Commentary Magazine


Topic: Prime Minister

Morning Commentary

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

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Margaret Thatcher and Defensible Borders

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

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When Menachem Met Margaret

Under its “30-year rule,” the British National Archives has released a November 1979 cable quoting Margaret Thatcher telling French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that she “never had a more difficult man to deal with” than Menachem Begin, whose West Bank policy was “absurd.”

But there was more to the 1979 meeting between Thatcher and Begin than is reflected in the cable, evidenced by Yehuda Avner’s account of the meeting in his extraordinary new book, The Prime Ministers.

Thatcher, with British Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington, hosted Begin for a lunch in May 1979 that Avner attended as Begin’s note taker. The book is based on shorthand notes he transcribed at the time: “anything [in my book] in inverted commas are the words actually spoken.”

The lunch went well until Carrington suddenly confronted Begin about settlements:

“Your settlement policy is expansionist. It is intemperate. It is a barrier to peace. The settlements are built on occupied Arab soil. They rob Palestinians of their land. They unnecessarily arouse the animosity of the moderate Arabs. They are contrary to international law — the Geneva Convention. They are inconsistent with British interests.”

Begin responded that:

“The settlements, sir, are not an obstacle to peace. The Arabs refused to make peace before there was a single settlement anywhere. No Palestinian Arab sovereignty has ever existed in the biblical provinces of Judea and Samaria, where most of the new settlements are located, hence the Geneva Convention does not apply. Besides, we are building the settlements on state-owned, not Arab-owned land. Their construction is an assertion of our basic historic rights, not to speak of their critical importance to our national security.” Read More

Under its “30-year rule,” the British National Archives has released a November 1979 cable quoting Margaret Thatcher telling French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that she “never had a more difficult man to deal with” than Menachem Begin, whose West Bank policy was “absurd.”

But there was more to the 1979 meeting between Thatcher and Begin than is reflected in the cable, evidenced by Yehuda Avner’s account of the meeting in his extraordinary new book, The Prime Ministers.

Thatcher, with British Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington, hosted Begin for a lunch in May 1979 that Avner attended as Begin’s note taker. The book is based on shorthand notes he transcribed at the time: “anything [in my book] in inverted commas are the words actually spoken.”

The lunch went well until Carrington suddenly confronted Begin about settlements:

“Your settlement policy is expansionist. It is intemperate. It is a barrier to peace. The settlements are built on occupied Arab soil. They rob Palestinians of their land. They unnecessarily arouse the animosity of the moderate Arabs. They are contrary to international law — the Geneva Convention. They are inconsistent with British interests.”

Begin responded that:

“The settlements, sir, are not an obstacle to peace. The Arabs refused to make peace before there was a single settlement anywhere. No Palestinian Arab sovereignty has ever existed in the biblical provinces of Judea and Samaria, where most of the new settlements are located, hence the Geneva Convention does not apply. Besides, we are building the settlements on state-owned, not Arab-owned land. Their construction is an assertion of our basic historic rights, not to speak of their critical importance to our national security.”

Then Begin turned to Thatcher:

“Madame Prime Minister, your foreign secretary dismisses my country’s historic rights and pooh-poohs our vital security needs. So I shall tell you why the settlements are vital: because I speak of the Land of Israel, a land redeemed, not occupied; because without those settlements Israel could be at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria. We would be living on borrowed time. And whenever we Jews are threatened or attacked we are always alone. Remember in 1944, how we came begging for our lives — begging at this very door?”

“Is that when you wanted us to bomb Auschwitz?”

“No, Madame, not Auschwitz. We asked you to bomb the railway lines leading to Auschwitz. In the summer of 1944, Eichmann was transporting to their deaths a hundred thousand Hungarian Jews a week along those lines to Auschwitz.”

Carrington abruptly challenged Begin again: “And what does this have to do with the settlements?”

“Lord Carrington, please have the goodness not to interrupt me when I am in the middle of a conversation with your prime minister. … As I said, whenever we are threatened or attacked, we have only our own fellow Jews to rely on.”

“Peter,” said Mrs. Thatcher softly, “I think an admission of regret is called for.” …

“Quite right, Prime Minister. … Somehow, your little country, Mr. Begin, evokes all sorts of high emotional fevers. Stirs up the blood, so to speak.”

Begin, his composure regained, smiled at him, the smile not reaching his eyes. “The story of our people is very much a tale of having to defend ourselves against bouts of irrationality and hysteria. It happens in every generation.”

In 1979, Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt, returning land exceeding the size of Israel. He offered Palestinians a quasi-state autonomy; they rejected it. Thirty years later, we know, five times over, that settlements were not an obstacle to peace; to the contrary, their removal in Gaza resulted in a new rocket war.

In the West Bank, a holdover regime wants a state but repeatedly turns one down; refuses to recognize a Jewish state; insists that Israel retreat to the indefensible 1967 lines; demands a “right of return” to delegitimize it demographically; and demands compensation for Arab refugees from the 1948 war the Arabs commenced, but not for the larger number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The appropriate word for this collection of positions is “absurd.”

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Israel Brings Senior Gov’t Officials to Justice

If any more evidence were needed of Israel’s moral superiority over the neighboring states, look no further than the news that former President Moshe Katsav has been convicted of rape. At first blush, that may seem like a strange statement: isn’t the fact that a rapist and sexual harasser was president of Israel a blow to the moral standing of the Jewish state? Actually no: abuse of power, especially by powerful men, can happen under any regime. Can anyone doubt that such offenses are frequent among senior Arab officials? Certainly Saddam Hussein and his debased sons were known for preying on women; and that is only the most public example of a pattern that no doubt applies across all dictatorial regimes around the world — including the dictatorial regimes that surround Israel. The difference is that, in Israel, there is an independent judiciary that has the power to root out wrongdoing at the highest level. Such prosecutions are in fact routine. As the AP notes:

The conviction was the latest in a series of high-profile cases against Israeli officials.

Former Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is currently in prison after being convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 from a workers union. Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted in March 2007 of forcibly kissing a female soldier. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently standing trial on corruption charges.

It is, in fact, an amazing testament to the strength of Israel’s democracy that a former president — and other senior officials — can be convicted of such grave offenses and it’s not even big news. It would be very big news indeed if the former president of any major Middle Eastern state aside from Israel were to face prosecution and conviction for any crime — unless it was the result of a vendetta carried out by his political enemies.

