Commentary Magazine


Topic: political leader

J Street Launches Campaign Against Ros-Lehtinen

J Street is calling on Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to return campaign contributions that she received from Irving Moskowitz, the financier behind the new construction at the Shepherd’s Hotel site. Yes, the George Soros–funded J Street is criticizing someone for taking money from a controversial philanthropist. This is too easy:

With the two-state solution hanging by a thread, what a terrible signal it sends for an American political leader to be so cozy with a far-right political funder whose actions undermine the foreign policy of the United States and makes a two-state solution harder to achieve.

Ros-Lehtinen, the new Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reportedly accepted $4,800 from both Moskowitz and his wife during her campaign. Moskowitz’s wife also gave $5,000 to a pro-Israel PAC that donated $10,000 to Ros-Lehtinen.

According to J Street, Moskowitz “actively works to derail the chances for a two-state solution by funding Jewish settler housing in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods.”

First of all, Moskowitz isn’t funding “Jewish” housing. He’s constructing an apartment building for Israelis of all religions and ethnicities, in a largely Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The housing complex is being built on land he already owned for decades. So J Street is now the arbiter of what an Israeli can build on his own property?

This whole campaign comes down to one thing. Ros-Lehtinen is one of the strongest friends of Israel in Congress, and her new, prominent position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is terrifying to J Street. Expect more petty attacks like this in the future.

J Street is calling on Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to return campaign contributions that she received from Irving Moskowitz, the financier behind the new construction at the Shepherd’s Hotel site. Yes, the George Soros–funded J Street is criticizing someone for taking money from a controversial philanthropist. This is too easy:

With the two-state solution hanging by a thread, what a terrible signal it sends for an American political leader to be so cozy with a far-right political funder whose actions undermine the foreign policy of the United States and makes a two-state solution harder to achieve.

Ros-Lehtinen, the new Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reportedly accepted $4,800 from both Moskowitz and his wife during her campaign. Moskowitz’s wife also gave $5,000 to a pro-Israel PAC that donated $10,000 to Ros-Lehtinen.

According to J Street, Moskowitz “actively works to derail the chances for a two-state solution by funding Jewish settler housing in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods.”

First of all, Moskowitz isn’t funding “Jewish” housing. He’s constructing an apartment building for Israelis of all religions and ethnicities, in a largely Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The housing complex is being built on land he already owned for decades. So J Street is now the arbiter of what an Israeli can build on his own property?

This whole campaign comes down to one thing. Ros-Lehtinen is one of the strongest friends of Israel in Congress, and her new, prominent position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is terrifying to J Street. Expect more petty attacks like this in the future.

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Lebanese Must Do More to Help Themselves

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

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Ramsey Clark Embraces Hamas: Whose Reputation Is Damaged?

Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who went on to a career of far-left anti-American activism, is in Gaza this week to express his solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip and opposition to any Israeli measure of self-defense against them. Normally when a Western pilgrim goes to Gaza to be manipulated by the Islamist regime there, we tend to think that it is the visitor who is discredited by his willingness to associate with an organization of ruthless killers. But perhaps in this case, it is Hamas that should be worried about being tainted by Clark’s friendship.

After all, though Clark was a civil-rights-enforcement lawyer in the Justice Department in the 1960s, his legal work since then has specialized not just in the defense of mass murderers but also in the support of them. While anyone, even killers, is entitled to a lawyer, Clark’s bizarre animus toward his own country has led him to be the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwanda genocide. In these cases, Clark didn’t just seek to undermine the prosecution of the killers; he tried to rationalize their homicidal actions. Among the notably unsavory beneficiaries of Clark’s good offices were Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas, the commandant of the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia, and Jack Riemer, a Nazi concentration-camp guard. He also defended the Palestinian Liberation Organization against a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the crippled American Jew who was murdered by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

While Hamas is always glad to welcome any Western fool who will pose for pictures with its leaders, perhaps in this case it is the Islamist group, which actively seeks to convey the false image that it is composed of victims rather than the killers they truly are, that ought to be worried by Clark’s embrace. Does Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader who welcomed Clark to Gaza, really want the world to associate him with the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, or Taylor, even if such comparisons are entirely appropriate? Then again, though the prospect that Hamas’s chiefs will be brought to the bar of justice for their numerous crimes seems remote at the moment, perhaps it is never too early for them to make sure that Clark is on call for the moment when he can add them to his roster of murderous clients.

Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who went on to a career of far-left anti-American activism, is in Gaza this week to express his solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip and opposition to any Israeli measure of self-defense against them. Normally when a Western pilgrim goes to Gaza to be manipulated by the Islamist regime there, we tend to think that it is the visitor who is discredited by his willingness to associate with an organization of ruthless killers. But perhaps in this case, it is Hamas that should be worried about being tainted by Clark’s friendship.

