Commentary Magazine


Topic: public relations

Palestinians’ UN Gambit Puts Both Israel and Obama on the Spot

The news that the Palestinian Authority is expected to try to use the United Nations Security Council to label any Israeli presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem “illegal” is hardly a surprise to those who have followed the PA’s continuous efforts to evade actual peace negotiations. Having rejected an Israeli offer of an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spent the first two years of the Obama administration doing everything possible to avoid actually negotiating with Israel. With even Obama starting to understand that the last thing Abbas wants is to sign a peace accord no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders might be drawn, it’s clear the Palestinian’s goal is not a state but to escalate the diplomatic conflict. That will enable him to compete with Hamas for support among a Palestinian population that has never reconciled itself to peace with a Jewish state. The UN is the perfect forum for such a venture since it is a hotbed of anti-Zionist, as well as anti-Semitic, incitement.

Yet despite the mainstream media’s oft trumpeted claim that settlements are illegal under international law, Israel actually has an excellent case here. As David Phillips of the Northeastern School of Law detailed in COMMENTARY in December 2009, whatever one’s opinion of the wisdom of building in the territories, allegations of its illegality are unfounded in international law. Unfortunately, Israel has never made much of an effort to defend itself on this front. The reasons for this are complicated. A lot of it has to do with the general incompetence of Israeli public relations, but it must also be said that the left-wing political beliefs of many Israeli diplomats who were personally opposed to the settlements also played a role. This has led to a situation in which many Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state simply accept the charge of illegality since they have rarely been exposed to the compelling arguments to the contrary.

But the real question that is hanging over a potential UN fight over settlements is how the United States will behave. The United States has used its veto in the past to prevent the Security Council from unfairly prejudicing potential peace talks with resolutions that demonized Israel. However, President Obama’s foolish decision to pick a fight with the Israelis over settlements and, in particular, about Jerusalem helped torpedo any hope of fruitful negotiations, because Abbas could not appear to be less tough on Israel than the Americans (he had, after all, negotiated directly with the Israelis without the precondition of the settlement freeze that Obama had insisted on). In recent months, the administration tried to entice the Israelis to agree to yet another settlement-building freeze by promising to veto resolutions like the one the Palestinians may propose, but, as we know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to put that in writing. In the months ahead, we will see whether Israel will be forced to pay a price for an American veto. But even more ominous is the possibility that Barack Obama will reverse decades of pro-Israel advocacy by U.S. representatives to the UN by abandoning Israel in the coming debate.

The news that the Palestinian Authority is expected to try to use the United Nations Security Council to label any Israeli presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem “illegal” is hardly a surprise to those who have followed the PA’s continuous efforts to evade actual peace negotiations. Having rejected an Israeli offer of an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spent the first two years of the Obama administration doing everything possible to avoid actually negotiating with Israel. With even Obama starting to understand that the last thing Abbas wants is to sign a peace accord no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders might be drawn, it’s clear the Palestinian’s goal is not a state but to escalate the diplomatic conflict. That will enable him to compete with Hamas for support among a Palestinian population that has never reconciled itself to peace with a Jewish state. The UN is the perfect forum for such a venture since it is a hotbed of anti-Zionist, as well as anti-Semitic, incitement.

Yet despite the mainstream media’s oft trumpeted claim that settlements are illegal under international law, Israel actually has an excellent case here. As David Phillips of the Northeastern School of Law detailed in COMMENTARY in December 2009, whatever one’s opinion of the wisdom of building in the territories, allegations of its illegality are unfounded in international law. Unfortunately, Israel has never made much of an effort to defend itself on this front. The reasons for this are complicated. A lot of it has to do with the general incompetence of Israeli public relations, but it must also be said that the left-wing political beliefs of many Israeli diplomats who were personally opposed to the settlements also played a role. This has led to a situation in which many Israelis and American supporters of the Jewish state simply accept the charge of illegality since they have rarely been exposed to the compelling arguments to the contrary.

But the real question that is hanging over a potential UN fight over settlements is how the United States will behave. The United States has used its veto in the past to prevent the Security Council from unfairly prejudicing potential peace talks with resolutions that demonized Israel. However, President Obama’s foolish decision to pick a fight with the Israelis over settlements and, in particular, about Jerusalem helped torpedo any hope of fruitful negotiations, because Abbas could not appear to be less tough on Israel than the Americans (he had, after all, negotiated directly with the Israelis without the precondition of the settlement freeze that Obama had insisted on). In recent months, the administration tried to entice the Israelis to agree to yet another settlement-building freeze by promising to veto resolutions like the one the Palestinians may propose, but, as we know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to put that in writing. In the months ahead, we will see whether Israel will be forced to pay a price for an American veto. But even more ominous is the possibility that Barack Obama will reverse decades of pro-Israel advocacy by U.S. representatives to the UN by abandoning Israel in the coming debate.

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Livni’s Hypocrisy and Israel’s PR Problem

Israel was a sideshow in the latest WikiLeaks document dump, but the leaked cables did include one noteworthy nugget from Jerusalem: in January 2007, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who today is leader of the opposition, told two U.S. senators that following some exploratory talks with the Palestinians, she didn’t believe a final-status agreement could be reached with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

This is significant because publicly, Livni always says a peace deal is achievable and lambastes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to produce one. Even yesterday, confronted with the WikiLeaks cable, she continued this line, insisting that a deal wasn’t achievable in 2007, but in 2010 “a peace agreement is possible and it needs to done.”

She didn’t explain this about-face, for the very good reason that no convincing explanation exists: Abbas is no more willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, agree to defensible borders, or cede the “right of return” than he ever was. But this mantra has paid off for her politically, making her the West’s favorite Israeli.

A politician being hypocritical for political gain is nothing new. But in this case, Livni’s personal gain has come at the price of grave damage to her country. If a leading Israeli politician — the woman whose party won the most seats in the last election — claims that Abbas is ready to make a deal, that obviously carries weight overseas. But if Abbas is indeed ready to deal, then it’s clearly Israel’s fault that no deal has ever been signed. And so Israel is painted worldwide as the obstacle to peace, with all the opprobrium that entails.

Livni’s hypocrisy, however, is merely one facet of a much larger problem: virtually the entire Israeli governing class adopts the same tactic. Despite privately believing that Abbas isn’t ready for peace, it publicly insists that he is — and thereby implicitly paints Israel as the party responsible for the ongoing lack of peace. And it does so not only for political gain but also at its own political cost.

