Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rice

Hamas and History

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.’”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.’”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

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Re: Bush and Blah Blah Blah

I have to disagree with you, David. President Bush’s current visit to the Middle East has a remarkably different feel from his trip to the region earlier this year–and not just because he’s foregoing photo-ops with unsheathed swords. Indeed, whereas Bush’s January jaunt overwhelmingly focused on bolstering a flimsy Arab coalition against Iran through an even shakier Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he has spent far more time practicing public diplomacy this time around. Insofar as preaching peace and democracy to dictators that have long undermined both was always a total waste of time, this is a welcome–and long overdue–development.

The high point in this public outreach campaign came yesterday in Jerusalem. While addressing a conference commemorating the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, President Bush declared American support for Israel in no uncertain terms. The speech was remarkable for its utter friendliness: Bush saluted Israeli democracy, joked about its contentious political culture, and said that he was “thrilled to be here with one of America’s greatest friends”–without a single mention of the Palestinians.

If Bush’s Annapolis pet-project has any chance of succeeding before he leaves office, this is precisely what Israelis need to hear. Historically, Israeli leaders have been most willing to compromise with their adversaries when American support is unambiguously strongest. In this vein, Bush’s speech beautifully set the stage for the more serious address he will deliver before the Knesset today, in which he will “talk about the day when … every child in the Middle East can live in peace and live in freedom”-in other words, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As Israelis are deeply skeptical of this process, Bush’s strong display of support should provide some reassurance.

Sadly, Bush has been unable to replicate his success before Israelis when addressing Arab publics. The latest failure came Monday, when an interviewer from Egypt’s Dream TV asked Bush to respond to Jimmy Carter’s assertion that the Palestinians had suffered more than the Israelis; Bush responded:

Well, everybody has got their opinions. I just happen to believe that I’m in a position to help move the definition of a state, which will help solve the problem in the long run. I’m the first President ever to have articulated a two-state solution, two states living side by side in peace. And my only thing I want to tell your listeners is that I’m going to drive hard, along with Secretary Rice and other people in my administration, to see if we can’t get the Palestinians and Israelis to agree on what that state will look like.

Here, Bush missed an opportunity to say what the Palestinians need to hear. Just as Israelis needed to hear that the United States stood firmly behind it, Palestinians need to hear that we feel their pain–and are committed to doing something about it. Instead, by reverting to the uninspired tropes of the two-state solution, Bush gave the Palestinians–already deeply skeptical of the peace process–another reason to either roll their eyes or turn off the television.

I have to disagree with you, David. President Bush’s current visit to the Middle East has a remarkably different feel from his trip to the region earlier this year–and not just because he’s foregoing photo-ops with unsheathed swords. Indeed, whereas Bush’s January jaunt overwhelmingly focused on bolstering a flimsy Arab coalition against Iran through an even shakier Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he has spent far more time practicing public diplomacy this time around. Insofar as preaching peace and democracy to dictators that have long undermined both was always a total waste of time, this is a welcome–and long overdue–development.

The high point in this public outreach campaign came yesterday in Jerusalem. While addressing a conference commemorating the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, President Bush declared American support for Israel in no uncertain terms. The speech was remarkable for its utter friendliness: Bush saluted Israeli democracy, joked about its contentious political culture, and said that he was “thrilled to be here with one of America’s greatest friends”–without a single mention of the Palestinians.

If Bush’s Annapolis pet-project has any chance of succeeding before he leaves office, this is precisely what Israelis need to hear. Historically, Israeli leaders have been most willing to compromise with their adversaries when American support is unambiguously strongest. In this vein, Bush’s speech beautifully set the stage for the more serious address he will deliver before the Knesset today, in which he will “talk about the day when … every child in the Middle East can live in peace and live in freedom”-in other words, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As Israelis are deeply skeptical of this process, Bush’s strong display of support should provide some reassurance.

Sadly, Bush has been unable to replicate his success before Israelis when addressing Arab publics. The latest failure came Monday, when an interviewer from Egypt’s Dream TV asked Bush to respond to Jimmy Carter’s assertion that the Palestinians had suffered more than the Israelis; Bush responded:

Well, everybody has got their opinions. I just happen to believe that I’m in a position to help move the definition of a state, which will help solve the problem in the long run. I’m the first President ever to have articulated a two-state solution, two states living side by side in peace. And my only thing I want to tell your listeners is that I’m going to drive hard, along with Secretary Rice and other people in my administration, to see if we can’t get the Palestinians and Israelis to agree on what that state will look like.