After all, though Clark was a civil-rights-enforcement lawyer in the Justice Department in the 1960s, his legal work since then has specialized not just in the defense of mass murderers but also in the support of them. While anyone, even killers, is entitled to a lawyer, Clark’s bizarre animus toward his own country has led him to be the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwanda genocide. In these cases, Clark didn’t just seek to undermine the prosecution of the killers; he tried to rationalize their homicidal actions. Among the notably unsavory beneficiaries of Clark’s good offices were Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas, the commandant of the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia, and Jack Riemer, a Nazi concentration-camp guard. He also defended the Palestinian Liberation Organization against a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the crippled American Jew who was murdered by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

While Hamas is always glad to welcome any Western fool who will pose for pictures with its leaders, perhaps in this case it is the Islamist group, which actively seeks to convey the false image that it is composed of victims rather than the killers they truly are, that ought to be worried by Clark’s embrace. Does Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader who welcomed Clark to Gaza, really want the world to associate him with the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, or Taylor, even if such comparisons are entirely appropriate? Then again, though the prospect that Hamas’s chiefs will be brought to the bar of justice for their numerous crimes seems remote at the moment, perhaps it is never too early for them to make sure that Clark is on call for the moment when he can add them to his roster of murderous clients.

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Evening Commentary

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

Libertarians often look to the Founding Fathers as political role models, but would the Founders have actually fit the modern definition of a libertarian? David Frum argues no — and writes that those who attribute this ideology to the Founders are simply ignoring history: “[I]f the libertarian impulse summons us to take action to contain and constrain that government, very well let us take up the task. But we can do that task without duping ourselves with a false history that denies the reality of the past and — ironically — belittles the Founders’ actual achievements by measuring them against standards they would surely have rejected, if they had ever understood them.”

A church in Egypt was bombed during New Year’s Mass, killing 21 and injuring dozens more. Authorities believe the attack was carried out by extremist Muslims who were inspired by al-Qaeda but not necessarily associated with the terror group.

Good news: A new “groundbreaking” research project has found that conservative brains are structured to be “fearful” and “reflexive,” while liberal brains are structured to be “courageous” and “optimistic.” Over at the New York Post, Kyle Smith discovers that this important study has cleared up some confusing discrepancies in his own life: “[Professor] Rees has the answer to why, in my Army career, I kept running into so many conceptual performance artists from San Francisco and Chelsea. Seldom did I do a push-up or clean my M16 without finding myself amid heated debate from the officer class about whether Walter Mondale or Eugene McCarthy was the most inspiring American political leader of our era.”

Government spending can actually help stimulate economic growth, argues George Will. But in order for progress to occur, this spending needs to fund the projects of society’s top scientific innovators and pioneers. “With populism rampant, this is not a propitious moment to defend elites, even scientific ones. Nevertheless, the nation depends on nourishing them and the institutions that sustain them,” writes Will.

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. Leftists at the Guardian are now openly opposing human rights: “[Human-rights groups] promote an absolutist view of human rights permeated by modern western ideas that westerners mistakenly call ‘universal.’ In some cases, their work, far from saving lives, actually causes more death, more repression, more brutality and an absolute weakening of human rights.” Yeah, who are we to oppress the people of Saudi Arabia and Iran with our imperialist idea that women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery?

Five members of Hamas have been charged in a plot to bomb a major Israeli stadium during a soccer game. Authorities say that the attack was meant to be in retaliation for Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “According to a statement from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, the two main suspects were identified as Mussa Hamada of East Jerusalem, and Bassem Omri, an Israeli citizen living in Beit Tzafafa. Both are members of Hamas and the ‘Muslim Brothers’ movement in Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said.”

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Afghanistan: Moscow to the Rescue

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella. Read More

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella.

A quiet announcement by NATO’s secretary-general on Monday indicates that the NATO nations, approaching this unpleasant reality head-on, have decided to do what they can to make a partnership out of the necessity of Russian involvement. The UK Independent reports that NATO (with full U.S. participation) is inviting Russia into Afghanistan in a military role. The acceptance from the Russians comes with strings, of course; as the Independent puts it, “Moscow is seeking what it terms as more cooperation from NATO.” Not defining this cooperative quid pro quo in advance would seem to indicate a colossal breakdown in NATO’s bargaining skills; what we can be sure of is that the price of Russian involvement will be political — and high.

