Commentary Magazine


Topic: Poland

Ukraine in the Shadow of Molotov-Ribbentrop

The 75th anniversary of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union pledged non-aggression toward each other and shortly thereafter divided Poland, passed with little comment on August 23. It should not have, for its ghosts loom large in Ukraine.

Read More

The 75th anniversary of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union pledged non-aggression toward each other and shortly thereafter divided Poland, passed with little comment on August 23. It should not have, for its ghosts loom large in Ukraine.

First, there were reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was negotiating secretly with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to trade territory for Putin’s promise to continue the gas flow into Ukraine. That she proposed paying off Putin with Ukrainian territory was a fact she shrugged off, as was the fact she sought to change Ukraine’s borders permanently for the simple promise of a man who has repeatedly shown himself not to be trustworthy.

Then, there was the ill-considered Carnegie Corporation-sponsored “Track II” meeting in Finland with Russian officials in which both the American and Russian sides excluded any Ukrainian participation. One chapter of my recent book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogues Regimes, is dedicated to these so-called people-to-people meetings and showing that when constructed the way Carnegie did, they do far more harm than good. In this case, the American do-gooders handed a victory to the Kremlin from the start by acquiescing to Ukraine’s exclusion. That the resulting conclusions treated Ukraine and Russia and moral equivalents, no matter that Russia is the aggressor and occupying force, underlined the academics’ collective tin ear.

Any compromise that formalizes Russia’s occupation and annexation of Ukrainian territory effectively treats Ukraine the way that Germany and the Soviet Union treated Poland three-quarters of a century ago. The belief that treaties of non-aggression can restrain the most aggressive, revisionist powers is a notion that should have been dispensed with after, 75 years ago, such an agreement contributed to a cascade of events which ultimately claimed well over 50 million lives.

Read Less

Will Syria Kill the Schengen Zone?

I have been in Warsaw for the last several days for a seminar and to give a lecture for the Polish military. This trip was planned well before President Obama’s visit, to which Poles seem indifferent if not mildly cynical: simply put, with Russia looming large and the U.S. wavering in its leadership, it is hard to look from Warsaw to Washington and see a trustworthy ally.

The Polish army has been a faithful and active partner to the United States for well over a decade. Whatever Americans may think about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Poles were by our side, and not simply symbolically: Poles fought alongside Americans and, in some cases, died alongside Americans. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talked about “Old Europe” and “New Europe,” he was thinking about Poland.

Read More

I have been in Warsaw for the last several days for a seminar and to give a lecture for the Polish military. This trip was planned well before President Obama’s visit, to which Poles seem indifferent if not mildly cynical: simply put, with Russia looming large and the U.S. wavering in its leadership, it is hard to look from Warsaw to Washington and see a trustworthy ally.

The Polish army has been a faithful and active partner to the United States for well over a decade. Whatever Americans may think about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Poles were by our side, and not simply symbolically: Poles fought alongside Americans and, in some cases, died alongside Americans. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talked about “Old Europe” and “New Europe,” he was thinking about Poland.

Poland, of course, does not stand alone. It is a member of NATO, a member of the European Union, and a member of the Schengen Zone, enabling passport-free travel to all other signatories to the Schengen Agreement. For me, this meant flying into Germany, clearing passport control, before catching my next flight to Poland. But it also means being able to board a train in Spain, transfer in Paris for a train to Rome, and then fly to Helsinki, all without showing a passport.

As the Poles look at potential future threats and sources of regional instability, Syria of course looms large. As the shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels demonstrates, the long-awaited backlash from returning Jihadis from the Syrian civil war has begun. While Poland may not seem a likely target for Islamist terror, the Poles are cognizant of the fact that the breakdown of internal borders within Europe means that European Islamists returning from Syria—where more than a thousand are believed to be fighting—could strike soft targets not only in their home countries but also in Poland, the Baltics, Scandinavia—or any of the other 20 odd members.

Just as Europeans now question the euro as theory crashes into reality, when the big terror attack comes—and thanks to Turkey’s willingness to let radical Islamists transit its borders to enter and exit Syria—it most certainly will come, individual European states may begin to question the wisdom of forfeiting their sovereign control over their borders. It has been more than a decade since al-Qaeda struck in Madrid. But with more than 1,000 hardened al-Qaeda sympathizers who may eventually return home carrying passports giving them the right to cross borders with abandon, Schengen may soon have an expiration date. And with it, goes European dreams of a unified continent. The reverberations of the decision to do nothing with regard to Syria will continue to ripple outward, far beyond the Middle East itself.

Read Less

Why Russia’s Other Neighbors Are Worried

President Obama just visited Poland, trying to offer reassurance to U.S. allies rattled by Russian aggression. The Poles and their neighbors will have to take Obama’s word for it that the U.S. will stop anything bad from happening to them, because he didn’t offer much in the way of concrete help. Of course America’s word isn’t worth much in these days when red lines can be crossed with impunity. (Note that Bashar Assad is able to use chlorine gas with virtually no pushback beyond some mildly critical rhetoric from the U.S.)

The best the president could do was to roll out a $1 billion “European Reassurance Initiative” (not a very stirring title), which will pay for additional U.S. military exercises and additional aid to the region. Obama definitely didn’t deliver what the Poles and other Eastern European members of NATO would like to see–namely a substantial and permanent U.S. troop presence on their soil. 

Read More

President Obama just visited Poland, trying to offer reassurance to U.S. allies rattled by Russian aggression. The Poles and their neighbors will have to take Obama’s word for it that the U.S. will stop anything bad from happening to them, because he didn’t offer much in the way of concrete help. Of course America’s word isn’t worth much in these days when red lines can be crossed with impunity. (Note that Bashar Assad is able to use chlorine gas with virtually no pushback beyond some mildly critical rhetoric from the U.S.)

The best the president could do was to roll out a $1 billion “European Reassurance Initiative” (not a very stirring title), which will pay for additional U.S. military exercises and additional aid to the region. Obama definitely didn’t deliver what the Poles and other Eastern European members of NATO would like to see–namely a substantial and permanent U.S. troop presence on their soil. 

As Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, told the New York Times: “For the first time since the Second World War, one European country has taken a province by force from another European country, America, we hope, has ways of reassuring us that we haven’t even thought about. There are major bases in Britain, in Spain, in Portugal, in Greece, in Italy. Why not here?”

Why not indeed, unless the administration is concerned about offending Russia with such a move. Certainly assurances that Washington gave to Moscow in the 1990s that we would not station troops in Eastern Europe should be regarded as a dead letter–as much of a dead letter as Russia’s assurances that it would respect Ukrainian sovereignty.

As long as the administration and our European allies refuse to do more to counter Russian aggression, Vladimir Putin will just keep pushing forward. Sure, Putin has redeployed some troops away from Ukraine’s border. But his henchmen continue to infringe Ukrainian sovereignty. The latest news: well-armed separatists have attacked the border command post in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. Already the border is porous, allowing Russian extremists to come and go with virtual impunity. If the command post falls, Ukrainian hopes of defending their eastern border will be dashed for the foreseeable future.

