Commentary Magazine


Topic: Russian government

The Farce That Is ‘Reset’

Josh Rogin reports:

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government’s gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country’s  democracy, according to Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

“We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken by the people by the authorities,” Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. “The power has replaced all institutions … like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That’s already obvious for everyone.”

What’s his complaint? Well, the Obama team has tossed democracy and human rights under the bus, as they have in the case of every despotic regime:

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

“We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia … we would like these friends just to open their mouths …”

It is hear-no-evil, see-no-evil time:

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties. …

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC’s Mike McFaul and the Kremlin’s Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration’s approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.”

“This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that’s imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Kasyanov said.

Aside from the moral failing and the projection of weakness it conveys to Russia, China, Iran, and the rest, it hasn’t worked in any meaningful way. What have we gotten from Russia? Agreement on Swiss cheese sanctions that haven’t stopped the mullahs’ nuclear program. And that’s it.

It is easy to “reset” relations with an authoritarian state by appeasing and avoiding conflict. But that doesn’t further our interests, and it reveals Obama’s and Hillary’s newfound appreciation for human rights to be nothing more than spin. Unfortunately, it is almost a year until the next Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps it can go to a Russian dissident next time, and thereafter a human rights activist from one of the many countries Obama has cowered before.

As with Iran engagement, our reset policy provides ample evidence that when you sacrifice human rights, you get precious little in return. As the world becomes less free and stable, the U.S. loses the respect of friends and foes alike.

Josh Rogin reports:

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government’s gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country’s  democracy, according to Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

“We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken by the people by the authorities,” Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. “The power has replaced all institutions … like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That’s already obvious for everyone.”

What’s his complaint? Well, the Obama team has tossed democracy and human rights under the bus, as they have in the case of every despotic regime:

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

“We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia … we would like these friends just to open their mouths …”

It is hear-no-evil, see-no-evil time:

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties. …

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC’s Mike McFaul and the Kremlin’s Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration’s approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.”

“This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that’s imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Kasyanov said.

Aside from the moral failing and the projection of weakness it conveys to Russia, China, Iran, and the rest, it hasn’t worked in any meaningful way. What have we gotten from Russia? Agreement on Swiss cheese sanctions that haven’t stopped the mullahs’ nuclear program. And that’s it.

It is easy to “reset” relations with an authoritarian state by appeasing and avoiding conflict. But that doesn’t further our interests, and it reveals Obama’s and Hillary’s newfound appreciation for human rights to be nothing more than spin. Unfortunately, it is almost a year until the next Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps it can go to a Russian dissident next time, and thereafter a human rights activist from one of the many countries Obama has cowered before.

As with Iran engagement, our reset policy provides ample evidence that when you sacrifice human rights, you get precious little in return. As the world becomes less free and stable, the U.S. loses the respect of friends and foes alike.

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Worst Human-Rights Violators Condemn Israel. Your Laugh Here.

The out-of-control international rage against Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident has now entered the realm of farce. It was bad enough to hear the prime minister of Turkey — a country notorious for human rights violations in its campaign against Kurdish rebels — denounce Israel for “state terrorism.” It’s simply ludicrous to have to listen to Vladimir Putin chime in.

The Russian prime minister says he is shocked by Israel’s “crude violation of the internationally recognized norms of international law.” Well Putin certainly knows about crude violations of international law. He’s committed plenty of them himself. This is the same Putin, after all, who has been responsible for Russia’s scorched-earth campaign in Chechnya, which has undoubtedly killed more people than all of Israel’s campaigns against the Palestinians combined. In the process, Russia has committed too many violations of international law to count. As Human Rights Watch reminds us:

In 83 rulings to date, the European Court of Human Rights has held Russia responsible for serious human rights violations in Chechnya, including torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions. In nearly every ruling, the court called the Russian government to account for failing to properly investigate these crimes.

What next? Will Kim Jung-il and Robert Mugabe also join the international chorus condemning Israel’s supposedly unconscionable conduct? Or perhaps they already have. When it comes to the Jewish state, no level of hypocrisy can be considered truly shocking anymore.

The out-of-control international rage against Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident has now entered the realm of farce. It was bad enough to hear the prime minister of Turkey — a country notorious for human rights violations in its campaign against Kurdish rebels — denounce Israel for “state terrorism.” It’s simply ludicrous to have to listen to Vladimir Putin chime in.

