all we need to know.

At this time different elements are threatening free passage on international waters. Nations—most notably Russia and China—are claiming vast stretches of sea as their own. Moreover, we are experiencing a resurgence of pirate attacks, which rose 10 percent in 2007, the first increase in three years. The United States can either let bandits, rogues, and autocrats take over the world’s oceans, seas, and straits, or we can maintain safe passage for all nations. It is as simple as that.

The Iranians, over the weekend, were picking a fight with a vastly superior force. Why would they do that? They were undoubtedly seeking to learn about the U.S. Navy’s tactical reactions. More important, they were testing American resolve. The proper response is not meekly seeking an audience with the mullahs, as the Times suggests. A better way to safeguard shipping is employ force. On Saturday, the Iranians turned tail when the commander of one of the American ships, the Hopper, was about to open fire on the attackers.

The White House, responding to the incident, issued a series of formulaic statements from President Bush, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and spokesman Gordon Johndroe, all characterizing the incident as “provocative.” The Iranians, I suspect, already know that. What they need to hear is this: “The United States, acting either in conjunction with others or alone, will use overwhelming force on the high seas and on bases onshore against any party threatening to stop or restrict free passage on the world’s waterways.” Forget the Times’s proposed dialogue. This is the best way to talk to Iran.

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A Game of Chicken in the Persian Gulf

Jennifer Dyer, a Commander (Retired) U.S. Naval intelligence offers this analysis as a guest of Connecting the Dots:

How should we think about the incident in the southern Persian Gulf on Sunday in which Iranian speedboats operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) acted in a threatening manner toward a task group of three U.S. Navy ships?

The ships in question were the USS Port Royal (CG-73), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser; USS Hopper (DDG-70), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, and USS Ingraham (FFG-61), an O.H. Perry-class frigate. Navy and press reporting on the event indicate that the U.S.N ships acted precisely in accordance with their rules of engagement, attempting to establish contact with the Iranian boats, and to deescalate the situation. Hopper, speaking for the task group, issued warnings to the speedboats, and the boats eventually broke off and departed the area. The AP summary also indicates Hopper came close to using her M240 deck-mounted machine gun, but did not. Hopper assuredly had her gun crew manning its station, which would have been easily observed from the Iranian speedboats, and probably influenced the IRGCN decision to leave the area.

Three significant things may be said about this incident. First, U.S. rules of engagement are intended to deescalate unplanned situations, if at all possible. The reason for this is not to prevent carnage at any cost, or to behave in a pusillanimous. manner, but to restore control of the initiative and tempo to U.S. forces. The principal obligation of any commander under his rules of engagement is self-defense. But long experience with operating under U.S. rules of engagement enables a good commander to preserve his option of effective self-defense, without being drawn into action on the opponent’s timeline. We always prefer exercising our own operational agenda, on our timetable, over letting the opponent dictate it to us. The assignment of this task group was to enter the Persian Gulf for operations as directed by the U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander — and by deescalating the speedboat situation, the group stayed on task. It also avoided letting Iran provoke the U.S. into escalation at a higher level of command, either military or political.

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Jennifer Dyer, a Commander (Retired) U.S. Naval intelligence offers this analysis as a guest of Connecting the Dots:

How should we think about the incident in the southern Persian Gulf on Sunday in which Iranian speedboats operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) acted in a threatening manner toward a task group of three U.S. Navy ships?

The ships in question were the USS Port Royal (CG-73), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser; USS Hopper (DDG-70), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, and USS Ingraham (FFG-61), an O.H. Perry-class frigate. Navy and press reporting on the event indicate that the U.S.N ships acted precisely in accordance with their rules of engagement, attempting to establish contact with the Iranian boats, and to deescalate the situation. Hopper, speaking for the task group, issued warnings to the speedboats, and the boats eventually broke off and departed the area. The AP summary also indicates Hopper came close to using her M240 deck-mounted machine gun, but did not. Hopper assuredly had her gun crew manning its station, which would have been easily observed from the Iranian speedboats, and probably influenced the IRGCN decision to leave the area.