With this agreement, Russia positions itself as a nexus of independent influence in the Afghan settlement: a new option for Pakistan — and Iran and India — to play Russia off against the U.S. These factors combine to produce a bottom line that is quickly outracing the American people’s lagging idea of our role Afghanistan. We have much the largest military commitment there, but we are dealing away the latitude to define victory and decide what the strategy will be.

No political leader ever announces he is doing this. Don’t expect Obama to be explicit about it. NATO has been working on the Russian accord without fanfare and will probably announce it as something of an afterthought in Lisbon, where the public emphasis is expected to be on missile-defense cooperation with Moscow. But this will be a decisive turn in the Afghan war. Assuming we proceed with this agreement, the war will, in fact, no longer be ours to wage as we see fit. Whatever his precise intentions, Obama probably couldn’t have found a better way to induce the war’s American supporters to want to get out of it on his timetable.

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Don’t Tell Me Why I Hate Woodrow Wilson

Professor David Greenberg writes in Slate today that the conservative dislike of Woodrow Wilson is “confused,” “bad as an interpretation of the facts,” and “demonstrably inaccurate.” He implies elsewhere that it is a “crackpot history” that requires not only debunking but also ridicule. But beyond the blustery rhetoric, Greenberg only proves that he misunderstands conservatives’ beef with the 28th president.

Full disclosure: in 2009, I graduated from Hillsdale College – which Greenberg blames for influencing Glenn Beck and, therefore, fueling the Tea Party’s hatred of Woodrow Wilson. More particularly, I was a student of Ronald J. Pestritto, whom Greenberg cites as particularly influential in demonizing Wilson. Having sat in Dr. Pestritto’s classroom and painstakingly highlighted my way through his book on Wilson, I understand his critique quite well. (I am also gruesomely familiar with Dr. Pestritto’s rigorous grading standards, and I can say with some certainty that the quality of Greenberg’s argument here would have earned him academic casualties.) I will not presume to speak for Dr. Pestritto — he has made his own case comprehensively — but after learning from him, I can at least explain why I dislike Woodrow Wilson as a president. It’s for very different reasons than those Greenberg presumes to attribute to me. Read More

Professor David Greenberg writes in Slate today that the conservative dislike of Woodrow Wilson is “confused,” “bad as an interpretation of the facts,” and “demonstrably inaccurate.” He implies elsewhere that it is a “crackpot history” that requires not only debunking but also ridicule. But beyond the blustery rhetoric, Greenberg only proves that he misunderstands conservatives’ beef with the 28th president.

Full disclosure: in 2009, I graduated from Hillsdale College – which Greenberg blames for influencing Glenn Beck and, therefore, fueling the Tea Party’s hatred of Woodrow Wilson. More particularly, I was a student of Ronald J. Pestritto, whom Greenberg cites as particularly influential in demonizing Wilson. Having sat in Dr. Pestritto’s classroom and painstakingly highlighted my way through his book on Wilson, I understand his critique quite well. (I am also gruesomely familiar with Dr. Pestritto’s rigorous grading standards, and I can say with some certainty that the quality of Greenberg’s argument here would have earned him academic casualties.) I will not presume to speak for Dr. Pestritto — he has made his own case comprehensively — but after learning from him, I can at least explain why I dislike Woodrow Wilson as a president. It’s for very different reasons than those Greenberg presumes to attribute to me.

Back to the Slate piece. The first several paragraphs can be skimmed, as the author bizarrely points out commonalities between Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush and faults Glenn Beck for once not knowing something before he learned it. In the fifth paragraph, Greenberg makes a minor concession to the “nub of truth amid the distortion of the right’s Wilson-bashing.” He acknowledges that Woodrow Wilson expanded the power of the presidency, a Tea Party complaint.

But in actuality, that is only a secondary reason why conservatives dislike Wilsonian liberalism. In a nutshell, Wilson introduced the idea of a “living” Constitution, opening up infinite opportunities for revisionists to throw off the delicate balances within government so thoughtfully established in the original text. Wilson’s scholarly background taught him to embrace big government as the solution to the problems of the citizenry. He saw himself as a philosopher-king, much like the one we have today. And inherent in that perception was a condescending elitism. He became the patriarch of American paternalism, justifying his behavior with appeals to “history” as he perceived it.

The Tea Party movement argues that because of their academic snobbery, those who follow in the footsteps of Woodrow Wilson have lost touch with liberty-loving Americans. As evidence of this, I defer to Greenberg, who writes:

For Wilson, [presidential activism] involved regulating finance and the money supply, limiting the corporations’ demands on their laborers, aiding farmers, preventing monopolistic practices, and making the new federal income tax a graduated one. Just three months ago, I wrote in Slate that over the last century, almost no one has questioned these achievements; clearly, I hadn’t been watching enough Fox.