The Russian prime minister says he is shocked by Israel’s “crude violation of the internationally recognized norms of international law.” Well Putin certainly knows about crude violations of international law. He’s committed plenty of them himself. This is the same Putin, after all, who has been responsible for Russia’s scorched-earth campaign in Chechnya, which has undoubtedly killed more people than all of Israel’s campaigns against the Palestinians combined. In the process, Russia has committed too many violations of international law to count. As Human Rights Watch reminds us:

In 83 rulings to date, the European Court of Human Rights has held Russia responsible for serious human rights violations in Chechnya, including torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions. In nearly every ruling, the court called the Russian government to account for failing to properly investigate these crimes.

What next? Will Kim Jung-il and Robert Mugabe also join the international chorus condemning Israel’s supposedly unconscionable conduct? Or perhaps they already have. When it comes to the Jewish state, no level of hypocrisy can be considered truly shocking anymore.

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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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UN Deal Has Giant Loophole

We suspected that the UN sanctions deal was toothless, and now Eli Lake reveals just how toothless it is:

A draft U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran, including limits on global arms transfers, will not block the controversial transfer of Russian S-300 missiles to the Iranian military, according to U.S. and Russian officials.

The Obama administration had opposed the S-300 sale because the system is highly effective against aircraft and some missiles. The CIA has said the S-300 missiles, which have been contracted by Tehran but not delivered, will be used to defend Iranian nuclear facilities. . .

Asked about S-300s, a senior State Department official said the draft “would not impose a legally binding obligation not to transfer S-300 to Iran” since the register does not cover defensive missiles.

I think it’s clear why the Obama administration agreed to this: Hillary Clinton had to rush a deal through to head off the Brazil-Turkey gambit and had no bargaining leverage with Russia. It seems the Obama foreign-policy team is just stalling for time now — which would make sense if we were furiously assisting the Green Movement. But we aren’t.

The gaping loophole is not escaping notice:

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the Obama administration for not closing the sanctions resolution loophole on the S-300, calling it “diplomatic malpractice.” …

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican running for the Senate, is circulating a letter calling on Mr. Obama to close the loophole.

And just to turn the knife, Lake quotes a State Department spokesman who back in October declared that “we do not believe that this is the time to sell Iran this kind of sophisticated defense capability. … And we’ve understood from the Russian government that they have no plans to ship this sophisticated system to Iran at this time.” Uh, guess that unacceptable sale is now acceptable.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of lawmakers, candidates, and Jewish groups to this latest confirmation that Obama’s Iran policy is entirely unserious. Will Democrats push back against Obama? Maybe now Jewish organizations will pipe up rather than merely pass “their whispered worries from one to another.” The window of time to turn up the heat on the administration is closing fast.

We suspected that the UN sanctions deal was toothless, and now Eli Lake reveals just how toothless it is:

A draft U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran, including limits on global arms transfers, will not block the controversial transfer of Russian S-300 missiles to the Iranian military, according to U.S. and Russian officials.

The Obama administration had opposed the S-300 sale because the system is highly effective against aircraft and some missiles. The CIA has said the S-300 missiles, which have been contracted by Tehran but not delivered, will be used to defend Iranian nuclear facilities. . .

Asked about S-300s, a senior State Department official said the draft “would not impose a legally binding obligation not to transfer S-300 to Iran” since the register does not cover defensive missiles.

I think it’s clear why the Obama administration agreed to this: Hillary Clinton had to rush a deal through to head off the Brazil-Turkey gambit and had no bargaining leverage with Russia. It seems the Obama foreign-policy team is just stalling for time now — which would make sense if we were furiously assisting the Green Movement. But we aren’t.

The gaping loophole is not escaping notice:

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the Obama administration for not closing the sanctions resolution loophole on the S-300, calling it “diplomatic malpractice.” …

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican running for the Senate, is circulating a letter calling on Mr. Obama to close the loophole.

And just to turn the knife, Lake quotes a State Department spokesman who back in October declared that “we do not believe that this is the time to sell Iran this kind of sophisticated defense capability. … And we’ve understood from the Russian government that they have no plans to ship this sophisticated system to Iran at this time.” Uh, guess that unacceptable sale is now acceptable.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of lawmakers, candidates, and Jewish groups to this latest confirmation that Obama’s Iran policy is entirely unserious. Will Democrats push back against Obama? Maybe now Jewish organizations will pipe up rather than merely pass “their whispered worries from one to another.” The window of time to turn up the heat on the administration is closing fast.