Please don’t tell me that this aggression is occurring independently of the Kremlin. If Putin wanted to, he could shut off the pro-Russian independence movement in Ukraine–which didn’t exist until a couple of months ago–with a snap of his fingers. The fact that separatists continue fighting, plunging eastern Ukraine into what looks increasingly to be a civil war, is a sure sign that the Kremlin hasn’t given up its imperialist designs. 

No wonder Russia’s neighbors are so worried. And the administration’s “reassurance” initiative will not exactly reassure them. Only a more substantial show of American strength will do that. But American strength and resolve have been in short supply lately.

Read Less

America and Poland: the Return of History?

The concern over disappearing red lines has given way to disappearing border lines in Ukraine. A key battle over a border command center in eastern Ukraine yesterday highlighted the fact that while the conflict may be changing, it isn’t yet subsiding. “The scale of the fight reflected the critical importance of the border to both sides,” the Washington Post reported. “In recent weeks, it has been penetrated frequently by separatists bringing reinforcements and supplies from Russia to eastern Ukraine. The shipments have helped transform the insurgency from a somewhat ragtag guerrilla force to one capable of carrying out major military assaults.”

Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that President Obama’s efforts to reassure Eastern European allies are meeting a hopeful but not quite relieved welcome. Obama is in Warsaw today to deliver the message in person that the United States is putting its money where its mouth is: he is asking Congress to fund a $1 billion “European reassurance initiative,” according to the New York Times. The fund would enable military cooperation and training–including aid to Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia–as well as increased American military presence in the region.

The Times notes that it might not be enough for Russia’s Western-oriented neighbors:

Read More

The concern over disappearing red lines has given way to disappearing border lines in Ukraine. A key battle over a border command center in eastern Ukraine yesterday highlighted the fact that while the conflict may be changing, it isn’t yet subsiding. “The scale of the fight reflected the critical importance of the border to both sides,” the Washington Post reported. “In recent weeks, it has been penetrated frequently by separatists bringing reinforcements and supplies from Russia to eastern Ukraine. The shipments have helped transform the insurgency from a somewhat ragtag guerrilla force to one capable of carrying out major military assaults.”

Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that President Obama’s efforts to reassure Eastern European allies are meeting a hopeful but not quite relieved welcome. Obama is in Warsaw today to deliver the message in person that the United States is putting its money where its mouth is: he is asking Congress to fund a $1 billion “European reassurance initiative,” according to the New York Times. The fund would enable military cooperation and training–including aid to Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia–as well as increased American military presence in the region.

The Times notes that it might not be enough for Russia’s Western-oriented neighbors:

But it was unclear whether Mr. Obama’s new announcement would satisfy regional leaders previously unimpressed by the relatively token forces sent in recent months. Mr. Obama dispatched additional rotations of aircraft and support personnel as well as about 600 paratroopers to Poland and other allies in the region after Russia seized Crimea from neighboring Ukraine in the spring.

Anxious about the threat from Moscow, Polish leaders have been pressing for a more robust deployment and even a permanent base despite a NATO-Russia agreement following the end of the Cold War in which the western alliance said it would refrain from deploying substantial forces in eastern territory. Polish officials have argued that Russia had effectively abrogated that agreement by annexing Crimea.

“For the first time since the Second World War, one European country has taken a province by force from another European country,” Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, said in a telephone interview before Mr. Obama’s arrival. “America, we hope, has ways of reassuring us that we haven’t even thought about. There are major bases in Britain, in Spain, in Portugal, in Greece, in Italy. Why not here?”

Disappearing borders are precisely the sort of events that change the calculus in Eastern Europe in general, but particularly for Poland when those borders are Ukraine’s. The U.S. and EU like to pretend the end of history is near, but Eastern Europeans don’t have that luxury. That said, what Obama is proposing deserves to be taken seriously by our unnerved allies, because a beefed-up American military presence really does put more skin in the game, and would presumably have some deterrent effect.

Additionally, while the Obama administration has at times behaved appallingly toward Poland, the drift between the two countries is not all one-sided. A fascinating angle to this, which the Times explored yesterday, is the nature of changing alliances in the post-Cold War world combined with the effects of integration into the European Union.

The essence of the change is that partnership with the U.S. focuses on security while integration into Europe is about economics. The Times dispatch is centered on the fact that Poland is far from anti-American, but is not the U.S. cheerleader it once was. The drop in Polish enthusiasm for the U.S. mixed with the regional security concerns make Obama’s trip an uphill climb. In part, however, this is due to the success of Poland. For two decades a new Polish generation has needed the U.S. much less while getting a chance to discover its European neighbors (and identity) after the fall of Communism and the Polish accession to the EU:

What happened, Mr. Smolar said, was that Poland’s entry into the European Union in 2004, and the subsequent ability of Poles to travel freely throughout the Continent for the first time, have made the United States less attractive both as a romantic ideal and as a place where Poles dream of living.

Entry into the European Union pushed Poland to adopt European norms, from human rights to cleanliness standards in restaurants. Poles rapidly saw the benefits in such things as better roads and glittery malls.

“The E.U. became seen as a way of getting rich and respectable, though we continued to be connected to the U.S. for security,” Mr. Smolar said. “We began to realize that, for 90 percent of the problems we have, the solution is in Europe, not in America.”

The dependence on the U.S. for some of its security has made the Polish “much less anti-American than Western Europeans,” according to another of the article’s sources. Which raises an interesting question: Euro-integration has been an obvious success for countries like Poland, but is the other side of EU accession an inevitable slide into Western European anti-Americanism?

It would indeed be a sad irony if European integration meant indoctrination in the anti-Americanism of the smug hypocritical elites in some Western European countries. It would also be ironic if that slide were interrupted or derailed by Moscow’s military adventurism and the confirmation that even a war-weary America is still the foremost guarantor of security in Europe.

Read Less

Ronald Asmus’s Extraordinary Legacy

Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

Read More

Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

Part of the reason NATO was an option at all in the early days was that the existing European structures were simply not up to the task of integrating and protecting the post-Soviet states. Initial hopes were that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could take stewardship of such an integration. But it was heavy on the cooperation and light on the security. Then there was the European Union, but France was opposed to opening its doors to full membership. “That left NATO,” Asmus writes.

There were a few turning points in NATO’s favor, some more famous than others. For Asmus, it was the Foreign Affairs article he authored along with two other colleagues at RAND in 1993 making the case for NATO enlargement. Another was a speech given around that time by Volker Ruehe, an up-and-coming German politician who had taken the defense portfolio in the German governing coalition. Ruehe, apparently without even telling the country’s foreign minister, gave a speech calling for NATO and the EU to put Central and Eastern European countries on the path to full membership. Asmus writes:

On the plane during the flight back to Cologne, one of Ruehe’s top military advisors remarked that it had been a mistake to give the speech and it would take Germany years to recover from the damage caused by the Minister’s comments. He was mistaken. Within several years every one of Ruehe’s core ideas would be embraced by the U.S. and would become official Alliance policy.