Here, Bush missed an opportunity to say what the Palestinians need to hear. Just as Israelis needed to hear that the United States stood firmly behind it, Palestinians need to hear that we feel their pain–and are committed to doing something about it. Instead, by reverting to the uninspired tropes of the two-state solution, Bush gave the Palestinians–already deeply skeptical of the peace process–another reason to either roll their eyes or turn off the television.

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“Close the Door and Beat the Dog”

The apposite Chinese saying with respect to the unrest in Tibet is bimen dagou: “close the door and beat the dog.” And with news coverage halted over a vast area of Western China, and endless columns of military vehicles heading in, who can doubt that the dog will be well and thoroughly beaten?

Certainly no one in the official west. The officially-expressed lack of condemnation of the latest installment in China’s decades-long destruction of Tibet is proof that the smart money figures the fix is in. Beijing will crush things without any outsiders having a chance to watch; no one will dare ask tough questions or criticize; things will then get back to “normal,” where China stories are all about trade and the Olympics.

But suppose that quick resolution doesn’t occur? Suppose the dog proves tougher than expected? Suppose stomach-turning video of the beating somehow reaches the outside world? Suppose the problem goes unfixed for days or weeks more, or spreads? Suppose the Chinese leadership itself begins to disagree about what to do? What then? A real crisis may arise, a crisis for which no one is prepared.

That possibility was confirmed on Thursday 20 March, as word came from official Chinese news services that Tibet was not yet under control and that unrest was spreading. Canadian journalists managed to get striking footage of new demonstration through the formidable Chinese news firewall.

Spring has a strange resonance in Chinese history: many trains of events culminating in major shifts have begun in this season. In 1989, it was the death, on April 15, of the former prime minister Hu Yaobang and public dissatisfaction at the Party’s failure to honor him that started the movement victimized in the Tiananmen bloodbath less than three months later. (The date gave the movement its name). June 4 1989  took its place with May 4 1919 (the nationalist demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles) and May 30 1925 (major pro-labor, anti-Empire protest) among the milestones of regime-shaking popular unrest in China.

Something similar could happen this year. Unless the Chinese government succeeds in crushing the Tibetans cleanly and without publicity, we are likely to see a multiplication of grievances being aired–by ordinary Chinese as well as by subject peoples like the Tibetans and the Muslims of East Turkestan. Workers are already out on strike in Guangdong in the southeast. Plenty of anger is out there: over corruption, injustice, poverty, pollution, dictatorship–more than enough for a conflagration.

Washington is not even considering such a possibility. Instead Secretary Rice is urging the Chinese to “show restraint“, which I take to mean restraint in the numbers killed and brutality employed as order is restored. But suppose order is not restored, and things get worse? Now is not too early to start thinking about whom we support then–and what values we should, as a democracy, espouse.

The apposite Chinese saying with respect to the unrest in Tibet is bimen dagou: “close the door and beat the dog.” And with news coverage halted over a vast area of Western China, and endless columns of military vehicles heading in, who can doubt that the dog will be well and thoroughly beaten?

Certainly no one in the official west. The officially-expressed lack of condemnation of the latest installment in China’s decades-long destruction of Tibet is proof that the smart money figures the fix is in. Beijing will crush things without any outsiders having a chance to watch; no one will dare ask tough questions or criticize; things will then get back to “normal,” where China stories are all about trade and the Olympics.

But suppose that quick resolution doesn’t occur? Suppose the dog proves tougher than expected? Suppose stomach-turning video of the beating somehow reaches the outside world? Suppose the problem goes unfixed for days or weeks more, or spreads? Suppose the Chinese leadership itself begins to disagree about what to do? What then? A real crisis may arise, a crisis for which no one is prepared.

That possibility was confirmed on Thursday 20 March, as word came from official Chinese news services that Tibet was not yet under control and that unrest was spreading. Canadian journalists managed to get striking footage of new demonstration through the formidable Chinese news firewall.