If any more evidence were needed of Israel’s moral superiority over the neighboring states, look no further than the news that former President Moshe Katsav has been convicted of rape. At first blush, that may seem like a strange statement: isn’t the fact that a rapist and sexual harasser was president of Israel a blow to the moral standing of the Jewish state? Actually no: abuse of power, especially by powerful men, can happen under any regime. Can anyone doubt that such offenses are frequent among senior Arab officials? Certainly Saddam Hussein and his debased sons were known for preying on women; and that is only the most public example of a pattern that no doubt applies across all dictatorial regimes around the world — including the dictatorial regimes that surround Israel. The difference is that, in Israel, there is an independent judiciary that has the power to root out wrongdoing at the highest level. Such prosecutions are in fact routine. As the AP notes:

The conviction was the latest in a series of high-profile cases against Israeli officials.

Former Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson is currently in prison after being convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 from a workers union. Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted in March 2007 of forcibly kissing a female soldier. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently standing trial on corruption charges.

It is, in fact, an amazing testament to the strength of Israel’s democracy that a former president — and other senior officials — can be convicted of such grave offenses and it’s not even big news. It would be very big news indeed if the former president of any major Middle Eastern state aside from Israel were to face prosecution and conviction for any crime — unless it was the result of a vendetta carried out by his political enemies.

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What the Assange Book Deal Supports

In a previous post, I expressed outrage that two supposedly reputable publishers–Random House and Canongate–were planning to fork over more than a million bucks to the odious Julian Assange to write his memoirs. I’d like to emphasize the sort of sleazy action they are subsidizing by drawing attention to this Guardian story, alluded to in today’s Afternoon Commentary:

Zimbabwe is to investigate bringing treason charges against the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, and other individuals over confidential talks with US diplomats revealed by Wikileaks….. A cable dated 24 December 2009 suggested Tsvangirai privately insisted sanctions “must be kept in place”.

High treason in Zimbabwe can result in the death penalty.

This is typical of WikiLeaks’ impact. Far from showing any nefarious doings by the U.S. government, which Assange seems to hate so much, his stolen documents actually show U.S. diplomats simply doing their jobs by meeting with various people around the world–including people who would rather not see their dealings with America revealed to their enemies. Yet reveal them Assange does, not caring, apparently, about the impact of his revelations, whether they cause embarrassment or imprisonment or even death.

Perhaps with December 31 approaching Bertelesmann execs might make a New Year’s resolution: We resolve next year not to subsidize evil authors. That might even be easier to keep than the usual weight-loss resolutions.

In a previous post, I expressed outrage that two supposedly reputable publishers–Random House and Canongate–were planning to fork over more than a million bucks to the odious Julian Assange to write his memoirs. I’d like to emphasize the sort of sleazy action they are subsidizing by drawing attention to this Guardian story, alluded to in today’s Afternoon Commentary:

Zimbabwe is to investigate bringing treason charges against the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, and other individuals over confidential talks with US diplomats revealed by Wikileaks….. A cable dated 24 December 2009 suggested Tsvangirai privately insisted sanctions “must be kept in place”.

High treason in Zimbabwe can result in the death penalty.

This is typical of WikiLeaks’ impact. Far from showing any nefarious doings by the U.S. government, which Assange seems to hate so much, his stolen documents actually show U.S. diplomats simply doing their jobs by meeting with various people around the world–including people who would rather not see their dealings with America revealed to their enemies. Yet reveal them Assange does, not caring, apparently, about the impact of his revelations, whether they cause embarrassment or imprisonment or even death.

Perhaps with December 31 approaching Bertelesmann execs might make a New Year’s resolution: We resolve next year not to subsidize evil authors. That might even be easier to keep than the usual weight-loss resolutions.

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Afternoon Commentary

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

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An Edifice Over an Abyss

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

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“A Rough Version of Mr. Bush’s Dream May Yet Come True”

In its editorial today, “A Good Year in Iraq,” the Washington Post writes this:

AT THE beginning of this year, Iraq’s fragile new political order faced a momentous challenge. The country needed to hold credible democratic elections at a time when its army was still battling al-Qaeda and other domestic insurgents. The winners had to form a government in spite of deep rifts among leaders and sects, who just three years ago were fighting a civil war. And all this had to happen even as the United States reduced its troops from 150,000 to 50,000 and ended combat operations for those who remained.

The result was a long, painful, contentious, confusing and sometimes bloody year. But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented his new government to parliament on Tuesday, Iraq could fairly be said to have passed a major test. It is not yet the peaceful Arab democracy and force for good in the Middle East that President George W. Bush imagined when he decided on invasion eight years ago. But in the past 12 months it has taken some big steps in the right direction.

The editorial goes on to point out that (a) the election was judged free and fair, a very rare event in the Middle East; (b) measures to integrate former Sunni militiamen into the security forces or other government jobs have been implemented; (c) fears that Mr. Maliki would establish a dictatorship look to be exaggerated; (d) the economy is nearing a tipping point, with foreign oil companies refurbishing the fields of southern Iraq and the city of Basra, a militia-ruled jungle four years ago, beginning to boom; and (e) violence has dwindled to the lowest level Iraq probably has known in decades (in September 2006, there were more than 3,300 civilian deaths from violence; this month so far it has counted 62, making Iraq a country far safer than Mexico). Read More

In its editorial today, “A Good Year in Iraq,” the Washington Post writes this:

AT THE beginning of this year, Iraq’s fragile new political order faced a momentous challenge. The country needed to hold credible democratic elections at a time when its army was still battling al-Qaeda and other domestic insurgents. The winners had to form a government in spite of deep rifts among leaders and sects, who just three years ago were fighting a civil war. And all this had to happen even as the United States reduced its troops from 150,000 to 50,000 and ended combat operations for those who remained.

The result was a long, painful, contentious, confusing and sometimes bloody year. But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented his new government to parliament on Tuesday, Iraq could fairly be said to have passed a major test. It is not yet the peaceful Arab democracy and force for good in the Middle East that President George W. Bush imagined when he decided on invasion eight years ago. But in the past 12 months it has taken some big steps in the right direction.