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Why Don’t They Like Him?

Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed amazement that Jewish voters have concerns about his candidacy. He has suggested, in essence, that they are irrational–seizing on his name or the remarks of other African-Americans or buying into internet chatter claiming he is a closet Muslim. And his defenders have insisted he doesn’t have a Jewish problem at all. But the available evidence suggests that he does, and there are a number of compelling reasons why Jews have not supported him to the degree that they’ve supported past Democratic nominees.

Stephen Herbits, recently retired as Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress and an advisor to the Secretaries of Defense in four administrations, has provided an exhaustive analysis of the situation, must-reading for anyone serious about exploring this issue.

First, there is little doubt that Obama has a problem with Jewish voters, even Democratic primary voters who would be natural supporters insofar as many are high-income, high-education voters. Herbits explains:

In Pennsylvania, exit polls show that Senator Clinton beat Senator Obama by 24 percentage points amongst Pennsylvanian Jews, outpacing the general population by 13 points, and even outpacing the Protestant population which favored Senator Clinton by a ten point margin. With Jews comprising 8 % of the Pennsylvania primary electorate, these percentages are large enough to be determinative in a close general election race. Senator Clinton won amongst Jews by similarly large margins in states like New York and New Jersey. In Florida where Jews accounted for 9% of primary voters, the margin exceeded 30 points. In Nevada where Jews accounted for some 5%, the margin exceeded 40 points.

So why are Jewish voters wary of him? Herbits contends that the issue is one of “credibilty.” He writes:

Senator Obama makes statements of solidarity with the Jewish community. Yet, his determination to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad runs counter to his professed sensitivity to Jewish concerns. His relationships with unabashed anti-Semitic and anti-Israel individuals calls into question his sincerity. His 20-year comfort with Jeremiah Wright, and his previous tolerance and defense of his pastor who preaches “Zionism equals Racism” reveals his ability to tolerate, defend and find comfort with others who share such views.

Although Obama professes concern for Israel, his willingness to meet directly with Ahmadinejad goes to the nub of the matter, Herbits contends:

Since the Holocaust, few individuals advancing dangerous anti-Semitic views have risen to lead nations. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, calls for the State of Israel to be wiped off the map and defies the international community by continuing to pursue nuclear capability. Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism – arming, training and directing groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. . . .

Such a meeting would be devastating to the psyche of entire Jewish world. Since 2005, Jewish communities around the world have been fighting to marginalize and contain Ahmadinejad. Jewish communities condemn Hugo Chavez and other radical leaders for welcoming Ahmadinejad. They condemn the Russian government for their relationship with the Iranian regime. Recently, the United States, Israel and Jewish communities around the world condemned the Swiss for an economic agreement with the Iranian regime.

Throughout Europe there is a multinational effort to designate Ahmadinejad persona non grata throughout European capitals and at the EU. For years, the United States has worked with begrudging allies to isolate and contain the Iranian regime. And yet, Senator Obama has pledged that as President of the United States he will be featured on the front page of newspapers around the world shaking hands with a rabid anti-Semite who supports terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, is pursing a nuclear capability, and denies the Holocaust. Such an image would be a victory for terrorism, a victory for extremists, and a defeat for peace and international security. The Jewish community will sooner vote for Senator McCain than be party to facilitating that meeting with Ahmadinejad.

Herbits goes on to detail Obama’s troubling associations with Reverend Wright, as well as with anti-Israel figures like Edward Said, Ali Abunimah, and Rashid Khalidi–all of whom raise red flags for Jews.

In short, the problem is real and the reasons for Jewish antipathy are based on facts about Obama’s stated policies and long-term relationships. But to recognize that would require Obama to address central concerns about his candidacy, concerns which might set off alarm bells for many non-Jewish voters, e.g. his outlook on the Middle East, his views on terrorism, and his proclivity to travel with radicals who spout anti-American and anti-Israel gibberish. Far better to deny the problem exists. Or to attribute it to those pesky, irrational American Jews.

Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed amazement that Jewish voters have concerns about his candidacy. He has suggested, in essence, that they are irrational–seizing on his name or the remarks of other African-Americans or buying into internet chatter claiming he is a closet Muslim. And his defenders have insisted he doesn’t have a Jewish problem at all. But the available evidence suggests that he does, and there are a number of compelling reasons why Jews have not supported him to the degree that they’ve supported past Democratic nominees.