It is little surprise, then, that Greenberg defends Wilson in the ex-president’s own language. “Of course, even those who happily admit to wanting to repeal a century’s worth of regulation have to reckon with a fundamental flaw in today’s Wilson hatred: It’s completely ahistorical,” he writes. He goes on to paint Woodrow Wilson as the man of his times, a leader fearlessly responding to the pulse of his era, a president whose choices are only fathomable when history is properly considered. The problem with this argument is that the existence of “history” as a moving, authoritative force is questionable at best, and Woodrow Wilson made history as much as he responded to it. And it is a bit presumptuous of Greenberg, in any case, to claim a superior understanding of history’s motives and pathways.

But in the interest of dialogue, let’s grant Greenberg the generous assumption that Wilson really was the man of his time and that all his actions were justifiable as such. Toward the end of his article, he asserts:

Properly situated in this context, Wilson and other progressives emerge not as proto-fascists or wild renegades but as tempered, moderate reformers. They implemented major changes, but those changes were in tune with the mainstream of public sentiment.

In today’s electoral climate, this is precisely the last argument the author should be making – especially if the role of the president is to follow public opinion. But instead, today’s liberals take another cue from Wilson, who believed that a political leader must remain one step ahead of public opinion, pulling it along and shaping it without ever straying too far.

But Americans sense when they’re being dragged along by the ear. This, too, makes them resentful of Woodrow Wilson’s presidential example.

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Odierno on Iraq

Raymond Odierno, America’s longest-serving general in Iraq, was the subject of an important interview with David Feith in the Wall Street Journal. Pointing out that in 2004-2006 there was an open insurgency against Iraq as a whole, Odierno made a claim that a few years ago would have seemed fanciful: “Sectarian violence is almost zero. … Yes, there’s still some terrorism, but it’s not insurgents anymore.”

As for the surge, Odierno made this underappreciated point: the surge “shows we learned to adapt, to change. We changed our organization, we changed how we were equipped, and we changed how we did our operations—all while in contact [with the enemy]. That’s an incredible feat.” For those who claim that the Iraq war was a victory for Iran, Odierno disputed that assumption. “They might have balanced each other but how they balanced each other … [caused] significant instability in the region,” the general said. He added that 85 percent of Iraqis believe Iran is trying to harm their country. “Everybody I talk to, I mean every political leader, every military leader, every citizen—and if you’re there living and reading their newspapers and what they’re saying—it’s very clear they want to be their own country,” Odierno said. “They don’t want anybody—the United States, Iran, anybody—telling them what to do.”

On the inability of the Iraqis to form a government more than a half-year after the elections, he predicted a governing coalition will emerge by October. And he said the thing he’s been most pleased with is how the Iraqi military has remained neutral throughout.

On the broader meaning and ramifications of the Iraq war, Odierno said: “I think sometimes we don’t realize the importance of Iraq in the Middle East as a whole. A strong, democratic Iraq with a developing economy could really be a game-changer in the Middle East.”  He argued that “there’s a real opportunity here that I don’t think the citizens of the United States realize. I really truly believe there’s an opportunity we might never get again.” And he offered an assessment that is forgotten far more than it should be: “The fact that al Qaeda was targeting Iraq to be the center of their caliphate in order to carry forward terrorism around the world: They failed. … Now Iraqis are rejecting al Qaeda. Now we have a very important Middle Eastern country who is rejecting terrorism.”

During the darkest days of the Iraq war, many people settled on a narrative: it was a mistake of historic proportions that could not possibly turn out well. The surge was a “pipe dream.” New facts and changing circumstances could not shake people from their interpretation of events. No matter; reality does not depend on how dogmatists interpret it. And as we gain greater distance from the Iraq war, the good that it did comes into sharper focus.

Whether Iraq turns out to be the “game-changer in the Middle East” that Odierno says is possible remains to be seen. But this is what we know for now: the war was fought for honorable reasons. While serious mistakes were made and the cost has been quite high in several respects, Saddam — the genocidal leader of a criminal, soul-destroying tyranny — was removed from power. Al-Qaeda and militant Islam were dealt massive setbacks. The people of Iraq have been liberated. And a sworn enemy of America and freedom has become an ally and a (fragile) democracy. To be continued. But for now, that’s a pretty impressive outcome. Among many others, we have Ray Odierno to thank for that.