The editorial goes on to point out that (a) the election was judged free and fair, a very rare event in the Middle East; (b) measures to integrate former Sunni militiamen into the security forces or other government jobs have been implemented; (c) fears that Mr. Maliki would establish a dictatorship look to be exaggerated; (d) the economy is nearing a tipping point, with foreign oil companies refurbishing the fields of southern Iraq and the city of Basra, a militia-ruled jungle four years ago, beginning to boom; and (e) violence has dwindled to the lowest level Iraq probably has known in decades (in September 2006, there were more than 3,300 civilian deaths from violence; this month so far it has counted 62, making Iraq a country far safer than Mexico).

The Post editorial concludes this way:

It’s still too early to draw conclusions about Iraq, though many opponents of the war did so long ago. Mr. Maliki’s government could easily go wrong; the coming year, which could end with the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops, will likely be just as challenging as this one. But the country’s political class has repeatedly chosen democracy over dictatorship and accommodation over violence. If that keeps up, a rough version of Mr. Bush’s dream may yet come true.

Four years ago this month may have been the low-water mark in Iraq, with the nation gripped by a low-grade but escalating civil war. The American public strongly opposed the war. Almost every Democratic lawmaker in Congress, with the honorable exception of Senator Joseph Lieberman, was in fierce opposition to both the war and what later became known as the “surge.” Republican lawmakers were losing their nerve as well. Three months earlier, in September 2006, Senator Mitch McConnell had asked for, and received, a private meeting with President Bush. Senator McConnell’s message was a simple one: the Iraq war’s unpopularity was going to cost the GOP control of Congress. “Mr. President,” McConnell said, “bring some troops home from Iraq.”

President Bush, to his everlasting credit, not only refused to bend; he increased the American commitment to Iraq and changed our counterinsurgency strategy. And while the situation in Iraq remains fragile and can be undone — and while problems still remain and need to be urgently addressed (including the terrible persecution of Christians occurring in Iraq right now) — this is a moment for our nation, and most especially our military, to take sober satisfaction in what has been achieved. It has not been an easy journey. But it has been a noble and estimable one.

There is no need here to rehearse the names of the few who did not buckle at the moment when the war seemed lost. They know who they are. In the words of Milton, they were “faithful found among the faithless.” Their faithfulness, and in many cases their courage, is being vindicated.

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Iraq: Before and After Saddam

The New York Times has a story about Iraq’s parliament’s approving a new government yesterday. With all major political parties and ethnic groups participating for the first time in an Iraqi government, the 325-member parliament approved each of the 34 ministers proposed by Prime Minister Maliki.

There’s no question that the new government is fragile and that the delay in forming a government was frustrating. And the challenges facing Iraq are considerable. “A nation with virtually no democratic track record and a history of sectarian warfare must figure a way to move forward with a government that comprises four major blocs — two Shiite, one Sunni-backed and multi-sectarian, and one Kurdish — each with a different agenda,” according to the Times. But it also points out that against predictions and despite a number of coordinated, deadly attacks that rattled the country, Iraq did not experience an overall rise in violence during the impasse. President Obama called the vote in parliament a “significant moment in Iraq’s history” and “a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.”

Within the story is a quote from Prime Minister Maliki that caught my attention. He told lawmakers he was “very content” — even if he knew that they were not.

“I do not need anybody to sugarcoat me,” Maliki said. “I have not satisfied anybody at all. Everybody is angry with me, and everybody is frustrated with me.”

Such words were unimaginable in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In 2002, for example, Iraqi officials said the Iraqi president won 100 percent backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters — and every one of them voted for Saddam. (It’s worth pointing out that Saddam’s performance in 2002 was an improvement on the previous such vote, which gave the Iraqi leader only 99.96 percent support.)

Prime Minister Maliki is no saint and far from a perfect leader, and some people worry that he has authoritarian tendencies or even dictatorial aspirations. But I trust the judgment of Ryan C. Crocker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and came to know and respect Maliki. “Maliki’s vision is that the prime minister has to grab every shred of power, or centrifugal forces will kick in and Iraq will become unglued,” said Crocker. “He will try to accrue as much power as he can. But I think Maliki is light years away from being a truly authoritarian or dictatorial figure.”

Iraq unquestionably has a long way to go, and the road to the formation of the new government has been a difficult one. But a fragile democracy is a moral universe away from a totalitarian dictatorship. Read More

The New York Times has a story about Iraq’s parliament’s approving a new government yesterday. With all major political parties and ethnic groups participating for the first time in an Iraqi government, the 325-member parliament approved each of the 34 ministers proposed by Prime Minister Maliki.

There’s no question that the new government is fragile and that the delay in forming a government was frustrating. And the challenges facing Iraq are considerable. “A nation with virtually no democratic track record and a history of sectarian warfare must figure a way to move forward with a government that comprises four major blocs — two Shiite, one Sunni-backed and multi-sectarian, and one Kurdish — each with a different agenda,” according to the Times. But it also points out that against predictions and despite a number of coordinated, deadly attacks that rattled the country, Iraq did not experience an overall rise in violence during the impasse. President Obama called the vote in parliament a “significant moment in Iraq’s history” and “a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.”

Within the story is a quote from Prime Minister Maliki that caught my attention. He told lawmakers he was “very content” — even if he knew that they were not.

“I do not need anybody to sugarcoat me,” Maliki said. “I have not satisfied anybody at all. Everybody is angry with me, and everybody is frustrated with me.”

Such words were unimaginable in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In 2002, for example, Iraqi officials said the Iraqi president won 100 percent backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters — and every one of them voted for Saddam. (It’s worth pointing out that Saddam’s performance in 2002 was an improvement on the previous such vote, which gave the Iraqi leader only 99.96 percent support.)

Prime Minister Maliki is no saint and far from a perfect leader, and some people worry that he has authoritarian tendencies or even dictatorial aspirations. But I trust the judgment of Ryan C. Crocker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and came to know and respect Maliki. “Maliki’s vision is that the prime minister has to grab every shred of power, or centrifugal forces will kick in and Iraq will become unglued,” said Crocker. “He will try to accrue as much power as he can. But I think Maliki is light years away from being a truly authoritarian or dictatorial figure.”

Iraq unquestionably has a long way to go, and the road to the formation of the new government has been a difficult one. But a fragile democracy is a moral universe away from a totalitarian dictatorship.