It was one of many examples that showed support for the alliance was always higher than it appeared, but also that the West (especially Europe) needed a good shove in the right direction every so often. The rest is, as they say, history.

Bill Clinton, too, deserves a fair amount of credit. Not only was he receptive to the ideas that led to NATO expansion, but he was a compelling spokesman for the cause. As the events in Ukraine this year and Georgia a few years ago showed, the countries most likely to be attacked by Russia are those without security guarantees from the West. Clinton made this point repeatedly. In 1997, Asmus notes, Clinton gave a speech to West Point graduates and declared that he wanted to expand NATO “to make it less likely that you will ever be called to fight in another war across the Atlantic.” Later that year Clinton met privately with a group of senators to gauge their support. “Extending a security guarantee is important,” Clinton told them. “No NATO member has ever been attacked.”

Joe Biden, too, made a powerful argument, telling skeptics like Jack Matlock and Michael Mandelbaum that not to enlarge NATO simply because there was no immediate threat from Russia was “a prescription for paralysis.” As we’ve seen in recent years, such complacency does indeed set in and grind progress to a halt.

And that is key to truly grasping the significance of what Asmus accomplished. Letting opportunities slip by, when it comes to European integration, often means there will be no second chance. Asmus saw an opportunity, made his case, and accomplished something historic before it was buried in bureaucratic inertia.

After the Senate overwhelmingly approved the expansion, Jan Nowak, the famed courier between the Polish underground resistance and Allied governments who was 84 years old at the time of the vote, approached Asmus from the Senate’s visitor’s galley. “I never thought,” he said with broad smile, “that I would live to see the day when Poland is not only free—but safe.” That was Asmus’s monumental achievement, and thanks to his determination it is America’s legacy.

Read Less

Putin and His Billions

The New York Times on Sunday had a fascinating article on Vladimir Putin’s personal fortune, which has been estimated as high as $40 billion. What made the article truly dismaying, however, was not its detailed speculation about the extent to which Putin has looted the Russian state. This was depressing but hardly shocking. 

I was far more dismayed by this sentence: “So far, the American government has not imposed sanctions on Mr. Putin himself, and officials said they would not in the short term, reasoning that personally targeting a head of state would amount to a ‘nuclear’ escalation, as several put it.”

So let me get this straight: Putin can invade neighboring states such as Georgia and Ukraine. He can oppress his own people and steal from them. He can shore up a murderous despot in Syria and block effective action against the Iranian mullahs over their nuclear program. But the West thinks that trying to sanction and freeze his ill-gotten billions is too risky an escalation?

Read More

The New York Times on Sunday had a fascinating article on Vladimir Putin’s personal fortune, which has been estimated as high as $40 billion. What made the article truly dismaying, however, was not its detailed speculation about the extent to which Putin has looted the Russian state. This was depressing but hardly shocking. 

I was far more dismayed by this sentence: “So far, the American government has not imposed sanctions on Mr. Putin himself, and officials said they would not in the short term, reasoning that personally targeting a head of state would amount to a ‘nuclear’ escalation, as several put it.”

So let me get this straight: Putin can invade neighboring states such as Georgia and Ukraine. He can oppress his own people and steal from them. He can shore up a murderous despot in Syria and block effective action against the Iranian mullahs over their nuclear program. But the West thinks that trying to sanction and freeze his ill-gotten billions is too risky an escalation?

If you want to know why Putin is able to get away with his brazen aggression, here it is in a nutshell: a fundamental failure of will on the part of the U.S. and its European allies. Obviously nobody favors nuclear or even conventional military retaliation–we are not going to war with Russia unless it crosses some future line. 

But surely Putin has already crossed enough lines to justify the most severe possible economic sanctions we can inflict–including doing everything possible to deny him and his cronies the use of their illicitly acquired fortunes. The fact that we are willing to impose limited sanctions on some Putin pals but not on the master of the Kremlin himself says volumes about how fecklessly we are acting in the face of continuing and escalating aggression.

The big difference between the current masters of the Kremlin and their Soviet predecessors is that today’s crew are much more vulnerable to Western retaliation because they have so much money and property stored in the West. But it seems we are voluntarily giving up this leverage until sometime in the future. Are we waiting for Putin to invade Poland?

Read Less

Biden’s Disingenuous NATO Promises

Foreign-policy watchers on Twitter had some fun with the Associated Press when the newswire tweeted this morning: “BREAKING: Vice President Biden says US will respond to any aggression against NATO allies.” It wasn’t exactly “breaking” news that an attack on NATO would elicit a response from NATO. But I think Biden’s proclamation–“breaking” or not–is in fact worth discussing, for two reasons.

First, it should be a given that the U.S. will defend its NATO allies, but in the Obama era of resets and red lines, Washington has sought any excuse possible to avoid confrontation, even if it meant reneging on promises or obligations. Add to that the fact that the Obama administration has undercut America’s relationship with strategic allies–such as Poland, with which Obama has picked unnecessary diplomatic fights–and NATO countries probably do need to hear an explicit promise from the White House that this administration would fulfill its obligations.

But the other reason is that this promise–empty or not–is still a disingenuous sleight of hand. The recent crisis took place in Ukraine, which is not in NATO. This is not a coincidence. In recent years, Putin’s Russia has taken to invading and occupying foreign countries in Russia’s near-abroad under the pretext of “protecting” Russian or pro-Russian populations. These invasions are carried out against non-NATO countries. Had they been against NATO countries, Putin would have sparked wars involving stronger countries–such as the U.S.

Read More

Foreign-policy watchers on Twitter had some fun with the Associated Press when the newswire tweeted this morning: “BREAKING: Vice President Biden says US will respond to any aggression against NATO allies.” It wasn’t exactly “breaking” news that an attack on NATO would elicit a response from NATO. But I think Biden’s proclamation–“breaking” or not–is in fact worth discussing, for two reasons.

First, it should be a given that the U.S. will defend its NATO allies, but in the Obama era of resets and red lines, Washington has sought any excuse possible to avoid confrontation, even if it meant reneging on promises or obligations. Add to that the fact that the Obama administration has undercut America’s relationship with strategic allies–such as Poland, with which Obama has picked unnecessary diplomatic fights–and NATO countries probably do need to hear an explicit promise from the White House that this administration would fulfill its obligations.

But the other reason is that this promise–empty or not–is still a disingenuous sleight of hand. The recent crisis took place in Ukraine, which is not in NATO. This is not a coincidence. In recent years, Putin’s Russia has taken to invading and occupying foreign countries in Russia’s near-abroad under the pretext of “protecting” Russian or pro-Russian populations. These invasions are carried out against non-NATO countries. Had they been against NATO countries, Putin would have sparked wars involving stronger countries–such as the U.S.

The previous instance was Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. In seeking to differentiate the Ukraine invasion from the Georgia invasion–which elicited outrage mostly from the right, as the American left’s anti-Bush hysteria got the better of them and extended to pro-Bush foreign leaders–even some knowledgeable observers have taken refuge in the notion that Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili was goaded “into firing the first shot.”