Raymond Odierno, America’s longest-serving general in Iraq, was the subject of an important interview with David Feith in the Wall Street Journal. Pointing out that in 2004-2006 there was an open insurgency against Iraq as a whole, Odierno made a claim that a few years ago would have seemed fanciful: “Sectarian violence is almost zero. … Yes, there’s still some terrorism, but it’s not insurgents anymore.”

As for the surge, Odierno made this underappreciated point: the surge “shows we learned to adapt, to change. We changed our organization, we changed how we were equipped, and we changed how we did our operations—all while in contact [with the enemy]. That’s an incredible feat.” For those who claim that the Iraq war was a victory for Iran, Odierno disputed that assumption. “They might have balanced each other but how they balanced each other … [caused] significant instability in the region,” the general said. He added that 85 percent of Iraqis believe Iran is trying to harm their country. “Everybody I talk to, I mean every political leader, every military leader, every citizen—and if you’re there living and reading their newspapers and what they’re saying—it’s very clear they want to be their own country,” Odierno said. “They don’t want anybody—the United States, Iran, anybody—telling them what to do.”

On the inability of the Iraqis to form a government more than a half-year after the elections, he predicted a governing coalition will emerge by October. And he said the thing he’s been most pleased with is how the Iraqi military has remained neutral throughout.

On the broader meaning and ramifications of the Iraq war, Odierno said: “I think sometimes we don’t realize the importance of Iraq in the Middle East as a whole. A strong, democratic Iraq with a developing economy could really be a game-changer in the Middle East.”  He argued that “there’s a real opportunity here that I don’t think the citizens of the United States realize. I really truly believe there’s an opportunity we might never get again.” And he offered an assessment that is forgotten far more than it should be: “The fact that al Qaeda was targeting Iraq to be the center of their caliphate in order to carry forward terrorism around the world: They failed. … Now Iraqis are rejecting al Qaeda. Now we have a very important Middle Eastern country who is rejecting terrorism.”

During the darkest days of the Iraq war, many people settled on a narrative: it was a mistake of historic proportions that could not possibly turn out well. The surge was a “pipe dream.” New facts and changing circumstances could not shake people from their interpretation of events. No matter; reality does not depend on how dogmatists interpret it. And as we gain greater distance from the Iraq war, the good that it did comes into sharper focus.

Whether Iraq turns out to be the “game-changer in the Middle East” that Odierno says is possible remains to be seen. But this is what we know for now: the war was fought for honorable reasons. While serious mistakes were made and the cost has been quite high in several respects, Saddam — the genocidal leader of a criminal, soul-destroying tyranny — was removed from power. Al-Qaeda and militant Islam were dealt massive setbacks. The people of Iraq have been liberated. And a sworn enemy of America and freedom has become an ally and a (fragile) democracy. To be continued. But for now, that’s a pretty impressive outcome. Among many others, we have Ray Odierno to thank for that.

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Gates Agrees with Cheney and Palin

Last week both Liz Cheney and Sarah Palin suggested it might be a good idea not to publicly antagonize President Hamid Karzai. On This Week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seemed to agree:

Well I think, you know, this is a — a man who’s first of all a political leader. He has domestic audiences as well as foreign audiences. What I can tell you is that General McChrystal continues to meet with him regularly. They have a very positive relationship. He gets very good cooperation out of President Karzai. I think that the — the Afghans are very concerned about their sovereignty. And they are very concerned that — that it be clear who — who is the president of Afghanistan.

And — and that he be treated with respect, because he is the representative of the people of Afghanistan and their sovereignty. And I think that — I think that that kind of cooperative relationship, certainly that he has with — I can only speak for General McChrystal’s side of it. But I think General McChrystal feels that this is a man he can work easily with. And — and he has taken him to Kandahar. He has indicated he’s willing to go to Kandahar repeatedly for the Shuras as the Kandahar campaign gets underway. … And I think — I think we frankly have to be sensitive in our own comments about President Karzai in terms of being mindful that he is the embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan also in the way we treat him.

Jake Tapper didn’t follow up, but the obvious question is: why have we been bashing and snubbing the “embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan”? It’s sometimes hard to discern whether this administration operates by design or out of pique. It’s been accustomed to rolling over the opposition, sneering and shoving back (whether it’s Republicans, the Supreme Court, or Fox News), and it often appears to conduct its foreign policy in much the same way as a political campaign.  But hitting back, instantaneous responses, and ad hominem attacks rarely work to bring allies around. Instead, such behavior widens divisions and alerts our foes that the relationships are less than … what’s the term? … “rock solid.” We await the introduction of some smart diplomacy.