With Iraq’s governing achievement in mind, it’s perhaps worth recalling the words of the late Michael Kelly, one of the greatest journalists and columnists of his generation. Mike, who covered the first Gulf war, had been deeply affected by what Iraq under Saddam Hussein had done to the people of Kuwait. He told about the innocent civilians who had been killed, ritualistically humiliated, robbed, beaten, raped, and tortured by Saddam’s forces. “Shattered people were everywhere,” he said. “I watched one torture victim, a big, strong man, being interviewed in the place of his torture by a BBC television crew — weeping and weeping, but absolutely silent, as he told the story.”

Kelly — who died in 2003 while on assignment in Iraq — went on to write this:

Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face.

I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti, or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?

Thanks to the sacrifices and beneficence of America, Iraq is now free from the boot. That may not be everything, but it is quite a lot.

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Morning Commentary

The Iraqi parliament finally approves a diverse new unity government, ending nine months of political stalemate and concern for the fledgling democracy: “Although Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds were represented in the previous government, this is the first time that all the major factions have been included, lending hope that Iraq can put behind it the bitter sectarian struggles and divisive politics of the past five years.”

More than nine Senate Republicans are expected to support New START when it’s brought up for ratification today, which is enough to approve the treaty. So what’s the GOP getting in return for its support? According to the Washington Times, Sen. Jon Kyl’s negotiations with President Obama have secured $85 billion to modernize and maintain our nuclear arsenal, as well as a commitment to build robust missile defenses.

In the New York Post, Jonah Goldberg analyzes the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

In USA Today, Sarah Palin discusses the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran: “Some have said the Israelis should undertake military action on their own if they are convinced the Iranian program is approaching the point of no return. But Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not just Israel’s problem; it is the world’s problem. I agree with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said recently that the West must be willing to use force ‘if necessary’ if that is the only alternative.”

Is Michele Bachmann considering a presidential run? Her $31,000 in contributions to Iowa candidates over the past year has some bloggers asking that question. Iowa’s campaign-finance report shows that Sarah Palin gave only $15,000 during the same time period.

Has it really come to this? Robert Gibbs is now seeking political help from Jon Stewart.

Ron Radosh sees similarities between Hugo Chavez’s recent power grab and the rise of Nazi power: “By passing the Enabling Act — the same term used by Chavez today — Hitler sought to abolish democracy by formally democratic means. … By banning opposition Communist delegates who had all been arrested, and preventing Social-Democrats from taking seats to which they were elected after the Reichstag fire, the Nazis now had the necessary votes to pass the Act. Clearly, Hugo Chavez must have studied Hitler’s tactics before commencing upon a similar road.”

The Iraqi parliament finally approves a diverse new unity government, ending nine months of political stalemate and concern for the fledgling democracy: “Although Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds were represented in the previous government, this is the first time that all the major factions have been included, lending hope that Iraq can put behind it the bitter sectarian struggles and divisive politics of the past five years.”

More than nine Senate Republicans are expected to support New START when it’s brought up for ratification today, which is enough to approve the treaty. So what’s the GOP getting in return for its support? According to the Washington Times, Sen. Jon Kyl’s negotiations with President Obama have secured $85 billion to modernize and maintain our nuclear arsenal, as well as a commitment to build robust missile defenses.

In the New York Post, Jonah Goldberg analyzes the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

In USA Today, Sarah Palin discusses the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran: “Some have said the Israelis should undertake military action on their own if they are convinced the Iranian program is approaching the point of no return. But Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not just Israel’s problem; it is the world’s problem. I agree with the former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said recently that the West must be willing to use force ‘if necessary’ if that is the only alternative.”

Is Michele Bachmann considering a presidential run? Her $31,000 in contributions to Iowa candidates over the past year has some bloggers asking that question. Iowa’s campaign-finance report shows that Sarah Palin gave only $15,000 during the same time period.

Has it really come to this? Robert Gibbs is now seeking political help from Jon Stewart.

Ron Radosh sees similarities between Hugo Chavez’s recent power grab and the rise of Nazi power: “By passing the Enabling Act — the same term used by Chavez today — Hitler sought to abolish democracy by formally democratic means. … By banning opposition Communist delegates who had all been arrested, and preventing Social-Democrats from taking seats to which they were elected after the Reichstag fire, the Nazis now had the necessary votes to pass the Act. Clearly, Hugo Chavez must have studied Hitler’s tactics before commencing upon a similar road.”

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Iraq’s Democracy Works but Needs Continued U.S. Presence for Long-Term Survival

Iraq continues to make progress — slow, halting, often frustrating, incomplete progress, but progress nonetheless. Nearly a year after elections were held, parliament has finally approved a new government, which includes representation from all the major blocs. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, showing an impressive canniness for hanging on to power, has managed to propitiate all the other major powerbrokers, including his archrival, Ayad Allawi, who won more seats than Maliki did. He has even cut a deal with the Sadrists, whom he battled as recently as 2008 — and without giving the Sadrists control of one of the really important ministries, such as Interior or Defense.

It may not be pretty, but Iraq is showing that it does have a functional democracy, thereby refuting the argument made by so many critics of the “surge” that its gains were transitory and unsustainable. The good news is that throughout the year-long political crisis that has followed the elections, Iraq’s major factions have mostly refrained from violence, preferring to settle their differences in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. There have been terrorist atrocities committed during the past year, but they have not upset Iraq’s political equilibrium, and the overall rate of violence has remained low despite a drawdown of American forces.

For all that, I remain concerned about what will happen in a year’s time if the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops are withdrawn. That appears to be an increasingly likely prospect, since there seems to be little enthusiasm on the part of either Maliki or Obama to negotiate an accord to allow a substantial body of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq post-2012. Iraq may very well be fine even without much American help. Certainly, its security forces continue to grow in size and competence. They don’t need nearly as much help as they once did, but nor are they yet capable of operating entirely on their own.

More important, the fragile peace of Iraqi politics constructed by General Petraeus in 2007-2008 needs years to set into concrete. The continued presence of U.S. troops would create some certainty about Iraq’s continued progress. Their departure will, on the contrary, raises the risks of Iraq once again falling apart. Admittedly, that risk is much lower than it was a few years ago, but there is a good deal to be said for an insurance policy — in the form of, say, 20,000 U.S. troops — to ensure that the gains that so many of our soldiers gave so much to achieve will last for the long-term.