Netanyahu, for instance, repeatedly claims that Abbas is his “partner for peace,” with whom he could reach a deal in a year (if only Abbas would agree to negotiate with him). But having insisted that Abbas isn’t the obstacle, the obvious conclusion is that Netanyahu himself must be the problem. After all, some obstacle must exist, since peace clearly hasn’t broken out.

The Palestinians suffer no such pathology: Palestinian leaders blame Israel nonstop for the lack of peace. And since Israel never offers a competing narrative — namely, that Palestinian rejectionism is the real reason for the absence of peace — the Palestinian narrative has inevitably gained worldwide currency.

Thus if Israel is ever to extricate itself from the global dock, its leaders must start telling the truth: that Palestinians aren’t ready to make the compromises peace requires, that they still don’t accept the Jewish state’s right to exist, and that this is why they have rejected every single Israeli offer to date. You can’t win a public relations war by refusing to fight it.

Israel was a sideshow in the latest WikiLeaks document dump, but the leaked cables did include one noteworthy nugget from Jerusalem: in January 2007, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who today is leader of the opposition, told two U.S. senators that following some exploratory talks with the Palestinians, she didn’t believe a final-status agreement could be reached with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

This is significant because publicly, Livni always says a peace deal is achievable and lambastes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to produce one. Even yesterday, confronted with the WikiLeaks cable, she continued this line, insisting that a deal wasn’t achievable in 2007, but in 2010 “a peace agreement is possible and it needs to done.”

She didn’t explain this about-face, for the very good reason that no convincing explanation exists: Abbas is no more willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, agree to defensible borders, or cede the “right of return” than he ever was. But this mantra has paid off for her politically, making her the West’s favorite Israeli.

A politician being hypocritical for political gain is nothing new. But in this case, Livni’s personal gain has come at the price of grave damage to her country. If a leading Israeli politician — the woman whose party won the most seats in the last election — claims that Abbas is ready to make a deal, that obviously carries weight overseas. But if Abbas is indeed ready to deal, then it’s clearly Israel’s fault that no deal has ever been signed. And so Israel is painted worldwide as the obstacle to peace, with all the opprobrium that entails.

Livni’s hypocrisy, however, is merely one facet of a much larger problem: virtually the entire Israeli governing class adopts the same tactic. Despite privately believing that Abbas isn’t ready for peace, it publicly insists that he is — and thereby implicitly paints Israel as the party responsible for the ongoing lack of peace. And it does so not only for political gain but also at its own political cost.

Netanyahu, for instance, repeatedly claims that Abbas is his “partner for peace,” with whom he could reach a deal in a year (if only Abbas would agree to negotiate with him). But having insisted that Abbas isn’t the obstacle, the obvious conclusion is that Netanyahu himself must be the problem. After all, some obstacle must exist, since peace clearly hasn’t broken out.

The Palestinians suffer no such pathology: Palestinian leaders blame Israel nonstop for the lack of peace. And since Israel never offers a competing narrative — namely, that Palestinian rejectionism is the real reason for the absence of peace — the Palestinian narrative has inevitably gained worldwide currency.

Thus if Israel is ever to extricate itself from the global dock, its leaders must start telling the truth: that Palestinians aren’t ready to make the compromises peace requires, that they still don’t accept the Jewish state’s right to exist, and that this is why they have rejected every single Israeli offer to date. You can’t win a public relations war by refusing to fight it.

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The Malaysia Example

Jackson Diehl, in an immensely important column, writes:

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia’s political opposition, has become known over the past decade as one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in Muslim countries. … Lately, Anwar has been getting attention for something else: strident rhetoric about Israel and alleged “Zionist influence” in Malaysia. He recently joined a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur where an Israeli flag was burned. He’s made dark insinuations about the “Jewish-controlled” Washington public relations firm Apco Worldwide, which is working for Malaysia’s quasi-authoritarian government. Therein lies a story of the Obama era — about a beleaguered democrat fighting for political and personal survival with little help from Washington; about the growing global climate of hostility toward Israel; and about the increasing willingness of U.S. friends in places such as Turkey and Malaysia to exploit it.

Diehl explains that Anwar is being prosecuted. (“Freed after six years, he built a multi-ethnic democratic opposition movement that shocked the ruling party with its gains in recent elections. It now appears to have a chance at winning the next parliamentary campaign, which would allow Malaysia to join Indonesia and Turkey as full-fledged majority-Muslim democracies.”) But, once again, the Obama administration is of no help:

Obama said nothing in public about Anwar when he granted Najib a prized bilateral meeting in Washington in April. After a “senior officials dialogue” between the two governments this month, the State Department conceded that the ongoing trial again had not been raised, “because this issue was recently discussed at length.” When it comes to human rights, the Obama administration apparently does not wish to be repetitive.

Diehl provides a vivid example of why Obama’s foreign policy is precisely — and dangerously — wrongheaded. By ingratiating ourselves with Muslim despots, slapping around Israel, and downgrading human rights, we are systematically encouraging aggression and repression by Muslim governments. Rather than use a combination of carrots and sticks to encourage helpful conduct, we have given radicals every incentive to become more radical and have undercut moderates. It is the most counterproductive and, yes, uninformed foreign policy in memory. Obama says he “gets” the Muslim World, but he really doesn’t. If he truly understood the motives and incentives of these countries and the political landscape in which they operate, he’d being do the exact opposite of what he has been doing. Rather than telling radical Muslims what they want to hear, maybe it’s time to start telling Muslim governments what is expected if they want to have a productive relationship with the U.S. and avoid some adverse consequences. Now, that would be smart diplomacy.

Jackson Diehl, in an immensely important column, writes:

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia’s political opposition, has become known over the past decade as one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in Muslim countries. … Lately, Anwar has been getting attention for something else: strident rhetoric about Israel and alleged “Zionist influence” in Malaysia. He recently joined a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur where an Israeli flag was burned. He’s made dark insinuations about the “Jewish-controlled” Washington public relations firm Apco Worldwide, which is working for Malaysia’s quasi-authoritarian government. Therein lies a story of the Obama era — about a beleaguered democrat fighting for political and personal survival with little help from Washington; about the growing global climate of hostility toward Israel; and about the increasing willingness of U.S. friends in places such as Turkey and Malaysia to exploit it.

Diehl explains that Anwar is being prosecuted. (“Freed after six years, he built a multi-ethnic democratic opposition movement that shocked the ruling party with its gains in recent elections. It now appears to have a chance at winning the next parliamentary campaign, which would allow Malaysia to join Indonesia and Turkey as full-fledged majority-Muslim democracies.”) But, once again, the Obama administration is of no help:

Obama said nothing in public about Anwar when he granted Najib a prized bilateral meeting in Washington in April. After a “senior officials dialogue” between the two governments this month, the State Department conceded that the ongoing trial again had not been raised, “because this issue was recently discussed at length.” When it comes to human rights, the Obama administration apparently does not wish to be repetitive.