Last week both Liz Cheney and Sarah Palin suggested it might be a good idea not to publicly antagonize President Hamid Karzai. On This Week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seemed to agree:

Well I think, you know, this is a — a man who’s first of all a political leader. He has domestic audiences as well as foreign audiences. What I can tell you is that General McChrystal continues to meet with him regularly. They have a very positive relationship. He gets very good cooperation out of President Karzai. I think that the — the Afghans are very concerned about their sovereignty. And they are very concerned that — that it be clear who — who is the president of Afghanistan.

And — and that he be treated with respect, because he is the representative of the people of Afghanistan and their sovereignty. And I think that — I think that that kind of cooperative relationship, certainly that he has with — I can only speak for General McChrystal’s side of it. But I think General McChrystal feels that this is a man he can work easily with. And — and he has taken him to Kandahar. He has indicated he’s willing to go to Kandahar repeatedly for the Shuras as the Kandahar campaign gets underway. … And I think — I think we frankly have to be sensitive in our own comments about President Karzai in terms of being mindful that he is the embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan also in the way we treat him.

Jake Tapper didn’t follow up, but the obvious question is: why have we been bashing and snubbing the “embodiment of sovereignty for Afghanistan”? It’s sometimes hard to discern whether this administration operates by design or out of pique. It’s been accustomed to rolling over the opposition, sneering and shoving back (whether it’s Republicans, the Supreme Court, or Fox News), and it often appears to conduct its foreign policy in much the same way as a political campaign.  But hitting back, instantaneous responses, and ad hominem attacks rarely work to bring allies around. Instead, such behavior widens divisions and alerts our foes that the relationships are less than … what’s the term? … “rock solid.” We await the introduction of some smart diplomacy.

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Der Spiegel: “An Israeli Affront Against Germany”

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn't make sense to me either -- NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn't make sense to me either -- NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

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Obama’s Iraq Problem

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

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“People Wants to Be Like Gaydamak”

Certainly the most colorful figure on Israel’s political landscape is Arkady Gaydamak, the Russian billionaire, owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, who made headlines during the Lebanon war when, using his own funds, he built a tent city for residents the beleaguered north, and then later repeated it for residents of barraged Sderot.

Today he made headlines again by donating $8 million to renovate the homes of Holocaust survivors. Though he has joined no political party, and speaks little Hebrew, he has set up his own movement called “Social Justice,” and the country is rife with speculation about when, how, and with whom he will enter the political ring. In the meantime, he’s made a mint in political capital by showing that one rich man can do a lot where bureaucracy fails. This, combined with his con
stant search for creative ways to stay in the limelight, will carry him well with Israel’s attention-deficit electorate.

This year, Gaydamak starred in a TV commercial advertising cell phones, where he danced and sang (sorry, no subtitles, but you get the point anyway). When asked by Israel television why a potential political leader would reduce himself thus, he responded in his uncertain English, “It’s about identification. People wants to see Gaydamak. People wants to be like Gaydamak.”

Certainly the most colorful figure on Israel’s political landscape is Arkady Gaydamak, the Russian billionaire, owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, who made headlines during the Lebanon war when, using his own funds, he built a tent city for residents the beleaguered north, and then later repeated it for residents of barraged Sderot.

Today he made headlines again by donating $8 million to renovate the homes of Holocaust survivors. Though he has joined no political party, and speaks little Hebrew, he has set up his own movement called “Social Justice,” and the country is rife with speculation about when, how, and with whom he will enter the political ring. In the meantime, he’s made a mint in political capital by showing that one rich man can do a lot where bureaucracy fails. This, combined with his con
stant search for creative ways to stay in the limelight, will carry him well with Israel’s attention-deficit electorate.

This year, Gaydamak starred in a TV commercial advertising cell phones, where he danced and sang (sorry, no subtitles, but you get the point anyway). When asked by Israel television why a potential political leader would reduce himself thus, he responded in his uncertain English, “It’s about identification. People wants to see Gaydamak. People wants to be like Gaydamak.”

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Handshakes with the Enemy

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

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The Quadrennial Religious-Right Bust

It appears Mike Huckabee will finish a dismal third in Michigan. One can blame his showing on an absence of funds, but he has been enjoying a remarkable free media ride since mid-December, and if he had any strength left, we would have seen evidence of it tonight.

Instead, what we are seeing is yet more evidence that the Republican Party is not in the grip of the Religious Right. That has been a myth organized political evangelicals have been eager to promote and Democratic and Republican elites have, in gullibility, accepted.

Yet here we have Huckabee — the most attractive and least divisive Christian political leader we have ever seen — failing to make a mark in Michigan, where some 40 percent of GOP voters describe themselves as evangelical. It turns out that evangelicals, like Michigan union members, don’t vote as a bloc.