This is preposterous, and it’s worth reviewing why in order to understand how Putin’s Russia treats its non-NATO neighbors. A good summary of the preceding events is contained in Andrei Illarionov’s essay in a book on the 2008 war, in which Illarionov reviews the Russian preparation for eventual war.

Russia began supplying one breakaway region, South Ossetia, with military equipment–including tanks and ammunition–before Saakashvili became part of the Georgian government. In fact, almost as soon as Putin joined Yeltsin’s government Russia began taking hostile measures against Georgia, which only increased as Putin became president and consolidated power. With tensions rising in 2002, Russia bombed Georgian territory. Soon after that, Putin claimed the right to take military action against Georgia under the guise of anti-terror missions.

Russia then staffed up South Ossetia’s government with Russian defense officials and sent more military equipment. Russia’s defense minister then echoed Putin’s threats to attack Georgia. More military goods along with Russian advisors would follow. The next year, Russia distributed Russian passports to South Ossetians with the declaration that it had an obligation to defend its citizens. More shelling of Georgian territory took place as well as a well-publicized attack on Georgian peacekeepers. Later that year, Georgian power lines were successfully attacked. The following year, a bombing traced to Russia at a Georgian police headquarters killed three.

Russia increased its construction of military bases and its transfer of arms and ammunition to breakaway Georgian territory. The following years had more of the same, with 2007 bringing major shelling of Georgian civilian territory and sustained military attacks. In the days before the war broke out in 2008, South Ossetian forces had begun sustained attacks on Georgian targets and territory. Georgia responded to South Ossetia, and Russia invaded Georgia.

To those who weren’t paying attention, the Russian attack on Ukraine came as something of a surprise. But this is how Russia behaves toward non-NATO states. So Joe Biden’s assurances to NATO states that the U.S. will stand by them is not a show of strength in the face of Russian expansionism. It’s a show of weakness, because it’s an implicit, but unmistakable, declaration that nothing has changed. If you’re not in NATO, you’re on your own. And by the way, the Obama administration doesn’t want you in NATO, whoever you are.

It’s nice to promise protection to states like Poland, which we have a record of betraying and whose leaders probably don’t find it so inspiring when Obama’s fans compare him to FDR. But the question is what to do about non-NATO states. George W. Bush’s preference was to put states like Ukraine and Georgia on the road to NATO membership and fuller democratization. The weak states in the region should ask Biden what he and his boss think they should do since they’re specifically excluded from the White House’s guarantees.

Read Less

The Dictator’s Script

Is there a dictator school somewhere in the world that trains aspiring autocrats how to talk and act? You would think so given the remarkable resemblances between the pro-government rhetoric in Ukraine and Venezuela–two countries separated by an entire world but united in a shared desire to squelch anti-government protests.

Anne Applebaum (whose husband, foreign minister Radek Sikorski of Poland, is in Kiev) has a useful column laying out the rhetorical tropes being employed by the Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych and his backers in Moscow. This includes referring to repression as an “anti-terrorist operation,” calling demonstrators Nazis or fascists, accusing them of trying to stage a coup d’état, and referring to Russian aid in repression as “fraternal assistance.” She might also have added Vladimir Putin’s favorite gambit, of referring to all opposition forces as being agents of the United States.

What is striking is how Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the late Hugo Chavez’s designated successor, is using nearly identical language to justify his repression of anti-government protests in Caracas. As the Wall Street Journal notes

Read More

Is there a dictator school somewhere in the world that trains aspiring autocrats how to talk and act? You would think so given the remarkable resemblances between the pro-government rhetoric in Ukraine and Venezuela–two countries separated by an entire world but united in a shared desire to squelch anti-government protests.

Anne Applebaum (whose husband, foreign minister Radek Sikorski of Poland, is in Kiev) has a useful column laying out the rhetorical tropes being employed by the Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych and his backers in Moscow. This includes referring to repression as an “anti-terrorist operation,” calling demonstrators Nazis or fascists, accusing them of trying to stage a coup d’état, and referring to Russian aid in repression as “fraternal assistance.” She might also have added Vladimir Putin’s favorite gambit, of referring to all opposition forces as being agents of the United States.

What is striking is how Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the late Hugo Chavez’s designated successor, is using nearly identical language to justify his repression of anti-government protests in Caracas. As the Wall Street Journal notes

Mr. Maduro accused what he called “fascist leaders” financed by the U.S. of using highly trained teams to topple his socialist government from power. …

He said his foes were hoping to generate chaos to justify a foreign military intervention. “In Venezuela, they’re applying the format of a coup d’état,” he said.

In a speech Thursday, Mr. Maduro also accused U.S. cable channel CNN of producing skewed coverage of the protests and said he had begun an administrative process to kick the channel off the air in Venezuela unless it moved to “rectify” its coverage.

“They want to show the world that in Venezuela there is a civil war,” Mr. Maduro said. “In Venezuela the people are working, studying, building the Fatherland.”

All one can say is that Maduro needs to get a more original script. Simply because this rhetoric has worked for Putin does not mean it will work anywhere else in the world. It does, however, show just how brain-dead so many autocratic leaders are, parroting the same shrill script in the hope that their people are too simple-minded to see through their incendiary accusations. The beauty of the Internet, at least when it’s not effectively censored, is that it makes it easier than ever to expose, refute, and parody such heavy-handed and bombastic rhetorical assaults.

Read Less

A Good Deal for the Ukrainian Opposition

The agreement reached between President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukrainian opposition leaders is about as good as the anti-government forces can possibly hope to get.

It calls, inter alia, for a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition to be followed by a new presidential election no later than December. It also commits the government not to impose a state of emergency–meaning martial law–and to allow outside monitors from Europe and the opposition to monitor all investigations “into recent acts of violence.”

A sign of just how favorable this agreement is to the opposition: while it was signed by the foreign ministers of Poland, France, and Germany, all of whom are in Kiev, the Russian delegate pointedly refused to sign it.

Read More

The agreement reached between President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukrainian opposition leaders is about as good as the anti-government forces can possibly hope to get.

It calls, inter alia, for a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition to be followed by a new presidential election no later than December. It also commits the government not to impose a state of emergency–meaning martial law–and to allow outside monitors from Europe and the opposition to monitor all investigations “into recent acts of violence.”

A sign of just how favorable this agreement is to the opposition: while it was signed by the foreign ministers of Poland, France, and Germany, all of whom are in Kiev, the Russian delegate pointedly refused to sign it.

Yet, many protesters in the streets are not prepared to accept what is largely a victory. Many of them refuse to disperse from Independence Square until Yanukovych resigns. Their position is understandable but misguided. As Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski reportedly told demonstrators: “If you don’t support this [deal] you’ll have martial law, you’ll have the army. You will all be dead.”

Sikorski should know what he is talking about, having spent a good part of his life as a refugee from Poland, which saw the imposition of martial law in 1981.