Diehl provides a vivid example of why Obama’s foreign policy is precisely — and dangerously — wrongheaded. By ingratiating ourselves with Muslim despots, slapping around Israel, and downgrading human rights, we are systematically encouraging aggression and repression by Muslim governments. Rather than use a combination of carrots and sticks to encourage helpful conduct, we have given radicals every incentive to become more radical and have undercut moderates. It is the most counterproductive and, yes, uninformed foreign policy in memory. Obama says he “gets” the Muslim World, but he really doesn’t. If he truly understood the motives and incentives of these countries and the political landscape in which they operate, he’d being do the exact opposite of what he has been doing. Rather than telling radical Muslims what they want to hear, maybe it’s time to start telling Muslim governments what is expected if they want to have a productive relationship with the U.S. and avoid some adverse consequences. Now, that would be smart diplomacy.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Associated Press or National Review? On SestakGate: “Crimping his carefully crafted outsider image and undercutting a centerpiece of his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama got caught playing the usual politics — dangling a job offer for a political favor in the hunt for power. … Obama has a political problem. Because what did take place was backroom bargaining, political maneuvering and stonewalling, all of which run counter to the higher — perhaps impossibly high — bar Obama has set for himself and his White House to do things differently. The White House’s reluctant acknowledgment of the chain of events shone a light on the unseemly, favor-trading side of politics — and at an inopportune time for Obama and Democrats as they seek to keep control of Congress.”

American Spectator or Politico? “The White House’s failure to designate a single spokesperson — with a corresponding schedule of media updates to show the administration in action — may have been intended to convey an all-hands-on-deck approach to the BP oil spill. Instead, it has created a public relations vacuum, being filled by critics of the president’s approach. And the one man who might have filled that role — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — already has had a pair of high-profile stumbles, with not one, but two of his comments effectively retracted from the White House podium.”

Maureen Dowd or Michael Gerson? “Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it. … Too often it feels as though Barry is watching from a balcony, reluctant to enter the fray until the clamor of the crowd forces him to come down. The pattern is perverse. The man whose presidency is rooted in his ability to inspire withholds that inspiration when it is most needed.”

A Hamas spokesman or a liberal Democrat candidate for the House? “For many Jews the birth of Israel is a celebration, but for the Palestinians it was the nakba, a catastrophe. There’s no safety or security in barring people from their homeland.”

The mayor of the city attacked on September 11 or a CAIR spokesman? On the proposed mosque to be built at Ground Zero: “I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. … And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too.”

The Onion or the Associated Press? “The case against four men accused of plotting to bomb New York synagogues and shoot down military planes will not focus on whether they were members of a terrorist group, a federal prosecutor said yesterday. … The trial is ‘going to be about whether these guys were going to blow something up,’ Assistant US Attorney David Raskin.”

“Constitutional conservative” or Constitutional radical? “Rand Paul’s interview with the Russian government propaganda channel Russia Today is getting a lot of attention today for his assertion that he opposes the American tradition of granting citizenship to everyone born in the United States.” And what’s he doing talking to a Russian propaganda outfit?

Bill Clinton or spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation? On labor unions attacking Blanche Lincoln: “National labor unions [have] decided to make Lincoln ‘the poster child for what happens when a Democrat crosses them. … In other words, this is about using you and manipulating your votes to terrify members of Congress and members of the Senate from other states.'”

The Associated Press or National Review? On SestakGate: “Crimping his carefully crafted outsider image and undercutting a centerpiece of his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama got caught playing the usual politics — dangling a job offer for a political favor in the hunt for power. … Obama has a political problem. Because what did take place was backroom bargaining, political maneuvering and stonewalling, all of which run counter to the higher — perhaps impossibly high — bar Obama has set for himself and his White House to do things differently. The White House’s reluctant acknowledgment of the chain of events shone a light on the unseemly, favor-trading side of politics — and at an inopportune time for Obama and Democrats as they seek to keep control of Congress.”

American Spectator or Politico? “The White House’s failure to designate a single spokesperson — with a corresponding schedule of media updates to show the administration in action — may have been intended to convey an all-hands-on-deck approach to the BP oil spill. Instead, it has created a public relations vacuum, being filled by critics of the president’s approach. And the one man who might have filled that role — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar — already has had a pair of high-profile stumbles, with not one, but two of his comments effectively retracted from the White House podium.”

Maureen Dowd or Michael Gerson? “Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it. … Too often it feels as though Barry is watching from a balcony, reluctant to enter the fray until the clamor of the crowd forces him to come down. The pattern is perverse. The man whose presidency is rooted in his ability to inspire withholds that inspiration when it is most needed.”

A Hamas spokesman or a liberal Democrat candidate for the House? “For many Jews the birth of Israel is a celebration, but for the Palestinians it was the nakba, a catastrophe. There’s no safety or security in barring people from their homeland.”

The mayor of the city attacked on September 11 or a CAIR spokesman? On the proposed mosque to be built at Ground Zero: “I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. … And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too.”

The Onion or the Associated Press? “The case against four men accused of plotting to bomb New York synagogues and shoot down military planes will not focus on whether they were members of a terrorist group, a federal prosecutor said yesterday. … The trial is ‘going to be about whether these guys were going to blow something up,’ Assistant US Attorney David Raskin.”

“Constitutional conservative” or Constitutional radical? “Rand Paul’s interview with the Russian government propaganda channel Russia Today is getting a lot of attention today for his assertion that he opposes the American tradition of granting citizenship to everyone born in the United States.” And what’s he doing talking to a Russian propaganda outfit?

Bill Clinton or spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation? On labor unions attacking Blanche Lincoln: “National labor unions [have] decided to make Lincoln ‘the poster child for what happens when a Democrat crosses them. … In other words, this is about using you and manipulating your votes to terrify members of Congress and members of the Senate from other states.'”