Three significant things may be said about this incident. First, U.S. rules of engagement are intended to deescalate unplanned situations, if at all possible. The reason for this is not to prevent carnage at any cost, or to behave in a pusillanimous. manner, but to restore control of the initiative and tempo to U.S. forces. The principal obligation of any commander under his rules of engagement is self-defense. But long experience with operating under U.S. rules of engagement enables a good commander to preserve his option of effective self-defense, without being drawn into action on the opponent’s timeline. We always prefer exercising our own operational agenda, on our timetable, over letting the opponent dictate it to us. The assignment of this task group was to enter the Persian Gulf for operations as directed by the U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander — and by deescalating the speedboat situation, the group stayed on task. It also avoided letting Iran provoke the U.S. into escalation at a higher level of command, either military or political.

Second, the unusual things about this situation were that the speedboat crews dumped boxes in the water, and made the provocative communication (“You will blow up”) to the U.S. Navy ships. It is, in fact, routine for our ships in the Gulf to encounter Iranian speedboats, 24/365. They very often maneuver — with zest and verve — around our ships, although rarely in a dangerous way (i.e., with bad seamanship). This incident was unusual because of the special provocation, but we have no good ways of knowing beforehand when such special provocations will erupt again. This is obviously a problem from the standpoint of warning. Which approach of Iranian speedboats might be an actual attack?

Third, small speedboats are the very devil to deal with through armed force. Hopper’s M240 (a mounted 7.62mm machine gun) was the best tool available to the three ships in question, but its range is not even 2,000 yards, and its accuracy outside 1,000 yards against a fast, maneuverable target will be iffy. The machine gun would produce suppressing fire — but if the attacker doesn’t care if he survives, and if he attacks in enough of a swarm, something will get through.

Our 5-inch naval guns would be worse than useless against such a target — in the dhow- and freighter-infested waters of the Persian Gulf, they would be bound to hit something, just not the IRGCN speedboats. A ship-launched helicopter (between them the three ships probably have at least two) is another option, but is also vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles and machine-gun fire from the speedboats themselves. This problem is difficult enough that a truly determined, suicidal speedboat attack is more likely than not to complete potential missions like launching a rocket at a U.S. warship, or detonating pre-deployed explosives with a radio remote.

The Iranian speedboats constitute, as they did in the Royal Marines incident last March, a type of problem that rules of engagement per se can’t adequately address. Moreover, it’s not possible to guarantee prior warning to our forces that the next speedboat formation is the one that’s going to actually attack. To take summarily effective precautions against a speedboat attack would require action at the political level. The relevant tools include a demarche by the U.S. to Iran (e.g., warning Iran against operating its speedboats under specified conditions), and a Notice to Mariners — the former being more pointed, and a ratcheting up of tensions between two nations; the latter potentially inviting the contumely of all the nations whose flagged ships ply the Gulf. These are considered drastic measures; we have normally only used them when we actually went to war (e.g., during Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom). The delineation of the conditions for breach of a demarche also becomes problematic for sound operations. If, for example, we tell Iran not to put its boats within five nautical miles of a U.S. warship, Iran will assuredly post boats at five nautical miles plus one inch off the port quarter of U.S. warships. All such delineations have the effect of standardizing what we prefer, for operational reasons, to retain unadvertised discretion over.

Of course, our national authorities can also promise Iran unspecified retaliations for any incidents of this kind in the future. If you’ve followed me this far, you will quickly deduce that announcing such triggers can cede Iran the initiative — in particular the initiative to mount ambiguous. incidents that cast doubt on our justification for responding. Retaliation warnings may or may not be appropriate here, but they work best for deterring behavior that is unmistakable.

The U.S. Navy is carrying out U.S. policy merely by being present in the Persian Gulf, and patrolling it for U.S. purposes. Our presence there every day is a neon sign to Iran that we will not tolerate Iran trying to close the Gulf, or to exercise an exclusionary hegemony over it. We tend to forget that being in Iran’s face every day IS policy, just as deliberately crossing Qaddhafi’s “Line of Death” was, in the 1980’s, and deliberately transiting the former Soviet Union’s excessively-claimed territorial waters. The U.S. Navy constantly monitors, and seeks to adjust and train to, the speedboat threat; in each of my deployments after the first Gulf war, such training and intelligence were high priorities. But it is inherently dangerous. to walk the tightwire of forward naval engagement. In a sense, this latest incident occurred not because U.S. policy isn’t working, but because it is. The Fifth Fleet Commander, and CENTCOM, will review this whole incident thoroughly and look for operational changes to make, but in the end, the policy of the United States has always been that we don’t need to suppress all other maritime activity, in order to maintain our own naval — and national — posture effectively.

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