Spring has a strange resonance in Chinese history: many trains of events culminating in major shifts have begun in this season. In 1989, it was the death, on April 15, of the former prime minister Hu Yaobang and public dissatisfaction at the Party’s failure to honor him that started the movement victimized in the Tiananmen bloodbath less than three months later. (The date gave the movement its name). June 4 1989  took its place with May 4 1919 (the nationalist demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles) and May 30 1925 (major pro-labor, anti-Empire protest) among the milestones of regime-shaking popular unrest in China.

Something similar could happen this year. Unless the Chinese government succeeds in crushing the Tibetans cleanly and without publicity, we are likely to see a multiplication of grievances being aired–by ordinary Chinese as well as by subject peoples like the Tibetans and the Muslims of East Turkestan. Workers are already out on strike in Guangdong in the southeast. Plenty of anger is out there: over corruption, injustice, poverty, pollution, dictatorship–more than enough for a conflagration.

Washington is not even considering such a possibility. Instead Secretary Rice is urging the Chinese to “show restraint“, which I take to mean restraint in the numbers killed and brutality employed as order is restored. But suppose order is not restored, and things get worse? Now is not too early to start thinking about whom we support then–and what values we should, as a democracy, espouse.

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Kosovo, Russia, and China

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

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The Return of Durban

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who apparently doesn’t have greater problems to deal with, has announced that his country will host the follow-up session to the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. This conference, of course, was infamous for its near-instantaneous descent into anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. How a United Nations conference could ever combat something as nebulous as “Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” is an open question. The U.N. has repeatedly proven itself rather adept at promoting bigotry itself (see its infamous resolution condemning Zionism as racism), and has repeatedly shied away from protecting people from violent racists, whether it be Darfurians attacked by the Arab government in Khartoum or white farmers evicted from their land in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Tony Leon, the former leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party and now its spokesman on foreign affairs, warned that the conference would once again serve as a front for anti-Semitism:

“The question then arises how South Africa hopes to steer the conference in a direction of balance and probity, rather than leading it to degenerate again into a hate fest of intolerance and imprudence.”

He added that the South African taxpayer forked out R100-million for the last World Conference against Racism. “The results have been dismal and in terms of the advancement of the real fight against racism, almost non-existent.”

He asked: “Are we again going to witness, host and pay for a slanted, sectional and sectarian conference, or will we use our best endeavours and our foreign policy credentials to steer it in the right direction?”

Secretary Rice has already announced to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States will not partake in the conference if it “deteriorates into the kind of conference that Durban I was.” Canada has already bowed out of the conference irrespective of whatever makes it onto the agenda.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who apparently doesn’t have greater problems to deal with, has announced that his country will host the follow-up session to the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. This conference, of course, was infamous for its near-instantaneous descent into anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. How a United Nations conference could ever combat something as nebulous as “Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” is an open question. The U.N. has repeatedly proven itself rather adept at promoting bigotry itself (see its infamous resolution condemning Zionism as racism), and has repeatedly shied away from protecting people from violent racists, whether it be Darfurians attacked by the Arab government in Khartoum or white farmers evicted from their land in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Tony Leon, the former leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party and now its spokesman on foreign affairs, warned that the conference would once again serve as a front for anti-Semitism:

“The question then arises how South Africa hopes to steer the conference in a direction of balance and probity, rather than leading it to degenerate again into a hate fest of intolerance and imprudence.”

He added that the South African taxpayer forked out R100-million for the last World Conference against Racism. “The results have been dismal and in terms of the advancement of the real fight against racism, almost non-existent.”

He asked: “Are we again going to witness, host and pay for a slanted, sectional and sectarian conference, or will we use our best endeavours and our foreign policy credentials to steer it in the right direction?”

Secretary Rice has already announced to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States will not partake in the conference if it “deteriorates into the kind of conference that Durban I was.” Canada has already bowed out of the conference irrespective of whatever makes it onto the agenda.

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A Race to the Bottom

On Saturday the Iraqi parliament passed the “Accountability and Justice Law,” which is intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to civil service jobs. While the details of the law need to be studied carefully, this appears to be precisely the kind of political reconciliation Democrats have been calling for, and its passage undermines one of their chief arguments against pursuing the conflict in Iraq to a favorable conclusion: the surge, while militarily effective, must be deemed a failure because we have witnessed no political progress.