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: The Cost of Realism

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN ­  For anyone who has witnessed the slow erosion of democracy in Russia over the past decade, seeing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin win the public relations war over the recent revolution in Kyrgyzstan has been nothing short of maddening. Commenting on the violent ouster of President Kurmanbeck Bakiyev, who fled the country last week after violent riots protesting his corrupt and oppressive rule, Putin said he could “remember that when President Bakiyev came to power, he harshly criticized toppled President [Askar] Akaev for nepotism and giving his relatives or friends top economic and political posts at every corner. I have the impression that Bakiyev has fallen into the same trap.” Coming from the leader who serves as the 21st-century model for budding authoritarians around the world, laments the collapse of the Soviet Union, and routinely orders the police to break up the smallest of peaceful protests, it’s hard to take these sentiments seriously.

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN ­  For anyone who has witnessed the slow erosion of democracy in Russia over the past decade, seeing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin win the public relations war over the recent revolution in Kyrgyzstan has been nothing short of maddening. Commenting on the violent ouster of President Kurmanbeck Bakiyev, who fled the country last week after violent riots protesting his corrupt and oppressive rule, Putin said he could “remember that when President Bakiyev came to power, he harshly criticized toppled President [Askar] Akaev for nepotism and giving his relatives or friends top economic and political posts at every corner. I have the impression that Bakiyev has fallen into the same trap.” Coming from the leader who serves as the 21st-century model for budding authoritarians around the world, laments the collapse of the Soviet Union, and routinely orders the police to break up the smallest of peaceful protests, it’s hard to take these sentiments seriously.

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Dialogue with the Wrong American Muslim Partners

The New York Times is reporting that the Obama administration has come a long way from the president’s campaign practices that had him keeping his distance from Muslims. According to the paper’s Andrea Elliott, “his administration has reached out to this politically isolated constituency in a sustained and widening effort that has left even skeptics surprised.”

There is, of course, nothing wrong with a man who once considered the notion that he might be a Muslim to be a “smear” now having members of his administration meet with representatives of a minority group. However, when this same administration has banned the use of language that might give anyone the notion that America is fighting Islamist extremists, it places stories such as Elliott’s in a different light. The problem here is not talking with Muslims or Arab-Americans or even attempts to rectify any potential injustices that might have occurred in the course of pursuing the war on Islamic terror. Rather it is the fact that the groups that are the subject of this attention are themselves questionable.

One example of the president’s outreach cited by the Times is the fact that senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, a group that has consistently served to rationalize anti-Western and anti-Israel terrorism and that was an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of funneling American funds to Hamas terrorists. When the administration grants its official seal of approval to radical groups such as the ISNA, it helps these people drown out the voices of genuine moderates who are far more representative of most American Muslims. As investigative journalist Steve Emerson told the Times: “I think dialogue is good, but it has to be with genuine moderates. These are the wrong groups to legitimize.”

Moreover, if the influence of such people on the administration is to reinforce its desire to literally walk away from the war on terror and to pretend that radical Islam is not the driving force behind America’s foes through the banning of such terms as “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism” in comments by officials, then it must be acknowledged that the problem here goes deeper than public relations.

Yet the blame for whitewashing radical institutions and players isn’t all the fault of the White House. Another driving force behind this trend is the New York Times itself. It should be noted that Andrea Elliott, the author of today’s piece, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for her 2007 series about the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and the lives of immigrant Muslims. Yet nowhere in the three-part 11,000-word story did she mention that one of the Islamic Society’s congregants went on a shooting spree in 1994 at the Brooklyn Bridge, where he murdered a 16-year-old Jew named Ari Halberstam after hearing an anti-Semitic sermon at this mosque. Later it turned out that Elliott was completely unaware (or at least claimed to be unaware) of the most famous incident involving the institution on which her story centered.

The point is, for those who want to ignore the truth about the danger from homegrown Islamist radicals, the tendency is to deny any link between Islam and terror, even if this means pretending that radicals who support violence are really peaceful moderates. This is a bad recipe for journalism as well as for public policy.

The New York Times is reporting that the Obama administration has come a long way from the president’s campaign practices that had him keeping his distance from Muslims. According to the paper’s Andrea Elliott, “his administration has reached out to this politically isolated constituency in a sustained and widening effort that has left even skeptics surprised.”

There is, of course, nothing wrong with a man who once considered the notion that he might be a Muslim to be a “smear” now having members of his administration meet with representatives of a minority group. However, when this same administration has banned the use of language that might give anyone the notion that America is fighting Islamist extremists, it places stories such as Elliott’s in a different light. The problem here is not talking with Muslims or Arab-Americans or even attempts to rectify any potential injustices that might have occurred in the course of pursuing the war on Islamic terror. Rather it is the fact that the groups that are the subject of this attention are themselves questionable.

One example of the president’s outreach cited by the Times is the fact that senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America, a group that has consistently served to rationalize anti-Western and anti-Israel terrorism and that was an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of funneling American funds to Hamas terrorists. When the administration grants its official seal of approval to radical groups such as the ISNA, it helps these people drown out the voices of genuine moderates who are far more representative of most American Muslims. As investigative journalist Steve Emerson told the Times: “I think dialogue is good, but it has to be with genuine moderates. These are the wrong groups to legitimize.”

Moreover, if the influence of such people on the administration is to reinforce its desire to literally walk away from the war on terror and to pretend that radical Islam is not the driving force behind America’s foes through the banning of such terms as “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism” in comments by officials, then it must be acknowledged that the problem here goes deeper than public relations.

Yet the blame for whitewashing radical institutions and players isn’t all the fault of the White House. Another driving force behind this trend is the New York Times itself. It should be noted that Andrea Elliott, the author of today’s piece, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for her 2007 series about the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and the lives of immigrant Muslims. Yet nowhere in the three-part 11,000-word story did she mention that one of the Islamic Society’s congregants went on a shooting spree in 1994 at the Brooklyn Bridge, where he murdered a 16-year-old Jew named Ari Halberstam after hearing an anti-Semitic sermon at this mosque. Later it turned out that Elliott was completely unaware (or at least claimed to be unaware) of the most famous incident involving the institution on which her story centered.

The point is, for those who want to ignore the truth about the danger from homegrown Islamist radicals, the tendency is to deny any link between Islam and terror, even if this means pretending that radicals who support violence are really peaceful moderates. This is a bad recipe for journalism as well as for public policy.

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NIAC’s PR Offensive

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.” Read More

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.”

Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com calls NIAC’s attackers “neocon character assassins.”

As part of our Truth in 2010 Campaign, we are providing a Facts vs Myths section on our website. It’s a great resource to find out the truth about NIAC’s work. Make sure you study it and tell your friends — nothing is more effective in fighting smear than the truth!

Your loyalty and support is what has gotten our community this far — so, please don’t stop now. Please continue to support NIAC by donating $20.10 or more to the 2010 Campaign — and remember, all your donations are tax-deductible.