Christian activists are estimated to be around 20 percent of the GOP base. As a result, national party leaders have to pay attention to them. Going to war against the Republican evangelicals, as Northeastern liberal Republican governors Bill Weld and Christie Todd Whitman once did, has always been a vain and and unnecessary gesture. Vain, because standing up to the Religious Right always wins applause at GOP high-dollar fundraisers, and unnecessary, because the Religious Right doesn’t exercise a veto over GOP policy.

Huckabee will catch a final breeze in South Carolina, but the “Christian” phase of the GOP primary really comes to an end tonight. But don’t worry. Experts at the Aspen Institute and other centers of the good and great will talk all summer about how the GOP has to free itself from the influence of
the Religious Right.

It appears Mike Huckabee will finish a dismal third in Michigan. One can blame his showing on an absence of funds, but he has been enjoying a remarkable free media ride since mid-December, and if he had any strength left, we would have seen evidence of it tonight.

Instead, what we are seeing is yet more evidence that the Republican Party is not in the grip of the Religious Right. That has been a myth organized political evangelicals have been eager to promote and Democratic and Republican elites have, in gullibility, accepted.

Yet here we have Huckabee — the most attractive and least divisive Christian political leader we have ever seen — failing to make a mark in Michigan, where some 40 percent of GOP voters describe themselves as evangelical. It turns out that evangelicals, like Michigan union members, don’t vote as a bloc.

Christian activists are estimated to be around 20 percent of the GOP base. As a result, national party leaders have to pay attention to them. Going to war against the Republican evangelicals, as Northeastern liberal Republican governors Bill Weld and Christie Todd Whitman once did, has always been a vain and and unnecessary gesture. Vain, because standing up to the Religious Right always wins applause at GOP high-dollar fundraisers, and unnecessary, because the Religious Right doesn’t exercise a veto over GOP policy.

Huckabee will catch a final breeze in South Carolina, but the “Christian” phase of the GOP primary really comes to an end tonight. But don’t worry. Experts at the Aspen Institute and other centers of the good and great will talk all summer about how the GOP has to free itself from the influence of
the Religious Right.

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“A mean and nasty and bitter attack”

At a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of September 11, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick remarked that the murder of some 3,000 people by al Qaeda terrorists was a “mean and nasty and bitter attack” resulting from a “failure of human beings to understand each other and to learn to love each other.” He has since defended his remarks, telling a radio interviewer that, “I was taught in my church that all violent attack is a failure of human understanding.” The city of Boston, it ought to be remembered, played a tragic role in the attacks of September 11, as both planes that destroyed the World Trade Center had originated from Logan airport.

Governor Patrick’s rhetoric—”mean and nasty”—is more befitting a schoolmarm scolding a misbehaving second grader than a political leader condemning the worst attack ever on American soil. And it is more the language of a Cambridge city councilor than a governor. Thankfully, neither plays a role in the shaping of American foreign policy.

At a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of September 11, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick remarked that the murder of some 3,000 people by al Qaeda terrorists was a “mean and nasty and bitter attack” resulting from a “failure of human beings to understand each other and to learn to love each other.” He has since defended his remarks, telling a radio interviewer that, “I was taught in my church that all violent attack is a failure of human understanding.” The city of Boston, it ought to be remembered, played a tragic role in the attacks of September 11, as both planes that destroyed the World Trade Center had originated from Logan airport.

Governor Patrick’s rhetoric—”mean and nasty”—is more befitting a schoolmarm scolding a misbehaving second grader than a political leader condemning the worst attack ever on American soil. And it is more the language of a Cambridge city councilor than a governor. Thankfully, neither plays a role in the shaping of American foreign policy.

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Nicolas Sarkozy

Next Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the first of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. A longer and more in-depth look by Gurfinkiel at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY.

Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for the presidency of France best known in America—and the most popular, since he is as pro-American and as knowledgeable in all things American as a French political leader can be. A short, thin man with an angular face, ribbed eyebrows, and big dark eyes, he looks a bit like a character in an El Greco painting. French cartoonists, however, tend to portray him as a turbulent, devilish little figure. In spite of being born and raised in the affluent West End of Paris, he speaks with a hoarse, almost working-class, accent. But his command of the French language and his talent as a debater are truly astounding: he was trained as a lawyer and graduated at the Paris Institute for Political Science. No less astounding is his meteoric political career: mayor of Neuilly, a posh suburb of Paris and one of the wealthiest townships of France, at twenty-eight; member of the National Assembly at thirty-three; budget minister at thirty-eight. Before the age of forty, he had achieved membership in the charmed circle of French political leaders thought to have un destin national—a real shot at the presidency, in American English.