It remains an open question, however, whether many of the people on the streets of Kiev will heed Sikorski’s wisdom and that of their own leaders. They should, because all too many revolutions have gone off the rails when the revolutionaries pushed for an absolutist agenda and refused to accept a compromise that would have given them 75 percent of what they wanted. The classic example is, of course, the French Revolution, which started off as a moderate, liberal movement in 1789 and soon thereafter was drenched in blood from one round of “terror” after another.

The most successful and revered revolutionaries are those, like Michael Collins and Nelson Mandela, who are willing to accept a negotiated outcome to avoid an all-out war. That is an example the people of Ukraine would be wise to heed.

Read Less

Poland Bans Kosher Slaughter

Back in April, when the imposing Museum of the History of the Polish Jews opened its doors in Warsaw, there was much talk of how the relationship between Jews and Poles had been transformed for the better in recent years. The sentiments expressed by Jan Kulczyk, a wealthy Polish businessman who helped finance the museum, seemed to encapsulate a new era: “When the Jewish nation and the Polish nation, when we are together, when we look in the same direction, it is great for us, great for Poland and great for the world.”

The news that the Sejm, the Polish parliament, has rejected a government-sponsored bill to protect ritual slaughter, in both its Jewish and Muslim variants, suggests that, sadly, Jews and Poles are facing opposite directions when it comes to religious freedom. As a result of the vote, which comes on the heels of last year’s supreme court ruling that ritual slaughter, or shechita, is no longer exempted from requirements to stun animals prior to killing them, the production of kosher meat has effectively been banned in Poland. All the excitement about the revival of Jewish life there now seems rather misplaced, given that, as Poland’s American-born Chief Rabbi Michael Shudrich bemoaned on his Facebook page, Poland has become a country “in which the rights of the Jewish religion are curtailed.”

Read More

Back in April, when the imposing Museum of the History of the Polish Jews opened its doors in Warsaw, there was much talk of how the relationship between Jews and Poles had been transformed for the better in recent years. The sentiments expressed by Jan Kulczyk, a wealthy Polish businessman who helped finance the museum, seemed to encapsulate a new era: “When the Jewish nation and the Polish nation, when we are together, when we look in the same direction, it is great for us, great for Poland and great for the world.”

The news that the Sejm, the Polish parliament, has rejected a government-sponsored bill to protect ritual slaughter, in both its Jewish and Muslim variants, suggests that, sadly, Jews and Poles are facing opposite directions when it comes to religious freedom. As a result of the vote, which comes on the heels of last year’s supreme court ruling that ritual slaughter, or shechita, is no longer exempted from requirements to stun animals prior to killing them, the production of kosher meat has effectively been banned in Poland. All the excitement about the revival of Jewish life there now seems rather misplaced, given that, as Poland’s American-born Chief Rabbi Michael Shudrich bemoaned on his Facebook page, Poland has become a country “in which the rights of the Jewish religion are curtailed.”

In any country, such a decision would be strongly protested; in Poland, the weight of history gives objections to the ban an added urgency. During last year’s debate over the supreme court ruling, Piotr Kadlcik, head of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, opined that “[T]he outrageous atmosphere in the Polish media surrounding shechitah reminds me precisely of the similar situation in Poland and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.” This time around, the historical analogies are no less visible.

Kadlick again voiced his warning about the patterns of the last century repeating themselves, adding that “populism, superstition and political interests won out.” Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, paid an official visit to Poland just last month, was equally sharp in its condemnation. Decrying the “rude blow to the religious tradition of the Jewish people,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry asserted that the Sejm‘s decision “seriously harms the process of restoring Jewish life in Poland.”

Reacting to the Israeli statement, Poland’s centrist prime minister, Donald Tusk, sounded almost wounded. “Especially the historical context is, to put it mildly, off target and is not applicable to the situation,” he said. Isn’t it? One of the reasons why Jews are especially sensitive to legal measures against ritual slaughter, as Tusk surely knows, is that the Nazis banned it in Germany only three months after they came to power in 1933. And like many of today’s animal rights activists, the Nazis depicted the methods of shechita as a gruesome, needless celebration of animal suffering.

Even so, the historical parallels don’t overlap completely. The two main Polish political parties that opposed the government bill are not, as might reasonably be expected, populated by snarling right-wing skinheads. One of them, the Democratic Left Party, or SLD, was co-founded by Alexander Kwasniewski, who served as Poland’s president from 1995-2005. Throughout his time in office, Kwasniewski was feted by Jewish groups, particularly in the United States, for his strong stand against anti-Semitism; after leaving office, he was one of the backers of the European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation, an organization that is unlikely to share the SLD’s revulsion for shechita.

The other party, the Palikot Movement (named for its founder, Janusz Palikot), is variously described as liberal, even libertarian. The party’s support for gay civil unions and the legalization of soft drugs are noteworthy in a country that remains socially conservative and devoutly Catholic. Yet one of Palikot’s leaders, Andrzej Rozenek, sounded like a traditional anti-Semite when he declared that “there is no permission for animal cruelty in the name of money”–the implication being that what really worries Jewish defenders of shechita is the loss of a $400 million dollar regional market for kosher goods produced in Poland.

Poland is not the first country to ban shechita–European states from Norway to Switzerland have also prohibited its practice–but its historic position as the cradle of the Holocaust means that extra scrutiny of any legal measures against Jewish rituals is inevitable. Preventing shechita in a country where, as Rabbi Shudrich noted, hunting remains legal, renders the concerns about cruelty to animals laughable. It also opens Poland up to an accusation last leveled against Germany, where an effort to ban circumcision was recently defeated: namely, that for all of its Jewish museums and memorials to the Holocaust, the country finds the task of being nice to dead Jews far more appealing than guaranteeing the rights of living ones.

Read Less

Mitt Finds Solidarity in Poland

Polish Anti-Communist and Nobel Peace Laureate Lech Walesa embraced Mitt Romney’s candidacy during his visit to Poland this week, but later added that Romney has to work a bit on his charisma. Still, it’s a pretty good pickup for the Romney campaign:

“I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too,” Walesa said through a translator. “Gov. Romney, get your success. Be successful!”

The endorsement of a U.S. presidential challenger, unusual in its boldness, was particularly eyebrow-raising in light of Walesa’s refusal to meet with Obama on his visit to Poland one year ago.

Lech Walesa has had a fairly public feud with Obama, so this won’t come as a total surprise. Last month, the White House rejected requests from Polish officials that Walesa accept the President’s Medal of Freedom for the late Jan Karski, who was honored posthumously for his activism with the Polish Underground and testimony about the Holocaust. The reason? Walesa was apparently “too political,” according to the administration. The Nobel Peace recipient has also criticized Obama’s policies and declined to meet with the president during one of his visits to Poland.

Read More

Polish Anti-Communist and Nobel Peace Laureate Lech Walesa embraced Mitt Romney’s candidacy during his visit to Poland this week, but later added that Romney has to work a bit on his charisma. Still, it’s a pretty good pickup for the Romney campaign:

“I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too,” Walesa said through a translator. “Gov. Romney, get your success. Be successful!”