But don’t just donate. Make sure you email the Huffington Post article and this email to all your friends. Post it on your Facebook status. Tweet about it. And talk to your friends about the work NIAC is doing!

Momentum is building in our favor, but that doesn’t mean our work is over. We have to continue our offensive in order to meet our commitment to you of dispelling myths and falsehoods by 2010.

As always, thank you for your support. We look forward to sharing more good news with you in the near future!

Sincerely,

Trita Parsi, PhD

Weeks before the story actually broke, the  groundwork for the defense was being laid. And it is interesting that just after the story did break, Andrew Sullivan rushed forward with the very same “dual loyalty” argument. Luban stepped up to smear a Parsi critic as a terrorist. And so it went as some in the Left blogosphere struggled mightily to paint Parsi as the innocent victim and somehow the friend of the Greens (neatly sidestepping the conspiracy to defund the same). That sort of smooth-running rebuttal doesn’t just happen on its own, it is fair to conclude, and you can’t say Parsi and NIAC aren’t getting their money’s worth from their PR team

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Stop the Presses!

Hold the front page! Heck, on second thought, hold three full inside pages as well. Notify the Pulitzer jurors. The New York Times has a blockbuster scoop. Its ace reporter, David Barstow, has uncovered shocking evidence that . . . the Pentagon tries to get out its side of the story about Iraq to the news media.

Are you surprised? Outraged? Furious? Apparently the Times is: it’s found  a new wrinkle in what it views as an insidious military propaganda campaign. You see, the Defense Department isn’t content to try to present its views simply to full-time reporters who are paid employees of organizations like the New York Times. It actually has the temerity to brief retired military officers directly, who then opine on TV and in print about matters such as the Iraq War.

As I read and read and read this seemingly endless report, I kept trying to figure out what the news was here. Why did the Times decide this story is so important? After all, it’s no secret that the Pentagon–and every other branch of government–routinely provides background briefings to journalists (including columnists and other purveyors of opinion), and tries to influence their coverage by carefully doling out access. It is
hardly unheard of for cabinet members–or even the President and Vice President–to woo selected journalists deemed to be friendly while cutting off those deemed hostile. Nor is it exactly a scandal for government agencies to hire public relations firms to track coverage of them and try to suggest ways in which they might be cast in a more positive light. All this is part and parcel of the daily grind of Washington journalism in which the Times is, of course, a leading participant.

I think I got to the nub of the problem when I read, buried deep in this article, Barstow’s complaint that the Pentagon’s campaign to brief military analysts “recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism.” But the Times would laugh at anyone who claimed that activities “subversive” of America’s national interest are at all problematic. After all, aren’t we constantly told that criticism–even “subversive” criticism–is the highest form of patriotism? Apparently it’s one thing to subvert one’s country and another thing to subvert the MSM. We can’t have that!

How dare the Pentagon try to break the media monopoly traditionally held by full-time journalists of reliably “progressive” views! The gall of those guys to try to shape public opinion through the words of retired officers who might have a different perspective! Who might even be, as the article darkly warns, “in sync with the administration’s neo-conservative brain trust.”

The implicit purpose of the Times‘s article is obvious: to elevate this perfectly normal practice into a scandal in the hopes of quashing it. Thus leaving the Times and its fellow MSM organs–conveniently enough–as the dominant shapers of public opinion.

Hold the front page! Heck, on second thought, hold three full inside pages as well. Notify the Pulitzer jurors. The New York Times has a blockbuster scoop. Its ace reporter, David Barstow, has uncovered shocking evidence that . . . the Pentagon tries to get out its side of the story about Iraq to the news media.

Are you surprised? Outraged? Furious? Apparently the Times is: it’s found  a new wrinkle in what it views as an insidious military propaganda campaign. You see, the Defense Department isn’t content to try to present its views simply to full-time reporters who are paid employees of organizations like the New York Times. It actually has the temerity to brief retired military officers directly, who then opine on TV and in print about matters such as the Iraq War.

As I read and read and read this seemingly endless report, I kept trying to figure out what the news was here. Why did the Times decide this story is so important? After all, it’s no secret that the Pentagon–and every other branch of government–routinely provides background briefings to journalists (including columnists and other purveyors of opinion), and tries to influence their coverage by carefully doling out access. It is
hardly unheard of for cabinet members–or even the President and Vice President–to woo selected journalists deemed to be friendly while cutting off those deemed hostile. Nor is it exactly a scandal for government agencies to hire public relations firms to track coverage of them and try to suggest ways in which they might be cast in a more positive light. All this is part and parcel of the daily grind of Washington journalism in which the Times is, of course, a leading participant.

I think I got to the nub of the problem when I read, buried deep in this article, Barstow’s complaint that the Pentagon’s campaign to brief military analysts “recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism.” But the Times would laugh at anyone who claimed that activities “subversive” of America’s national interest are at all problematic. After all, aren’t we constantly told that criticism–even “subversive” criticism–is the highest form of patriotism? Apparently it’s one thing to subvert one’s country and another thing to subvert the MSM. We can’t have that!

How dare the Pentagon try to break the media monopoly traditionally held by full-time journalists of reliably “progressive” views! The gall of those guys to try to shape public opinion through the words of retired officers who might have a different perspective! Who might even be, as the article darkly warns, “in sync with the administration’s neo-conservative brain trust.”

The implicit purpose of the Times‘s article is obvious: to elevate this perfectly normal practice into a scandal in the hopes of quashing it. Thus leaving the Times and its fellow MSM organs–conveniently enough–as the dominant shapers of public opinion.

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The Protocols of the Elders of Amazon

A few years ago, the Goliath of online booksellers, Amazon.com, purchased a company called BookSurge which offers on-demand publishing of thousands of books. Rather than keep an inventory of books in a warehouse, on-demand publishing allows buyers to choose the title they want and have it printed for them. This reduces the overhead associated with publishing a book, and so allows books that otherwise might not be published-since publishers expect they wouldn’t recoup the costs of producing them-to make their way to readers.

As a result of this foray into the on-demand book business, Amazon has become a publisher of books as well as a seller, and so has taken on an unusual level of responsibility for some of the content it now sells to readers.