This view has been contradicted by the “bottom up” reconciliation that has been taking place throughout most of 2007. Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, has said that reconciliation is more than national legislation. It’s also what we’re seeing in the provinces around Iraq – and there we are seeing more cross-sectarian political activity. Nevertheless, it’s true that the central government has been far too inflexible and unyielding when it comes to taking steps to unify Iraq. Yet even that appears to be changing. As Secretary Rice said yesterday, “When I hear that the surge was to give the Iraqi people a chance for political reconciliation, I say that’s absolutely right. And while it hasn’t always moved as fast as some of us sitting in Washington would like, it has certainly moved.”

What we are seeing in Iraq is a struggling Arab democracy—the words were once a contradiction—evolve and grow. And while that evolution has been slow and imperfect, as was America’s, it is something we should be encouraged by and build on.

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On Saturday the Iraqi parliament passed the “Accountability and Justice Law,” which is intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to civil service jobs. While the details of the law need to be studied carefully, this appears to be precisely the kind of political reconciliation Democrats have been calling for, and its passage undermines one of their chief arguments against pursuing the conflict in Iraq to a favorable conclusion: the surge, while militarily effective, must be deemed a failure because we have witnessed no political progress.

This view has been contradicted by the “bottom up” reconciliation that has been taking place throughout most of 2007. Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, has said that reconciliation is more than national legislation. It’s also what we’re seeing in the provinces around Iraq – and there we are seeing more cross-sectarian political activity. Nevertheless, it’s true that the central government has been far too inflexible and unyielding when it comes to taking steps to unify Iraq. Yet even that appears to be changing. As Secretary Rice said yesterday, “When I hear that the surge was to give the Iraqi people a chance for political reconciliation, I say that’s absolutely right. And while it hasn’t always moved as fast as some of us sitting in Washington would like, it has certainly moved.”

What we are seeing in Iraq is a struggling Arab democracy—the words were once a contradiction—evolve and grow. And while that evolution has been slow and imperfect, as was America’s, it is something we should be encouraged by and build on.

The top three Democratic contenders for President, however, see things quite differently. During last night’s debate in Las Vegas, they were asked about Iraq. One might have hoped that the events of the last year and of the last week might lead them to reassess their unbending commitment to prematurely withdraw American troops from Iraq. One might have hoped that new evidence would lead them to draw new conclusions and draw up new plans.

Not a chance.

Last night Senator Obama proudly declared, “I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009.” He added, “My first job as president of the United States is going to be to call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and say, you’ve got a new mission, and that is to responsibly, carefully but deliberately start to phase out our involvement there, and to make sure that we are putting the onus on the Iraqi government to come together and do what they need to do to arrive at peace… I have been very specific in saying that we will not have permanent bases there—I will end the war as we understand it in combat missions.”

Senator Clinton put it this way: “I’m on record as saying exactly that as soon as I become president, we will start withdrawing within 60 days. We will move as carefully and responsibly as we can, one to two brigades a month, I believe, and we’ll have nearly all the troops out by the end of the year, I hope.”

And John Edwards, never to be outdone when it comes to embracing an irresponsible policy, said this: “I think I’ve actually, among the three of us, been the most aggressive and said that I will have all combat troops out in the first year that I’m president of the United States. I will end combat missions and while I’m president, there will be no permanent military bases in Iraq.”

No combat troops, no permanent bases, no nothing. The Democratic position seems to be that we will simply wipe our hands of this unpopular war, come what may.

What is completely missing from the Democratic stance is the importance, and even the possibility, of a decent outcome in Iraq. One increasingly gets the sense that they view progress in Iraq as an annoyance, something that may prove to be an obstacle to their efforts. More and more Obama, Clinton, Edwards and their allies on Capitol Hill appear as if they are characters in the movie Ground Hog Day. Like Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors, they find themselves stuck in time. But Democrats find themselves stuck not on a particular day but in a particular year, 2006—and they are seemingly unable or unwilling to process the progress we have seen in 2007. They cannot even entertain the possibility that a nation that was in a death spiral is not being reconstituted.

Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are in a state of denial—and their apparently willingness, and even eagerness, to undermine all we have achieved in Iraq in order to maintain an ideological commitment is intellectually dishonest and reckless. If a Democrat wins in November, the best we can hope for is that the positions they are espousing now are merely cynical and not serious. We should be able to hope for more.