Iraq continues to make progress — slow, halting, often frustrating, incomplete progress, but progress nonetheless. Nearly a year after elections were held, parliament has finally approved a new government, which includes representation from all the major blocs. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, showing an impressive canniness for hanging on to power, has managed to propitiate all the other major powerbrokers, including his archrival, Ayad Allawi, who won more seats than Maliki did. He has even cut a deal with the Sadrists, whom he battled as recently as 2008 — and without giving the Sadrists control of one of the really important ministries, such as Interior or Defense.

It may not be pretty, but Iraq is showing that it does have a functional democracy, thereby refuting the argument made by so many critics of the “surge” that its gains were transitory and unsustainable. The good news is that throughout the year-long political crisis that has followed the elections, Iraq’s major factions have mostly refrained from violence, preferring to settle their differences in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. There have been terrorist atrocities committed during the past year, but they have not upset Iraq’s political equilibrium, and the overall rate of violence has remained low despite a drawdown of American forces.

For all that, I remain concerned about what will happen in a year’s time if the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops are withdrawn. That appears to be an increasingly likely prospect, since there seems to be little enthusiasm on the part of either Maliki or Obama to negotiate an accord to allow a substantial body of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq post-2012. Iraq may very well be fine even without much American help. Certainly, its security forces continue to grow in size and competence. They don’t need nearly as much help as they once did, but nor are they yet capable of operating entirely on their own.

More important, the fragile peace of Iraqi politics constructed by General Petraeus in 2007-2008 needs years to set into concrete. The continued presence of U.S. troops would create some certainty about Iraq’s continued progress. Their departure will, on the contrary, raises the risks of Iraq once again falling apart. Admittedly, that risk is much lower than it was a few years ago, but there is a good deal to be said for an insurance policy — in the form of, say, 20,000 U.S. troops — to ensure that the gains that so many of our soldiers gave so much to achieve will last for the long-term.

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Israelis Think No Concession Will Ever Satisfy the West

A newly released WikiLeaks cable quotes Ron Dermer, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling a U.S. diplomat of Israelis’ frustration with the peace process. Surprisingly, however, Dermer didn’t focus primarily on Palestinian behavior. Rather, he charged, “the Israeli public is skeptical regarding the benefits of returning to negotiations” because “all the GOI [government of Israel] has received in return for its efforts [to date] was a ‘slap-down from the international community.’”

Dermer didn’t offer evidence to support his claim about Israeli frustration with the “international community,” but the data are shocking: according to the August Peace Index poll, fully 77 percent of Jewish Israelis think “it makes no difference what Israel does and how far it may go on the Palestinian issue; the world will continue to be very critical of it.” And in fact, Israelis have good reasons for this belief.

For instance, when Hezbollah continued attacking Israel even after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the world, far from condemning Hezbollah, excoriated Israel when it finally responded to these attacks in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Moreover, after having certified the withdrawal as 100 percent complete in 2000, the UN Security Council then rewarded Hezbollah’s aggression in 2006 by voting to remap Lebanon’s borders, “especially in those areas where the border is disputed” by Hezbollah, with an eye toward forcing Israel to quit additional territory.

Then, when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, evacuating 25 settlements in the process, it was rewarded by daily rocket fire on its cities from the evacuated territory. Yet when it finally fought back, in 2008, it was slapped with the Goldstone Report, which accused it of “war crimes” and urged its indictment in the International Criminal Court. And far from coming to Israel’s defense, most Western countries abstained in both UN votes on the report.

Moreover, even though two Israeli offers (in 2000 and 2008) to give the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank have been unmatched by any parallel Palestinian concessions, the West continues to demand ever more concessions from Israel while refusing to publicly demand anything of the Palestinians — even on issues like the “right of return,” where Palestinian concessions are clearly essential for any deal. For instance, a European Union statement earlier this month demanded several explicit Israeli concessions, including withdrawal to the “pre-1967 borders” and Jerusalem as the “capital of two states,” but made no similarly explicit demands of the Palestinians. It merely called for an “agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee question,” without specifying that such a solution cannot include resettling the refugees in Israel.

All this has made Israelis believe that no matter what they give, the world will still find new reasons to condemn it. And if the West actually wants a peace deal, that ought to concern it deeply, because Israelis thought a deal was supposed to give them two benefits: peace with the Arabs and support from the West. Instead, Israel discovered that concession after concession has brought neither. And if so, what’s the point of continuing to make them?

A newly released WikiLeaks cable quotes Ron Dermer, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling a U.S. diplomat of Israelis’ frustration with the peace process. Surprisingly, however, Dermer didn’t focus primarily on Palestinian behavior. Rather, he charged, “the Israeli public is skeptical regarding the benefits of returning to negotiations” because “all the GOI [government of Israel] has received in return for its efforts [to date] was a ‘slap-down from the international community.’”

Dermer didn’t offer evidence to support his claim about Israeli frustration with the “international community,” but the data are shocking: according to the August Peace Index poll, fully 77 percent of Jewish Israelis think “it makes no difference what Israel does and how far it may go on the Palestinian issue; the world will continue to be very critical of it.” And in fact, Israelis have good reasons for this belief.

For instance, when Hezbollah continued attacking Israel even after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the world, far from condemning Hezbollah, excoriated Israel when it finally responded to these attacks in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Moreover, after having certified the withdrawal as 100 percent complete in 2000, the UN Security Council then rewarded Hezbollah’s aggression in 2006 by voting to remap Lebanon’s borders, “especially in those areas where the border is disputed” by Hezbollah, with an eye toward forcing Israel to quit additional territory.

Then, when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, evacuating 25 settlements in the process, it was rewarded by daily rocket fire on its cities from the evacuated territory. Yet when it finally fought back, in 2008, it was slapped with the Goldstone Report, which accused it of “war crimes” and urged its indictment in the International Criminal Court. And far from coming to Israel’s defense, most Western countries abstained in both UN votes on the report.

Moreover, even though two Israeli offers (in 2000 and 2008) to give the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank have been unmatched by any parallel Palestinian concessions, the West continues to demand ever more concessions from Israel while refusing to publicly demand anything of the Palestinians — even on issues like the “right of return,” where Palestinian concessions are clearly essential for any deal. For instance, a European Union statement earlier this month demanded several explicit Israeli concessions, including withdrawal to the “pre-1967 borders” and Jerusalem as the “capital of two states,” but made no similarly explicit demands of the Palestinians. It merely called for an “agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee question,” without specifying that such a solution cannot include resettling the refugees in Israel.