I tell you all this because this morning I received a press release by email from BookSurge, informing me in breathless tones of the publication of an exciting new book called Persecution, Privilege & Power, edited by Mark Green, and offering “a searing collection of articles about the organized-but often unrecognized-exploitation of political and cultural power in the United States.” Here is how the email describes the book:

In Persecution, Privilege & Power, Green has collected the sharpest commentaries and analyses from 30 different writers as they critically examine the role that Zionism plays in shaping U.S. policies abroad as well as cultural transformations at home. This riveting volume provides a broad and exhilarating inspection of Zionist machinations as well as the entrenched taboos and covert alliances that sustain them. Green’s array of commentators includes James Petras, Charlie Reese, Alison Weir, Kevin MacDonald, Gilad Atzmon, Ray McGovern, Joe Sobran and many others. Persecution, Privilege & Power unearths the unchecked malfeasance within the political wing of organized Jewry, specifically examining that international lobby’s political excesses from a multiplicity of perspectives.

The email is signed by Amanda Sullivan Wilson, BookSurge’s public relations manager, and it details the company’s status as “a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc., (NASDAQ AMZN)”.

You have to wonder if anyone at Amazon realizes they are now the publishers of conspiracy theories about the “Zionist machinations” of “organized Jewry,” and that BookSurge is actively promoting the book in their name.

A few years ago, the Goliath of online booksellers, Amazon.com, purchased a company called BookSurge which offers on-demand publishing of thousands of books. Rather than keep an inventory of books in a warehouse, on-demand publishing allows buyers to choose the title they want and have it printed for them. This reduces the overhead associated with publishing a book, and so allows books that otherwise might not be published-since publishers expect they wouldn’t recoup the costs of producing them-to make their way to readers.

As a result of this foray into the on-demand book business, Amazon has become a publisher of books as well as a seller, and so has taken on an unusual level of responsibility for some of the content it now sells to readers.

I tell you all this because this morning I received a press release by email from BookSurge, informing me in breathless tones of the publication of an exciting new book called Persecution, Privilege & Power, edited by Mark Green, and offering “a searing collection of articles about the organized-but often unrecognized-exploitation of political and cultural power in the United States.” Here is how the email describes the book:

In Persecution, Privilege & Power, Green has collected the sharpest commentaries and analyses from 30 different writers as they critically examine the role that Zionism plays in shaping U.S. policies abroad as well as cultural transformations at home. This riveting volume provides a broad and exhilarating inspection of Zionist machinations as well as the entrenched taboos and covert alliances that sustain them. Green’s array of commentators includes James Petras, Charlie Reese, Alison Weir, Kevin MacDonald, Gilad Atzmon, Ray McGovern, Joe Sobran and many others. Persecution, Privilege & Power unearths the unchecked malfeasance within the political wing of organized Jewry, specifically examining that international lobby’s political excesses from a multiplicity of perspectives.

The email is signed by Amanda Sullivan Wilson, BookSurge’s public relations manager, and it details the company’s status as “a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc., (NASDAQ AMZN)”.

You have to wonder if anyone at Amazon realizes they are now the publishers of conspiracy theories about the “Zionist machinations” of “organized Jewry,” and that BookSurge is actively promoting the book in their name.

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UN: Palestinian Terrorism “Inevitable”

According to the Associated Press, a new UN report deems Palestinian terrorism the “inevitable consequence” of Israeli occupation. One has to ask: was terrorism the “inevitable” result of handing over Gaza to the Palestinians, as well? Because after more than two years Kassam rockets continue to land somewhat inevitably in Israel after being launched somewhat inevitably from non-occupied Palestinian territory. Here’s the report’s author, John Dugard:

[C]ommon sense . . . dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation.

What about deadly acts carried out against a state that wants nothing more than to exchange land for peace? Dugard writes about this as if unaware that al-Qaida justifies the use of, say, the mentally deficient as bombs (something the Palestinians beat them to, by the way) with claims of national liberation and war against occupation.

Palestinian terrorism is in fact identical to the al-Qaida variety with respect to methodology, ideology, and public relations. Both groups target innocents as a matter of course, both are sworn to the complete annihilation of another group of people, both invoke Qur’anic principles when defending human slaughter, and both make lofty claims about liberation to certain credulous western audiences. The only thing inevitable about Islamist terror is the litany of justifications and apologies furnished by dangerous characters such as John Dugard.

According to the Associated Press, a new UN report deems Palestinian terrorism the “inevitable consequence” of Israeli occupation. One has to ask: was terrorism the “inevitable” result of handing over Gaza to the Palestinians, as well? Because after more than two years Kassam rockets continue to land somewhat inevitably in Israel after being launched somewhat inevitably from non-occupied Palestinian territory. Here’s the report’s author, John Dugard:

[C]ommon sense . . . dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation.

What about deadly acts carried out against a state that wants nothing more than to exchange land for peace? Dugard writes about this as if unaware that al-Qaida justifies the use of, say, the mentally deficient as bombs (something the Palestinians beat them to, by the way) with claims of national liberation and war against occupation.

Palestinian terrorism is in fact identical to the al-Qaida variety with respect to methodology, ideology, and public relations. Both groups target innocents as a matter of course, both are sworn to the complete annihilation of another group of people, both invoke Qur’anic principles when defending human slaughter, and both make lofty claims about liberation to certain credulous western audiences. The only thing inevitable about Islamist terror is the litany of justifications and apologies furnished by dangerous characters such as John Dugard.

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Google Gets Sued

Even though it has been repeatedly exposed, American cooperation with and assistance to the Chinese police state continues.

Former Nanjing University professor Guo Quan is suing Google for excising his name from its local search results. On December 26 of last year Guo announced the creation of the New Democracy Party, dedicated to ending China’s “one party dictatorship” [his words] and introducing multi-party elections. “We must join the global trend,” Mr. Guo said. “China must move toward a democratic system.”

This brave act was ignored by the foreign press—with the honorable exception of the London Financial Times which put the story on the front page. No western politicians spoke out. But western internet corporations took note and expunged any reference. Baidu, a Chinese search company (NASDAQ listed), has deleted Mr. Guo and the New Democracy Party, as has the Chinese subsidiary of Yahoo!.

In the past, Google has stated that it would inform users when searches were censored, using the message that material has been removed “in accordance with local laws, rules, and policies.” But when a reporter searched Chinese Google for Professor Guo yesterday, the message was “The information you searched for cannot be accessed.”

Perhaps American editorial writers and politicians can take a cue from the open letter in which Professor Guo announced his law suit.

To make money, Google has become a servile Pekingese dog wagging its tail at the heels of the Chinese communists . . . Baidu is a Chinese company, so I can understand how it is coerced by the Chinese Communist party. . . But Google follows the party’s orders even though it is a US company.

As for Google, “Speaking through a public relations representative, Google China said yesterday that it would not comment on political or censorship issues.”