The endorsement of a U.S. presidential challenger, unusual in its boldness, was particularly eyebrow-raising in light of Walesa’s refusal to meet with Obama on his visit to Poland one year ago.

Lech Walesa has had a fairly public feud with Obama, so this won’t come as a total surprise. Last month, the White House rejected requests from Polish officials that Walesa accept the President’s Medal of Freedom for the late Jan Karski, who was honored posthumously for his activism with the Polish Underground and testimony about the Holocaust. The reason? Walesa was apparently “too political,” according to the administration. The Nobel Peace recipient has also criticized Obama’s policies and declined to meet with the president during one of his visits to Poland.

But ABC wonders whether Walesa’s endorsement of Romney is also a reflection of Polish feelings toward Obama:

So what impact will Walesa’s embrace of Romney have on the 2012 presidential race? Little, experts say, although it does symbolize a real sense of discontentment among many Poles and Polish-Americans over Obama’s handling of the bilateral alliance during his term.

“This is a powerful statement on Polish relations with the U.S. right now,” Alex Storozynski, president of the Kosciuszko Foundation, a nonpartisan Polish educational and cultural group, said of the Walesa endorsement.  “Poles in Poland are frustrated with the Obama administration.”

They certainly have reason to be frustrated. Obama has reneged on missile defense, blindly pursued the Russian “reset,” and failed to honor a campaign promise to add Poland to a list of visa waiver countries. Some of this outrage boiled over recently after Obama’s “Polish death camp” remark. Walesa’s bold endorsement of Romney is only the latest indication of Obama’s declining popularity in Poland.

Read Less

SPJ Executive Committee Recommends Renaming Helen Thomas Award

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision. Read More

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision.

“I’ve had no less than eight hours of personal one-on-one conversations with her since that happened,” Benton told the Washington Post. “She’s not bigoted or racist or anti-Semitic. She has her differences about foreign policy but you’re allowed that.”

According to the Post, Benton has been criticized by Jewish leaders in the past for publishing views that some believed bordered on anti-Semitism. “In 2004, his paper touched nerves with an editorial that some Jewish leaders complained suggested a Jewish cabal controlling U.S. foreign policy,” reported the Post.

The Post is likely referring to a 2004 column written by Benton, in which he endorsed the re-election bid of Rep. Jim Moran, who was running against “the well-financed campaign of a political neophyte, Alexandria attorney Andy Rosenberg.” Benton wrote that the election had become “about a cabal of powerful Washington, D.C., based interests backing the Bush administration’s support for rightwing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s handling of the Middle East conflict trying to upend an outspoken and powerful Democratic opponent.”

It’s not exactly like telling Israeli Jews to go back to Germany, but with those editorial leanings, it sounds like Thomas will feel very much at home at the paper.

Read Less

SPJ Voting on Whether to Rename Helen Thomas Award

Helen Thomas’s alma mater, Wayne State University, has already decided to rename an award it gave in her name, and now it looks like the Society of Professional Journalists may follow suit. The SPJ will vote on whether to change the title of its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement on Jan. 8, in response to her continued anti-Semitic public remarks:

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The SPJ published two letters debating the name change in its journal. One letter was from Abraham Foxman of the ADL, which has mounted a pretty successful campaign to get universities and other institutions to rename awards given in Thomas’s honor. Foxman wrote that Thomas’s recent deplorable remarks at an Arab-American dinner “were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

“No academic institution or organization should want to be associated with an unrepentant anti-Semite and bigot, and it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name,” said Foxman.

The other letter, by Lloyd H. Weston, argued that Thomas was merely voicing an opinion, and that he “fail[ed] to see the controversy.” Read More

Helen Thomas’s alma mater, Wayne State University, has already decided to rename an award it gave in her name, and now it looks like the Society of Professional Journalists may follow suit. The SPJ will vote on whether to change the title of its Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement on Jan. 8, in response to her continued anti-Semitic public remarks:

The Society of Professional Journalists is revisiting its decision last summer not to change the name of its Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award after Thomas, 90, told an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., last month that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”

Thomas, a 67-year-veteran of Washington reporting, resigned from her job as a columnist at Hearst last June after remarking to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States. She later apologized, but her remarks in Michigan on Dec. 2 have raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of the apology.

“Ms. Thomas’ most recent remarks led to calls for a reconsideration of the issue by the executive board,” said Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and an investigative journalist for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

The SPJ published two letters debating the name change in its journal. One letter was from Abraham Foxman of the ADL, which has mounted a pretty successful campaign to get universities and other institutions to rename awards given in Thomas’s honor. Foxman wrote that Thomas’s recent deplorable remarks at an Arab-American dinner “were carefully thought out and reveal a person who is deeply infected with anti-Semitism.”

“No academic institution or organization should want to be associated with an unrepentant anti-Semite and bigot, and it should no longer be considered an honor to receive an award bearing her name,” said Foxman.

The other letter, by Lloyd H. Weston, argued that Thomas was merely voicing an opinion, and that he “fail[ed] to see the controversy.”

“[T]he same First Amendment that protects my right to be a Jew and a Zionist in America, protects Helen Thomas’ right to express her opinion of Jews and Zionists, no matter what that opinion may be,” wrote Weston. “And while I vehemently disagree with the opinions she has expressed about Jews and Zionists, I will defend, as long as I live, her right to express them.”

How courageous for Weston to vow to “defend” Thomas’s right to an opinion, but I don’t think anybody here is attempting to deny her that right. This issue isn’t about freedom of speech; it’s about the public image of a respected institution. Societies like the SPJ give these types of awards because they’re considered prestigious for both the honoree and the organization. Well-regarded groups probably wouldn’t pass out awards named after, say, David Duke or Paris Hilton.

So to echo what Foxman said, I’m not sure many journalists would want to put “Recipient of the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement” alongside their byline. I also have a hunch that the SPJ’s public affairs department probably doesn’t want to deal with the inevitably uncomfortable press coverage every time they hand out the award.

Thomas still has a great deal of friends, supporters, and defenders in the journalism industry, but I have a feeling that this vote will result in a name change. It would be a nightmare for SPJ if its Executive Committee decided otherwise. As unfortunate as it may be, Thomas’s recent anti-Semitic statements have come to define her. And fair or not, if SPJ votes to continue to issue the award in her name, it will be viewed as a nod of support for her remarks.

Read Less

Honduras, Obama, and Occam’s Razor

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

Read Less

University of Toronto Thesis Argues Jews Exploit the Holocaust

Criticizing Islam may get you a court summons in Canada. But calling the Jews “privileged racists” who intentionally exploit the memory of the Holocaust to generate political power may just get you a graduate degree.