All this has made Israelis believe that no matter what they give, the world will still find new reasons to condemn it. And if the West actually wants a peace deal, that ought to concern it deeply, because Israelis thought a deal was supposed to give them two benefits: peace with the Arabs and support from the West. Instead, Israel discovered that concession after concession has brought neither. And if so, what’s the point of continuing to make them?

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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.

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Fake Palestinian Diplomacy No Substitute for Actual Negotiations

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

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The “Palestinian” Campaign

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response. Read More

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response.

The 2011 plan is the one to keep an eye on. It has momentum and increasing buy-in, as demonstrated by the flurry of statehood recognitions from Latin America this month. U.S. mainstream media have not generally been presenting a coherent picture to American readers, but from a broader perspective, there is a confluence of events separate from the official peace process. It already appears, from the regional jockeying for Lebanon and the trend of Saudi activity, that nations in the Middle East are trying to position themselves for a decisive shift in the Israel-Palestine dynamic. Now, in a significant “informational” move, Russia’s ITAR-TASS is playing up the discussions of 2011 statehood from the meeting this past weekend of a Russian-government delegation with Salam Fayyad in Israel.

It may be too early to call the official peace process irrelevant or pronounce it dead. But the interest in it from the Palestinian Arabs and other parties in the Middle East is increasingly perfunctory (or cynical). It is becoming clear that there is more than recalcitrance on the Palestinian side; there is an alternative plan, which is being actively promoted. A central virtue of this plan for Fayyadists is that it can work by either of two methods: presenting Israel with a UN-backed fait accompli or alarming Israel into cutting a deal from fear that an imposed resolution would be worse.

John Bolton is right. Everything about this depends on what the U.S. does. America can either avert the 2011 plan’s momentum now or face a crisis decision crafted for us by others sometime next year. Being maneuvered into a UN veto that could set off bombings and riots across the Eastern Hemisphere — and very possibly North America as well — should not be our first choice.

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The Resolution and the Process

The Palestinians are upset at the unanimously adopted Congressional Resolution, authored by the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its ranking Republican member, which opposes any attempt to establish a Palestinian state outside a negotiated agreement. The resolution calls on the administration to lead a diplomatic effort against a unilaterally declared state, affirm that the U.S. would not recognize it, and veto any UN resolution seeking to establish one. The resolution — and the Palestinian reaction to it — caps a series of clarifying developments over the past year and a half:

First, the Palestinians refused to negotiate unless Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution and froze settlement construction; Netanyahu did both, and the Palestinians refused to negotiate. They had to be dragged into “proximity talks” and then dragged into “direct negotiations” and then left.

Second, the Palestinian Authority canceled local elections in the West Bank, unwilling to risk them even in the part of the putative state it nominally controls. The PA is now headed by a “president” currently in the 72nd month of his 48-month term, with a “prime minister” appointed by the holdover “president” rather than by the Palestinian parliament (which, unfortunately, is controlled by the terrorist group the Palestinians elected five years ago). These days, the PA turns for approval not to its public or its parliament but rather to the Arab League, while the other half of the putative state is run by the terrorist group. As a democratic state, “Palestine” is already a failed one.

Third, the peace-partner Palestinians rejected the two criteria that Netanyahu set forth for a peace agreement: recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization of the Palestinian one. The first requirement reflects a series of essential points: the Palestinians cannot have a state and a “right of return” to the other one; there cannot be a two-stage plan to obtain a second state and then work to change the character of the first one; and a peace agreement must contain an “end-of-claims” provision precluding further disputes. The second requirement reflects the obvious fact that, having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to have them become staging areas for new wars, Israel would be crazy to expose its eastern border to the same thing with a militarized Palestinian state. But the Palestinians rejected both of the requirements.

Fourth, the peace-partner Palestinians objected to an Israeli referendum on any peace agreement, considering democratic approval an obstacle to peace. A referendum serves as a necessary check on the legitimacy of the process; it is why the PA itself continually assures its own public (and the terrorist group in Gaza) that any peace agreement would be subject to a Palestinian referendum. But the peace-partner Palestinians do not want one for the Israeli public if it would serve as a check on further one-sided concessions.

Israel is currently faced with a PA that is unwilling to meet the basic requirements of a permanent peace, lacks the political authority to enter into a peace agreement (much less the ability to implement one), opposes any process in which the Israeli public can assure itself of the result, and wants a state simply imposed on Israel by the U.S. or the UN. If the Congressional Resolution helps disabuse it of these notions, it will be a significant contribution to the current non-peace non-process.

The Palestinians are upset at the unanimously adopted Congressional Resolution, authored by the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its ranking Republican member, which opposes any attempt to establish a Palestinian state outside a negotiated agreement. The resolution calls on the administration to lead a diplomatic effort against a unilaterally declared state, affirm that the U.S. would not recognize it, and veto any UN resolution seeking to establish one. The resolution — and the Palestinian reaction to it — caps a series of clarifying developments over the past year and a half:

First, the Palestinians refused to negotiate unless Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution and froze settlement construction; Netanyahu did both, and the Palestinians refused to negotiate. They had to be dragged into “proximity talks” and then dragged into “direct negotiations” and then left.

Second, the Palestinian Authority canceled local elections in the West Bank, unwilling to risk them even in the part of the putative state it nominally controls. The PA is now headed by a “president” currently in the 72nd month of his 48-month term, with a “prime minister” appointed by the holdover “president” rather than by the Palestinian parliament (which, unfortunately, is controlled by the terrorist group the Palestinians elected five years ago). These days, the PA turns for approval not to its public or its parliament but rather to the Arab League, while the other half of the putative state is run by the terrorist group. As a democratic state, “Palestine” is already a failed one.

Third, the peace-partner Palestinians rejected the two criteria that Netanyahu set forth for a peace agreement: recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization of the Palestinian one. The first requirement reflects a series of essential points: the Palestinians cannot have a state and a “right of return” to the other one; there cannot be a two-stage plan to obtain a second state and then work to change the character of the first one; and a peace agreement must contain an “end-of-claims” provision precluding further disputes. The second requirement reflects the obvious fact that, having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to have them become staging areas for new wars, Israel would be crazy to expose its eastern border to the same thing with a militarized Palestinian state. But the Palestinians rejected both of the requirements.