This will not be the end of the story. The quest for freedom and the internet are both powerful forces. They are transforming the world. If the West would cease cooperating so closely with Beijing, those forces would have a better chance of transforming China too.

Even though it has been repeatedly exposed, American cooperation with and assistance to the Chinese police state continues.

Former Nanjing University professor Guo Quan is suing Google for excising his name from its local search results. On December 26 of last year Guo announced the creation of the New Democracy Party, dedicated to ending China’s “one party dictatorship” [his words] and introducing multi-party elections. “We must join the global trend,” Mr. Guo said. “China must move toward a democratic system.”

This brave act was ignored by the foreign press—with the honorable exception of the London Financial Times which put the story on the front page. No western politicians spoke out. But western internet corporations took note and expunged any reference. Baidu, a Chinese search company (NASDAQ listed), has deleted Mr. Guo and the New Democracy Party, as has the Chinese subsidiary of Yahoo!.

In the past, Google has stated that it would inform users when searches were censored, using the message that material has been removed “in accordance with local laws, rules, and policies.” But when a reporter searched Chinese Google for Professor Guo yesterday, the message was “The information you searched for cannot be accessed.”

Perhaps American editorial writers and politicians can take a cue from the open letter in which Professor Guo announced his law suit.

To make money, Google has become a servile Pekingese dog wagging its tail at the heels of the Chinese communists . . . Baidu is a Chinese company, so I can understand how it is coerced by the Chinese Communist party. . . But Google follows the party’s orders even though it is a US company.

As for Google, “Speaking through a public relations representative, Google China said yesterday that it would not comment on political or censorship issues.”

This will not be the end of the story. The quest for freedom and the internet are both powerful forces. They are transforming the world. If the West would cease cooperating so closely with Beijing, those forces would have a better chance of transforming China too.

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Evil Empire Symphonies

The announcement that the New York Philharmonic likely will travel to North Korea next February, at the behest of that country’s Culture Ministry, brings up memories of orchestral maneuvers during cold wars past. First Run Features has just issued on DVD the Oscar-winning 1979 documentary From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, in which the great violinist hears direct testimony of the ghastly sufferings experienced by Chinese classical musicians during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Any trip to North Korea looks likely to be just as harrowing. Kim Jong Il, according to his official biography, has written 1,500 books and six operas, “all of which are better than any in the history of music.” In 2001, the University Press of the Pacific published Kim Jong Il’s Art of Opera, which contains such gems as: “An opera singer must sing well. A stage actor’s main task is to speak well and act well. While an opera singer’s main task is to sing well.” We are also informed that an “orchestra must accompany songs skillfully.” These gross banalities are natural from a philistine who requires that all music in his country be in praise of himself and Communism.

Jasper Becker’s Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea from Oxford University Press accuses Kim and his father Kim Il Sung of responsibility for the deaths of 7 million North Koreans from famine, war, and political oppression. Becker particularly condemns politicians, from Vladimir Putin to Madeleine Albright, who returned home after trips to North Korea reporting “how rational, well-informed, witty, charming, and deeply popular Kim Jong Il is.” This kind of flattering publicity is already being churned out by the Philharmonic, whose public relations director Eric Latzky informed the New York Times that Pyongyang, based on a preliminary visit, is “clean and orderly and not without beauty, and had a kind of high level of culture and intelligence.”

Isaac Stern visited Communist China after the worst of the Cultural Revolution was already past, but North Korea is still a tragedy-in-progress. In Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform, published earlier this year by Columbia University Press, co-authors Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland point out that Kim Jong Il’s “culpability in this vast misery elevates the North Korean famine to the level of a crime against humanity.” Mismanagement, after Soviet subsidies slowly stopped in the 1980’s, was aggravated by brutal state policies like the notorious 1991 “Eat Two Meals a Day” campaign and the 1997 songun or “military first” policy, giving the army and political hacks first claim on any foreign aid. Haggard and Noland state that by 2005, around 30 percent of foreign aid had been stolen by Kim and his cronies, while the famine deaths continued. New York Philharmonic musicians might choke on their after-concert dinners if they read these books. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but he was not a Philharmonic violinist.

The announcement that the New York Philharmonic likely will travel to North Korea next February, at the behest of that country’s Culture Ministry, brings up memories of orchestral maneuvers during cold wars past. First Run Features has just issued on DVD the Oscar-winning 1979 documentary From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, in which the great violinist hears direct testimony of the ghastly sufferings experienced by Chinese classical musicians during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Any trip to North Korea looks likely to be just as harrowing. Kim Jong Il, according to his official biography, has written 1,500 books and six operas, “all of which are better than any in the history of music.” In 2001, the University Press of the Pacific published Kim Jong Il’s Art of Opera, which contains such gems as: “An opera singer must sing well. A stage actor’s main task is to speak well and act well. While an opera singer’s main task is to sing well.” We are also informed that an “orchestra must accompany songs skillfully.” These gross banalities are natural from a philistine who requires that all music in his country be in praise of himself and Communism.

Jasper Becker’s Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea from Oxford University Press accuses Kim and his father Kim Il Sung of responsibility for the deaths of 7 million North Koreans from famine, war, and political oppression. Becker particularly condemns politicians, from Vladimir Putin to Madeleine Albright, who returned home after trips to North Korea reporting “how rational, well-informed, witty, charming, and deeply popular Kim Jong Il is.” This kind of flattering publicity is already being churned out by the Philharmonic, whose public relations director Eric Latzky informed the New York Times that Pyongyang, based on a preliminary visit, is “clean and orderly and not without beauty, and had a kind of high level of culture and intelligence.”

Isaac Stern visited Communist China after the worst of the Cultural Revolution was already past, but North Korea is still a tragedy-in-progress. In Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform, published earlier this year by Columbia University Press, co-authors Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland point out that Kim Jong Il’s “culpability in this vast misery elevates the North Korean famine to the level of a crime against humanity.” Mismanagement, after Soviet subsidies slowly stopped in the 1980’s, was aggravated by brutal state policies like the notorious 1991 “Eat Two Meals a Day” campaign and the 1997 songun or “military first” policy, giving the army and political hacks first claim on any foreign aid. Haggard and Noland state that by 2005, around 30 percent of foreign aid had been stolen by Kim and his cronies, while the famine deaths continued. New York Philharmonic musicians might choke on their after-concert dinners if they read these books. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but he was not a Philharmonic violinist.

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Bloomberg’s PR Problems

Michael Bloomberg has been a PR genius as New York’s chief executive. The press, as in a Time magazine story, has been known to swoon over the grandeur of his ideas and give him credit for promises alone. But the press-savvy mayor has had a monkey wrench thrown into his undeclared presidential campaign.