The University of Toronto has come under heavy criticism for accepting a master’s thesis from an anti-Israel activist that accuses the Jewish community of deliberately using Holocaust-remembrance programs to create a false impression of Jewish victimhood, in order to make it easier for Jews to push “racist” and “apartheid” policies in Israel:

The thesis, titled “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education,” was written by Jenny Peto, a Jewish activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid. It denounces the March of Remembrance and Hope, for which young adults of diverse backgrounds travel with Holocaust survivors to sites of Nazi atrocities in Poland, and March of the Living Canada, which takes young Jews with survivors to Poland and Israel.

Peto argues that the two programs cause Jews to falsely believe they are innocent victims. In reality, she writes, they are privileged white people who “cannot see their own racism.” The “construction of a victimized Jewish identity,” she argues, is intentional: It produces “effects that are extremely beneficial to the organized Jewish community” and to “apartheid” Israel.

While her argument may not technically qualify as Holocaust revisionism, it’s teetering precariously close. The argument that Jews are using the memory of the Holocaust to propagate a false sense of victimhood only makes sense if you believe that a) Jews are exaggerating the facts of the Holocaust to make it sound worse than it really was, or b) the Holocaust is as horrific as it is portrayed, but was not uniquely horrific. In other words, Jews are deliberately downplaying the adversity faced by other cultures in order to exaggerate the importance of the Holocaust.

The second perspective seems to be where Peto is coming from. In her thesis, she laments that the Holocaust minimizes the magnitude of other apparent horrors, such as violence against women, America’s historical acts of “genocide,” terrorism, and Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians.

Peto isn’t the first to argue these points. Norman Finkelstein has said and written similar things in the past. But this is the first time that I’m aware of that an esteemed Western university has treated borderline Holocaust revisionism as legitimate scholarship.

Criticizing Islam may get you a court summons in Canada. But calling the Jews “privileged racists” who intentionally exploit the memory of the Holocaust to generate political power may just get you a graduate degree.

The University of Toronto has come under heavy criticism for accepting a master’s thesis from an anti-Israel activist that accuses the Jewish community of deliberately using Holocaust-remembrance programs to create a false impression of Jewish victimhood, in order to make it easier for Jews to push “racist” and “apartheid” policies in Israel:

The thesis, titled “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education,” was written by Jenny Peto, a Jewish activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid. It denounces the March of Remembrance and Hope, for which young adults of diverse backgrounds travel with Holocaust survivors to sites of Nazi atrocities in Poland, and March of the Living Canada, which takes young Jews with survivors to Poland and Israel.

Peto argues that the two programs cause Jews to falsely believe they are innocent victims. In reality, she writes, they are privileged white people who “cannot see their own racism.” The “construction of a victimized Jewish identity,” she argues, is intentional: It produces “effects that are extremely beneficial to the organized Jewish community” and to “apartheid” Israel.

While her argument may not technically qualify as Holocaust revisionism, it’s teetering precariously close. The argument that Jews are using the memory of the Holocaust to propagate a false sense of victimhood only makes sense if you believe that a) Jews are exaggerating the facts of the Holocaust to make it sound worse than it really was, or b) the Holocaust is as horrific as it is portrayed, but was not uniquely horrific. In other words, Jews are deliberately downplaying the adversity faced by other cultures in order to exaggerate the importance of the Holocaust.

The second perspective seems to be where Peto is coming from. In her thesis, she laments that the Holocaust minimizes the magnitude of other apparent horrors, such as violence against women, America’s historical acts of “genocide,” terrorism, and Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians.

Peto isn’t the first to argue these points. Norman Finkelstein has said and written similar things in the past. But this is the first time that I’m aware of that an esteemed Western university has treated borderline Holocaust revisionism as legitimate scholarship.

Read Less

Reason to Slow Down START

Sen. Jon Kyl is enjoying an “I told you so” moment. He’s been trying to slow the rush to a New START ratification vote, pleading that additional time is needed to explore serious concerns about the treaty’s implications. And now we learn:

The U.S. believes Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads to facilities near North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as recently as this spring, U.S. officials say, adding to questions in Congress about Russian compliance with long-standing pledges ahead of a possible vote on a new arms-control treaty.

U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers. The U.S. has long voiced concerns about Russia’s lack of transparency when it comes to its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, believed to be many times the number possessed by the U.S.

Russia’s movement of the ground-based tactical weapons appeared to coincide with the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile-defense installations in countries bordering Russia. Moscow has long considered the U.S. missile defense buildup in Europe a challenge to Russian power, underlining deep-seated mistrust between U.S. and Russian armed forces despite improved relations between political leaders.

In short, Russia isn’t living up to its existing obligations, and there is nothing in New START to deal with tactical weapons. Moreover, this confirms what many conservative critics have long suspected, namely that reset is a one-way street. In order to keep up the facade of improved relations, the Obama team is forced to ignore serious challenges to the U.S. and its allies:

U.S. officials believe the most recent movements of Russian tactical nuclear weapons took place in late spring. In late May, a U.S. Patriot missile battery was deployed in northern Poland, close to Kaliningrad, sparking public protests from Moscow.

Some officials said the movements are a concern but sought to play down the threat. Russian nuclear warheads are stored separately from their launching systems, U.S. officials say.

Maybe it’s time for some serious oversight hearings. At the very least, the senators should resist being hurried to vote on a treaty before they understand the true state of U.S.-Russian relations.

Sen. Jon Kyl is enjoying an “I told you so” moment. He’s been trying to slow the rush to a New START ratification vote, pleading that additional time is needed to explore serious concerns about the treaty’s implications. And now we learn:

The U.S. believes Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads to facilities near North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as recently as this spring, U.S. officials say, adding to questions in Congress about Russian compliance with long-standing pledges ahead of a possible vote on a new arms-control treaty.

U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers. The U.S. has long voiced concerns about Russia’s lack of transparency when it comes to its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, believed to be many times the number possessed by the U.S.

Russia’s movement of the ground-based tactical weapons appeared to coincide with the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile-defense installations in countries bordering Russia. Moscow has long considered the U.S. missile defense buildup in Europe a challenge to Russian power, underlining deep-seated mistrust between U.S. and Russian armed forces despite improved relations between political leaders.

In short, Russia isn’t living up to its existing obligations, and there is nothing in New START to deal with tactical weapons. Moreover, this confirms what many conservative critics have long suspected, namely that reset is a one-way street. In order to keep up the facade of improved relations, the Obama team is forced to ignore serious challenges to the U.S. and its allies:

U.S. officials believe the most recent movements of Russian tactical nuclear weapons took place in late spring. In late May, a U.S. Patriot missile battery was deployed in northern Poland, close to Kaliningrad, sparking public protests from Moscow.

Some officials said the movements are a concern but sought to play down the threat. Russian nuclear warheads are stored separately from their launching systems, U.S. officials say.

Maybe it’s time for some serious oversight hearings. At the very least, the senators should resist being hurried to vote on a treaty before they understand the true state of U.S.-Russian relations.

Read Less

What Can the GOP Senators Get?