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Next Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the first of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. A longer and more in-depth look by Gurfinkiel at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY.

Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for the presidency of France best known in America—and the most popular, since he is as pro-American and as knowledgeable in all things American as a French political leader can be. A short, thin man with an angular face, ribbed eyebrows, and big dark eyes, he looks a bit like a character in an El Greco painting. French cartoonists, however, tend to portray him as a turbulent, devilish little figure. In spite of being born and raised in the affluent West End of Paris, he speaks with a hoarse, almost working-class, accent. But his command of the French language and his talent as a debater are truly astounding: he was trained as a lawyer and graduated at the Paris Institute for Political Science. No less astounding is his meteoric political career: mayor of Neuilly, a posh suburb of Paris and one of the wealthiest townships of France, at twenty-eight; member of the National Assembly at thirty-three; budget minister at thirty-eight. Before the age of forty, he had achieved membership in the charmed circle of French political leaders thought to have un destin national—a real shot at the presidency, in American English.

But the closer he came to the inner core of French politics, the stranger he appeared. Sarkozy is best described, perhaps, as a neo-Frenchman: he is the son and the grandson of immigrants. His father, Pàl Sàrközy de Nagybocsa, was for years depicted as a Hungarian grandee, the “scion,” according to a Wikipedia profile probably written under his own supervision, “of an aristocratic family who owned lands and a castle in Alattyàn and a domain with 200 peasants.” In reality, he seems to have been a poor relation of the Alattyàn lords who somehow, after a number of unexplained vicissitudes, ended up after World War II in the French Foreign Legion. Honorably discharged in 1948, he soon married Andrée Mallah, a French girl of Salonikan-Jewish descent. Nicolas, born in 1955, was “baptized and confirmed as a Catholic.”

This is a rather convoluted pedigree, a far cry from what was until very recently the unwritten, unspoken, and yet inescapable prerequisite of a bid for the presidency: being connected from time immemorial with a French Christian family, or, at the very least, being the heir of some long-settled Christian or Jewish immigrant dynasty. As a matter of fact, Sarkozy’s swift ascent among French conservatives in the 1980’s and the 1990’s—he became the Gaullist party’s top boss in 1999—elicited many xenophobic and anti-Semitic reactions.

Then, in 2002, after Jacques Chirac’s reelection, the landscape suddenly changed. The Right’s dissatisfaction with Chirac—who was busy recasting himself, after his duel with Le Pen, as a left-of-center liberal—burgeoned explosively. Chirac loyalists countered by forming the UMP, the Union for a Progressive Majority. But their would-be champion, Alain Juppé, was indicted for minor financial crimes committed as Chirac’s former deputy in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and barred from politics for three years. In the ensuing vaccum Sarkozy took Juppé’s putative place as the UMP’s favorite politician (having meanwhile secured for himself the long-coveted ministry of the interior). He became immensely popular, and immensely controversial, for his abandonment of politically correct rhetoric and for his handling of the riots in the Paris suburbs in 2005.

Although Sarkozy is seen in France as a rightist, his politics are—by American standards—only mildly conservative, with occasional liberal outbursts: somewhere between Britain’s Tony Blair and California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. He stands for law and order, an important concern in a crime-ridden country. He intends to curb illegal emigration and defend France’s “national identity” while at the same time favoring affirmative action for ethnic or racial minorities and providing French Muslims adequate mosques and other facilities. These are not just words: as minister of the interior, he promoted Muslim prefects (state commissioners) and organized a National Council of the Muslim Religion (since taken over by radical groups). Sarkozy also stands for lower taxes and a dismantling of the welfare state’s most rigid and costly provisions, although he dares not advocate, at least in public, outright elimination of the 35-hour work week. In international affairs, he opposes Turkey’s accession to the EU but would grant it the status of a “special partner.” To the dismay of many of his advisers, he quite openly supports the United States and Israel, his only concession being to state that Chirac was right to oppose the Iraq war.

For the past three years, Chirac loyalists have done their utmost to block Sarkozy’s rise. In 2005, they nearly succeeded: A new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, suddenly overtook Sarkozy in approval ratings. In 2006, however, Villepin disintegrated almost overnight, because of an ill-conceived reform bill on juvenile employment and the “Clearstream affair,” an attempt to bring Sarkozy down through the publication of forged documents purporting to incriminate him in shady financial dealings (the matter is still awaiting judicial determination). All to no avail: on January 14 of this year, the UMP unanimously endorsed Sarkozy for president. The entire conservative camp had suddenly realized that it had to unite against a major threat: the socialist Ségolène Royal.

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