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The Conference on Democracy and Security

With the U.S. military effort in Iraq having bogged down, with Islamists winning elections in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, with the rebirth of democracy in Lebanon thwarted by Syrian and Iranian intervention, the momentum of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, which had flowed high in the “Arab spring” of 2005, has ebbed. The Conference on Democracy and Security, which met in Prague June 4-6, grew out of former Soviet dissident and leading Israeli intellectual Natan Sharansky’s sense of the need to reinvigorate the Bush administration’s flagging project of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Sharansky found the ideal co-convener of the conference in Vaclav Havel. The former Czech president and the circle of one-time dissidents close to him (such as deputy prime minister Sacha Vondra and the Czech ambassador to Israel Michael Zantovsky) have demonstrated an unflagging and unparalleled dedication to the cause of freedom in the eighteen years since they won their own. They have, for example, set up a committee to monitor Beijing’s human-rights record during the 2008 Olympics and have had their diplomats succor dissidents in Cuba. In addition to their unusual dedication to principle, these Czech freedom-fighters keep a wary eye on Russia, where Vladimir Putin’s success in restoring dictatorship and a bullying foreign policy has put all of the former subject states of the Soviet empire on the qui vive.

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With the U.S. military effort in Iraq having bogged down, with Islamists winning elections in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, with the rebirth of democracy in Lebanon thwarted by Syrian and Iranian intervention, the momentum of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, which had flowed high in the “Arab spring” of 2005, has ebbed. The Conference on Democracy and Security, which met in Prague June 4-6, grew out of former Soviet dissident and leading Israeli intellectual Natan Sharansky’s sense of the need to reinvigorate the Bush administration’s flagging project of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Sharansky found the ideal co-convener of the conference in Vaclav Havel. The former Czech president and the circle of one-time dissidents close to him (such as deputy prime minister Sacha Vondra and the Czech ambassador to Israel Michael Zantovsky) have demonstrated an unflagging and unparalleled dedication to the cause of freedom in the eighteen years since they won their own. They have, for example, set up a committee to monitor Beijing’s human-rights record during the 2008 Olympics and have had their diplomats succor dissidents in Cuba. In addition to their unusual dedication to principle, these Czech freedom-fighters keep a wary eye on Russia, where Vladimir Putin’s success in restoring dictatorship and a bullying foreign policy has put all of the former subject states of the Soviet empire on the qui vive.

Spain’s former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar joined as a third sponsor of the conclave. Aznar, who lost his post in 2004 when Spanish voters succumbed to al Qaeda’s intimidation, has remained a steadfast friend of the U.S. despite the strong European trend to the contrary. (Although this trend will now perhaps change, with the ascents of Merkel and Sarkozy.)

President Bush delivered an outstanding keynote speech, notable for several reasons:

1) It was as forceful a statement of commitment to the global democratic cause as one could imagine from an elected leader, dispelling any idea of second thoughts and signaling his determination to soldier on as long as he is in office. “The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not bullets or bombs, it is the universal appeal of freedom,” Bush said. He then added a lovely line that may live on in the annals of presidential oratory: “Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every human soul.”

2) Bush’s delivery was smooth, well-paced, and confident, suggesting perhaps how comfortable he was with his audience and his subject. Not only did he avoid his trademark malapropisms, he even did a workmanlike job of pronouncing the names of Arab and eastern European dissidents.

3) In addition to its moving rhetoric, the speech contained a notable action point. The President said he had “asked Secretary Rice to send a directive to every U.S. ambassador in an unfree nation: seek out and meet with activists for democracy [and] those who demand human rights.”

4) In rattling off the names of five “dissidents who couldn’t join us because they are being unjustly imprisoned or held,” Bush mentioned figures in Belarus, Burma, Cuba, and Vietnam, all of which are easy to talk about. Then he named a tough one: Ayman Nour, the Egyptian presidential candidate currently languishing in jail. No country has been seen as more of a weather vane of U.S. determination about democracy promotion than Egypt, where Washington has so many other diplomatic interests. During Secretary Rice’s last visit to Egypt, her failure to mention Nour was widely read as a sign of American retreat. But if retreat it is, the Commander in Chief apparently hasn’t gotten the message.

Tomorrow, I’ll report on some of the other highlights of the conference.

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