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

Read Less

Turkey Co-opts NATO Missile-Defense System to Hurt Israel and Help Iran

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

Read Less

Double-Talk from Moscow on Iran

The White House has been crowing that Russia’s decision last week not to sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran represents a big triumph of its attempt to “reset” relationships with Moscow. The reality is somewhat more complicated — and less to our liking.

The fact is that Russia has flirted with selling the S-300 to Iran for years without ever actually going through with the deal, thus suggesting that the Russians were not truly planning to transfer the technology after all — they were simply hoping to get a good payoff from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other countries alarmed by rising Iranian power. It’s impossible to know exactly what the Russians have gotten in return (such deals tend to be secret), but at a very minimum they managed to convince the Obama administration to scrap plans to put missile interceptors into Poland and the Czech Republic — a move that alarmed those stalwart allies. How much more can we expect from the Russians? Not that much, as indicated by this L.A. Times article:

Even as the White House praised Russia for declining to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions, Russian diplomats were quietly recruiting other countries this week to undercut tougher penalties imposed on the Islamic Republic.

Russia supported weak United Nations sanctions approved in June to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. But it has strongly objected to tougher sanctions added individually by the United States, the European Union and four other countries. It fears those sanctions may end up hurting Russian companies that do business in Iran.

In other words, the Russians are up to their old tricks — paying lip service to stopping the Iranian nuclear program while sabotaging efforts to really get tough with Tehran. Beijing is pursuing a similar policy. Their intransigence means that the odds of really cracking down on Iran with international sanctions — the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policy — are minimal. Other means, such as computer worms, can and should be used to sabotage and delay the Iranian nuclear program, but in the end the U.S. and Israel cannot avoid the toughest of choices: either act militarily or watch Iran go nuclear.

The White House has been crowing that Russia’s decision last week not to sell advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran represents a big triumph of its attempt to “reset” relationships with Moscow. The reality is somewhat more complicated — and less to our liking.

The fact is that Russia has flirted with selling the S-300 to Iran for years without ever actually going through with the deal, thus suggesting that the Russians were not truly planning to transfer the technology after all — they were simply hoping to get a good payoff from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other countries alarmed by rising Iranian power. It’s impossible to know exactly what the Russians have gotten in return (such deals tend to be secret), but at a very minimum they managed to convince the Obama administration to scrap plans to put missile interceptors into Poland and the Czech Republic — a move that alarmed those stalwart allies. How much more can we expect from the Russians? Not that much, as indicated by this L.A. Times article:

Even as the White House praised Russia for declining to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions, Russian diplomats were quietly recruiting other countries this week to undercut tougher penalties imposed on the Islamic Republic.

Russia supported weak United Nations sanctions approved in June to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. But it has strongly objected to tougher sanctions added individually by the United States, the European Union and four other countries. It fears those sanctions may end up hurting Russian companies that do business in Iran.

In other words, the Russians are up to their old tricks — paying lip service to stopping the Iranian nuclear program while sabotaging efforts to really get tough with Tehran. Beijing is pursuing a similar policy. Their intransigence means that the odds of really cracking down on Iran with international sanctions — the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policy — are minimal. Other means, such as computer worms, can and should be used to sabotage and delay the Iranian nuclear program, but in the end the U.S. and Israel cannot avoid the toughest of choices: either act militarily or watch Iran go nuclear.

Read Less

Dismantling Joe Klein

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this: Read More

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this:

As for myself, I deeply regret that once, on television in the days before the war, I reluctantly but foolishly said that going ahead with the invasion might be the right thing to do. I was far more skeptical, and equivocal, in print–I never wrote in favor of the war and repeatedly raised the problems that would accompany it–but skepticism and equivocation were an insufficient reaction, too.

Well, this admission marks progress of a sort, I suppose.

For the longest time, Klein denied ever having supported the war. He even complained about being criticized by liberals for his support of the Iraq war. “The fact that I’ve been opposed to the Iraq war ever since this 2002 article in Slate just makes it all the more aggravating,” Klein said.

But what proved to be even more aggravating to Joe is when people like Arianna Huffington and me pointed out that Klein supported the war immediately before it began, thus contradicting his revisionist claim.

For the record: On Feb. 22, 2003, Klein told the late Tim Russert that the war was a “really tough decision” but that he, Klein, thought it was probably “the right decision at this point.” Klein then offered several reasons for his judgment: Saddam’s defiance of 17 UN resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send the message that if we didn’t enforce the latest UN resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

It’s worth pointing out that to make a false claim and revise it in light of emerging evidence is something of a pattern with Joe. After all, he repeatedly and forcefully denied being the author of the novel Primary Colors until he was forced to admit that he, in fact, had written it. It takes him a while to grudgingly bow before incontrovertible evidence. But he does get there. Eventually. When he has no other choice.

4.  According to Klein:

In retrospect, the issue then was as clear cut as it is now. It demanded a clarity that I failed to summon. The essential principle is immutable: We should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack. Never. And never again.

Presumably, then, Klein believes that Great Britain declaring war on Germany two days after Hitler’s invasion of Poland (Great Britain and Poland were allies and shared a security pact) was a violation of an “essential” and “immutable” principle. So was the first Gulf War, when the United States repelled Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. So was Tony Blair’s intervention in Kosovo and Sierra Leone (the latter widely viewed as successful in helping save that West African country from barbarism and dictatorship). So, arguably, was the American Civil War; after all, Lincoln could have avoided war, had he given in on the matters of secession and slavery.

According to Klein, no war is justified unless a nation has been attacked or is under the direct, immediate threat of attack — which means interventions for the sake of aiding allies, meeting treaty obligations, averting massive humanitarian disasters, or advancing national interests and national security are always and forever off the table.

Klein’s arguments are those of a simpleton. He has drawn up a doctrine that isn’t based on careful reasoning, subtle analysis, or a sophisticated understanding of history; it is, in fact, a childish overreaction to the events of the moment. What Klein states with emphatic certainty one day is something he will probably jettison the next.

Iraq is a subject on which Joe Klein has been — let’s be gentle here — highly erratic. He both opposed and supported the war before it began. After the war started, he spoke hopefully about the movement toward democracy there. (“This is not a moment for caveats,” he wrote in 2005, after the Iraqi elections. “It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement — however it may turn out — and for hope.”) Now he refers to it as a “neo-colonialist obscenity.” President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” went from being something that “seem[s] to be paying off” and that might even secure Bush the Nobel Peace Prize to a “delusional farce.” Klein ridiculed the idea of the surge, referring to it as “Bush’s futile pipe dream,” before conceding that the surge was wise, necessary, and successful.

This is all of a piece with Klein. And there is a kind of poignancy that surrounds his descent. Once upon a time, Joe was a fairly decent political reporter — but somewhere along the line, he went badly off track. He has become startlingly embittered, consumed by his hatreds, regarding as malevolent enemies all people who hold views different from his. In the past, his writings could be insightful, somewhat balanced, and at times elegant. These days, he’s not good for much more than a rant — and even his rants have become predictable, pedestrian, banal. Witless, even.

This cannot be what Henry Luce envisioned for his magazine.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.