Fourth, the peace-partner Palestinians objected to an Israeli referendum on any peace agreement, considering democratic approval an obstacle to peace. A referendum serves as a necessary check on the legitimacy of the process; it is why the PA itself continually assures its own public (and the terrorist group in Gaza) that any peace agreement would be subject to a Palestinian referendum. But the peace-partner Palestinians do not want one for the Israeli public if it would serve as a check on further one-sided concessions.

Israel is currently faced with a PA that is unwilling to meet the basic requirements of a permanent peace, lacks the political authority to enter into a peace agreement (much less the ability to implement one), opposes any process in which the Israeli public can assure itself of the result, and wants a state simply imposed on Israel by the U.S. or the UN. If the Congressional Resolution helps disabuse it of these notions, it will be a significant contribution to the current non-peace non-process.

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Morning Commentary

Congress passed the extension of the Bush tax cuts last night, prompting Charles Krauthammer to dub President Obama “the comeback kid”: “Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.”

As Congress debates New START, the centerpiece of the “reset” strategy with Russia, Prime Minister Putin continues to defend the authority of the Russian security forces:  “These bodies of power carry out the state’s most important function,” Mr. Putin said. “Otherwise, our liberal intelligentsia will have to shave off their goatees and put on helmets themselves and go out to the square to fight radicals themselves.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, John McCain gave a stirring defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s jailed political opponent, who will face a trial Dec. 27. The Arizona senator was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote to open debate on New START and is a key swing vote on the treaty’s ratification: “Yesterday, the Senate voted to take up the New START Treaty. To be sure, this Treaty should be considered on its merits to our national security, but it is only reasonable to ask: If Russian officials demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the rights and legal obligations owed to one of their own citizens, how will they treat us — and the legal obligations, be it this Treaty or any other, that they owe to us?”

Former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said on Thursday that Israel would currently be unable to defeat Hezbollah in a direct engagement. “Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah. … Therefore a war waged only as Israel-versus-Hezbollah might yield better damage on Hezbollah, but Hezbollah would inflict far worse damage on the Israeli homefront than it did 4-1/2 years ago.”

Is it dangerous for Michele Obama to frame the fight against childhood obesity as a national security issue? Michael A. Walsh outlines the problems with the First Lady’s comments: “Forget private-property rights or the rumblings in your belly. In Obama’s America, you will no longer be allowed to freely make economic and nutritional decisions about how to feed yourself and your family. Somebody else — the city, the state, the first lady — will do that for you. After all, it’s a matter of national security.”

Congress passed the extension of the Bush tax cuts last night, prompting Charles Krauthammer to dub President Obama “the comeback kid”: “Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.”

As Congress debates New START, the centerpiece of the “reset” strategy with Russia, Prime Minister Putin continues to defend the authority of the Russian security forces:  “These bodies of power carry out the state’s most important function,” Mr. Putin said. “Otherwise, our liberal intelligentsia will have to shave off their goatees and put on helmets themselves and go out to the square to fight radicals themselves.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, John McCain gave a stirring defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s jailed political opponent, who will face a trial Dec. 27. The Arizona senator was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote to open debate on New START and is a key swing vote on the treaty’s ratification: “Yesterday, the Senate voted to take up the New START Treaty. To be sure, this Treaty should be considered on its merits to our national security, but it is only reasonable to ask: If Russian officials demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the rights and legal obligations owed to one of their own citizens, how will they treat us — and the legal obligations, be it this Treaty or any other, that they owe to us?”

Former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said on Thursday that Israel would currently be unable to defeat Hezbollah in a direct engagement. “Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah. … Therefore a war waged only as Israel-versus-Hezbollah might yield better damage on Hezbollah, but Hezbollah would inflict far worse damage on the Israeli homefront than it did 4-1/2 years ago.”

Is it dangerous for Michele Obama to frame the fight against childhood obesity as a national security issue? Michael A. Walsh outlines the problems with the First Lady’s comments: “Forget private-property rights or the rumblings in your belly. In Obama’s America, you will no longer be allowed to freely make economic and nutritional decisions about how to feed yourself and your family. Somebody else — the city, the state, the first lady — will do that for you. After all, it’s a matter of national security.”

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Hot Times in the Far East

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit. Read More

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit.

Meanwhile, Russia is probing and making shows of force wherever possible. The intrusion of Russian patrol aircraft in the naval exercise held by the U.S. and Japan last week was remarkable for the fact that it was an actual intrusion. Military aircraft monitor foreign exercises all the time, but usually from a distance. The Russian planes approached so closely last week that the exercise was suspended while fighters were scrambled to intercept them.

The Nixon administration concluded a 1972 agreement with Soviet Russia to avoid such provocations in air and naval activity. Indeed, it was Nixon who, during the same period, re-established relations with China, returned Okinawa to Japan, and signed landmark defense agreements with Thailand and the Philippines. He hoped that these measures, desirable in their own right, would contribute to an environment of stabilized tension in which the two Vietnams could coexist. Although the hopes for Vietnam were dashed, his larger arrangements have stood for nearly 40 years. But they will not last much longer. The older pattern that obtains in the absence of U.S. power is reasserting itself.

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Mitchell’s Back: The Fool Returns to His Errand

After two years of failure, George Mitchell is back in the Middle East to resume his fruitless negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, Mitchell might have a better chance of achieving at least the semblance of progress now that the administration has dropped its obsession with forcing Israel to adopt a building freeze in the West Bank. Such a freeze was meaningless, since the question of where the borders would be in the event of a peace accord would not be affected by whether or not another Jewish home went up in the West Bank. As Israel showed in 2005 with its withdrawal from Gaza, the presence of settlements will not stop it from abandoning territory if a domestic consensus exists for such a policy.

But even without the burden of pushing Israel to freeze building before talks even begin, it’s not clear that there is any purpose to Mitchell’s visit other than a symbolic gesture of America’s continued interest in peace. Despite attempts by left-wing critics of Israel to demonize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners, the blame for this impasse remains with the Palestinians, who have more than once refused Israel’s offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But it is useful to review the past two years of failed American diplomacy during which Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done a great deal to make a bad situation worse.