While he was running Bloomberg L.P., the mayor was accused of sexual harassment by a female employee. The matter was settled out of court, and it never became a serious issue when Bloomberg first ran for office in 2001. While the New York Times reports that “Bloomberg’s aides have collected data on the requirements for getting on the ballot in all 50 states,” the mayor has been slapped with a lawsuit from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington on behalf of three women who argue they were discriminated against when they asked for maternity leave. “The EEOC said the women’s claims of discrimination due to gender and pregnancy “were echoed by a number of other female current and former employees who have taken maternity leave.”

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Michael Bloomberg has been a PR genius as New York’s chief executive. The press, as in a Time magazine story, has been known to swoon over the grandeur of his ideas and give him credit for promises alone. But the press-savvy mayor has had a monkey wrench thrown into his undeclared presidential campaign.

While he was running Bloomberg L.P., the mayor was accused of sexual harassment by a female employee. The matter was settled out of court, and it never became a serious issue when Bloomberg first ran for office in 2001. While the New York Times reports that “Bloomberg’s aides have collected data on the requirements for getting on the ballot in all 50 states,” the mayor has been slapped with a lawsuit from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington on behalf of three women who argue they were discriminated against when they asked for maternity leave. “The EEOC said the women’s claims of discrimination due to gender and pregnancy “were echoed by a number of other female current and former employees who have taken maternity leave.”

The irony here is that, as two recent New York developments make clear, Bloomberg masterfully has used public relations to obscure his less than impressive managerial record. In 2003, with cameras rolling, Bloomberg opened the City Hall Academy in the Tweed Courthouse, which houses the department of education. “The opening,” declared the mayor, after alighting from a school bus carrying the school’s first group of children, “demonstrates our commitment to excellence, achievement, and innovation in the public school system.” City Hall Academy was to be a model of the kind of innovation the administration wanted to bring to the schools. Yet, last year the school was moved to Harlem, and recently, without fanfare, it was closed. “It was,” says Sol Stern, who writes on education for City Journal, “just another little gimmick…one of those ideas that was rolled out with press releases for them to prove that they are shaking things up.” “Others,” noted the usually Bloomberg-friendly Times, “say it is, in a way, a parable for the educational experiments of the Bloomberg years, with yesterday’s enthusiasms making way for new imperatives. At several critical junctures the academy had to bow to the next programs in vogue.”

Similarly, when Bloomberg began ramping up his presidential campaign, he unveiled a new plan to reduce traffic and pollution in New York through congestion pricing. It was designed to show that he was the sort of bold, problem-solving leader the country needs. Under the plan, motorists who came into Manhattan during business hours would be charged a fee electronically. Leaving aside the virtues or vices of such a proposal, it is a plan that requires extensive planning to accommodate the increased number of people who use mass transit. But the buses and the subways are already overcrowded, and no such planning was in place. The Metropolitan Transit Authority has been put into hurry-up mode to establish a plan for upgrades in time for Bloomberg to jump into the race next October if he so chooses. But the New York Sun reports that the MTA “is warning in a new report that Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal would cost the agency hundreds of millions of dollars more than the city has estimated.” “There’s no explanation of where they’re going to get that money,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat of Westchester. The congestion pricing plan “is in complete disarray. We’re at a point now where the transition from concept to plan has not been made.”

It was perhaps Bloomberg’s bad luck that the EEOC suit came out just after a jury found against New York Knicks coach and general manager Isaiah Thomas in a civil case also involving sexual harassment. But with a bit of good fortune, the sexual harassment case against Bloomberg could be settled before he has to decide whether openly to campaign for the presidency as an independent. If that time comes, it would be nice if the national press began to connect all the dots outlining the discrepancies between Bloomberg’s rhetoric and his substantive record.

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Petraeus the Communicator

There were no real surprises on Capitol Hill when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker showed up yesterday to present their reports. This was due, in large part, to the success that Petraeus had in laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated visit. He is an unusually open military commander who is not suspicious of journalists or legislators or scholars intruding in his “battlespace.” In fact he does everything possible to facilitate such visits. (I am one of many who is grateful to him for his hospitality.)

That marks a sharp a contrast with the previous senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who tended to view public relations as a second-order concern. Petraeus realizes that no modern commander can have the luxury of ignoring public opinion, either at home or around the world, so he has been careful to “shape” the public opinion climate prior to his Washington appearance.

This does not mean, I hasten to add, that he is engaging in lying or spinning, as charged by some irresponsible critics. He is not peddling propaganda. He realizes that any lie would be exposed quickly and that the best interests of the mission dictate that he get the whole truth out to the public. Thus, he has been as open and accommodating to skeptics of the “surge”—e.g., Anthony Cordesmen and Ken Pollack—as he has been to supporters of the surge, such as Fred Kagan and me. And he has taken steps to improve the access of the news media to the battlefield, knowing that reporters will deliver a more nuanced and accurate picture from the frontlines.
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There were no real surprises on Capitol Hill when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker showed up yesterday to present their reports. This was due, in large part, to the success that Petraeus had in laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated visit. He is an unusually open military commander who is not suspicious of journalists or legislators or scholars intruding in his “battlespace.” In fact he does everything possible to facilitate such visits. (I am one of many who is grateful to him for his hospitality.)

That marks a sharp a contrast with the previous senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who tended to view public relations as a second-order concern. Petraeus realizes that no modern commander can have the luxury of ignoring public opinion, either at home or around the world, so he has been careful to “shape” the public opinion climate prior to his Washington appearance.

This does not mean, I hasten to add, that he is engaging in lying or spinning, as charged by some irresponsible critics. He is not peddling propaganda. He realizes that any lie would be exposed quickly and that the best interests of the mission dictate that he get the whole truth out to the public. Thus, he has been as open and accommodating to skeptics of the “surge”—e.g., Anthony Cordesmen and Ken Pollack—as he has been to supporters of the surge, such as Fred Kagan and me. And he has taken steps to improve the access of the news media to the battlefield, knowing that reporters will deliver a more nuanced and accurate picture from the frontlines.

So, when the surge started making progress this summer, the American public didn’t have to rely on what the White House said to figure out what was going on. There were a larger number of independent observers who have traveled the battlefield extensively to provide an unbiased picture of what’s gone right, as well as what’s still going wrong.

Whatever the final outcome, officers in the future would be well advised to study Petraeus’s approach as a textbook example of 21st century “information operations.”

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