In 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was negotiating with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He refused to take yes for an answer, but the talks that were going on were direct and didn’t fail for lack of Israeli concessions. But when the Obama administration took up Middle East peace as its first foreign-policy priority in early 2009, it changed the dynamic of the situation, and not for the better. By asserting publicly that Israel had to freeze settlements first, and then insisting that such a freeze should include not only Jerusalem but also long-established Jewish neighborhoods in the Jewish state’s capital, the administration forced Abbas to harden his stand to avoid being seen as less hostile to Israel than the Americans were. Over the course of the last year and a half, as Mitchell and Clinton focused more on gaining new unilateral Israeli concessions as preconditions to talks, it was hardly surprising that the result was no serious negotiations as the Palestinians simply sat back and waited for the Americans to deliver for them.

While Mitchell loves to talk about his diplomatic success in Northern Ireland, where he helped bring the warring parties together for the first time, what has happened in the Middle East is just the opposite. When he arrived, direct talks were ongoing; now they are dead and there is little likelihood of a restart, since the administration has already tried and failed with its sole idea for promoting peace: pressure on Israel. While Israel’s critics and foes are urging Obama to double down on such pressure, it appears that even the president and the secretary of state are finally beginning to understand that there is little point to investing any energy in such a process when they know that even if they gain more concessions from the Israelis, the Palestinians will always say no in the end anyway.

The spectacle of Mitchell returning to a dumb show of diplomacy is a sorry indication of both the bankruptcy of the administration’s foreign policy as well as the ineptness of its principal player. Rather than the successful sequel to his Irish triumph that Mitchell keeps predicting, his latest mission resembles nothing so much as a fool’s errand.

After two years of failure, George Mitchell is back in the Middle East to resume his fruitless negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, Mitchell might have a better chance of achieving at least the semblance of progress now that the administration has dropped its obsession with forcing Israel to adopt a building freeze in the West Bank. Such a freeze was meaningless, since the question of where the borders would be in the event of a peace accord would not be affected by whether or not another Jewish home went up in the West Bank. As Israel showed in 2005 with its withdrawal from Gaza, the presence of settlements will not stop it from abandoning territory if a domestic consensus exists for such a policy.

But even without the burden of pushing Israel to freeze building before talks even begin, it’s not clear that there is any purpose to Mitchell’s visit other than a symbolic gesture of America’s continued interest in peace. Despite attempts by left-wing critics of Israel to demonize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners, the blame for this impasse remains with the Palestinians, who have more than once refused Israel’s offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. But it is useful to review the past two years of failed American diplomacy during which Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done a great deal to make a bad situation worse.

In 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was negotiating with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He refused to take yes for an answer, but the talks that were going on were direct and didn’t fail for lack of Israeli concessions. But when the Obama administration took up Middle East peace as its first foreign-policy priority in early 2009, it changed the dynamic of the situation, and not for the better. By asserting publicly that Israel had to freeze settlements first, and then insisting that such a freeze should include not only Jerusalem but also long-established Jewish neighborhoods in the Jewish state’s capital, the administration forced Abbas to harden his stand to avoid being seen as less hostile to Israel than the Americans were. Over the course of the last year and a half, as Mitchell and Clinton focused more on gaining new unilateral Israeli concessions as preconditions to talks, it was hardly surprising that the result was no serious negotiations as the Palestinians simply sat back and waited for the Americans to deliver for them.

While Mitchell loves to talk about his diplomatic success in Northern Ireland, where he helped bring the warring parties together for the first time, what has happened in the Middle East is just the opposite. When he arrived, direct talks were ongoing; now they are dead and there is little likelihood of a restart, since the administration has already tried and failed with its sole idea for promoting peace: pressure on Israel. While Israel’s critics and foes are urging Obama to double down on such pressure, it appears that even the president and the secretary of state are finally beginning to understand that there is little point to investing any energy in such a process when they know that even if they gain more concessions from the Israelis, the Palestinians will always say no in the end anyway.

The spectacle of Mitchell returning to a dumb show of diplomacy is a sorry indication of both the bankruptcy of the administration’s foreign policy as well as the ineptness of its principal player. Rather than the successful sequel to his Irish triumph that Mitchell keeps predicting, his latest mission resembles nothing so much as a fool’s errand.

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Changing of the Ambassadorial Guard

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

With Richard Holbrooke’s death, questions will inevitably be asked about the fate of the post he held: Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The job was created expressly for him on the theory that Afghanistan and Pakistan (“AfPak”) were a related problem set that required the appointment of a high-level diplomatic coordinator to handle. The expectation was that Holbrooke would emerge as a dominant force in AfPak policy to rival the NATO commander in Kabul. It never happened. In fact, by the time of his death, it was generally agreed that Holbrooke had largely been marginalized in the policy process.

Part of this was due to some missteps on his part, but the larger problem was that there is not really much of a role for an “SRAP”: it was always a theory more than an actual job description. What we need are capable ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul who can work closely with our military commander in Kabul, General Petraeus. The model  here is the special relationship that Petraeus had with Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador in Baghdad during the surge. Their close collaboration greatly maximized the impact of the surge forces and convinced Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki  to make hard decisions to cut off sectarian actors.

There is nothing similar in Kabul. General Stanley McChrystal famously feuded with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, leading to the elevation of the NATO representative, Mark Sedwill, to become McChrystal’s chief diplomatic partner. Sedwill is still in place, and he is a capable and shrewd diplomat, but he would be the first to acknowledge that, as a Brit, he cannot speak with the authority of the United States. Eikenberry also remains in place and has not gotten into any public dust-ups with Petraeus, but he has also burned his bridges to Hamid Karzai with the leak of numerous cables deprecating the Afghan president.

By April, Eikenberry will have completed two years in the job — longer than many last in such pressure-packed assignments. The priority now should not be to replace Holbrooke as the SRAP but rather to ensure that Eikenberry’s replacement will perform in Crocker-like fashion. In this regard, I can’t help but note that Crocker has also previously served as ambassador to Pakistan, so he is familiar with the region. Is there, I wonder, some way that President Obama could lure him out of retirement (he is currently dean of the Bush School at Texas A&M) for one more assignment to work with Petraeus to rescue another troubled war effort?

Read Less




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