Stephen Herbits, recently retired as Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress and an advisor to the Secretaries of Defense in four administrations, has provided an exhaustive analysis of the situation, must-reading for anyone serious about exploring this issue.

First, there is little doubt that Obama has a problem with Jewish voters, even Democratic primary voters who would be natural supporters insofar as many are high-income, high-education voters. Herbits explains:

In Pennsylvania, exit polls show that Senator Clinton beat Senator Obama by 24 percentage points amongst Pennsylvanian Jews, outpacing the general population by 13 points, and even outpacing the Protestant population which favored Senator Clinton by a ten point margin. With Jews comprising 8 % of the Pennsylvania primary electorate, these percentages are large enough to be determinative in a close general election race. Senator Clinton won amongst Jews by similarly large margins in states like New York and New Jersey. In Florida where Jews accounted for 9% of primary voters, the margin exceeded 30 points. In Nevada where Jews accounted for some 5%, the margin exceeded 40 points.

So why are Jewish voters wary of him? Herbits contends that the issue is one of “credibilty.” He writes:

Senator Obama makes statements of solidarity with the Jewish community. Yet, his determination to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad runs counter to his professed sensitivity to Jewish concerns. His relationships with unabashed anti-Semitic and anti-Israel individuals calls into question his sincerity. His 20-year comfort with Jeremiah Wright, and his previous tolerance and defense of his pastor who preaches “Zionism equals Racism” reveals his ability to tolerate, defend and find comfort with others who share such views.

Although Obama professes concern for Israel, his willingness to meet directly with Ahmadinejad goes to the nub of the matter, Herbits contends:

Since the Holocaust, few individuals advancing dangerous anti-Semitic views have risen to lead nations. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, calls for the State of Israel to be wiped off the map and defies the international community by continuing to pursue nuclear capability. Iran is also the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism – arming, training and directing groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. . . .

Such a meeting would be devastating to the psyche of entire Jewish world. Since 2005, Jewish communities around the world have been fighting to marginalize and contain Ahmadinejad. Jewish communities condemn Hugo Chavez and other radical leaders for welcoming Ahmadinejad. They condemn the Russian government for their relationship with the Iranian regime. Recently, the United States, Israel and Jewish communities around the world condemned the Swiss for an economic agreement with the Iranian regime.

Throughout Europe there is a multinational effort to designate Ahmadinejad persona non grata throughout European capitals and at the EU. For years, the United States has worked with begrudging allies to isolate and contain the Iranian regime. And yet, Senator Obama has pledged that as President of the United States he will be featured on the front page of newspapers around the world shaking hands with a rabid anti-Semite who supports terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, is pursing a nuclear capability, and denies the Holocaust. Such an image would be a victory for terrorism, a victory for extremists, and a defeat for peace and international security. The Jewish community will sooner vote for Senator McCain than be party to facilitating that meeting with Ahmadinejad.

Herbits goes on to detail Obama’s troubling associations with Reverend Wright, as well as with anti-Israel figures like Edward Said, Ali Abunimah, and Rashid Khalidi–all of whom raise red flags for Jews.

In short, the problem is real and the reasons for Jewish antipathy are based on facts about Obama’s stated policies and long-term relationships. But to recognize that would require Obama to address central concerns about his candidacy, concerns which might set off alarm bells for many non-Jewish voters, e.g. his outlook on the Middle East, his views on terrorism, and his proclivity to travel with radicals who spout anti-American and anti-Israel gibberish. Far better to deny the problem exists. Or to attribute it to those pesky, irrational American Jews.

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Spy vs. Spy

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

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The Persian Version

Yesterday, Interfax reported that “several groups of suicide terrorists” are planning an attack on the life of Vladimir Putin during his oft-postponed visit to Tehran, which begins tonight. The Russian news agency, the country’s largest, attributed the report to “various sources outside Russia.” Iran’s foreign ministry called the report “completely baseless.”

For once, the Iranians appear to be correct. Interfax often works closely with the Russian government to disseminate its views, and, if the assassination threat were real, it is unlikely we would ever have heard about it. Moreover, Putin is shrugging off the threat and continuing with his travel plans, a sure sign that the Interfax report is bogus. So we have to ask what the Kremlin seeks to gain by releasing the news about a Persian plot. Putin’s Iranian visit, the first by a Russian leader since Stalin’s 1943 trip, is important to the mullahs. “It’s a break in international isolation, a chance to show that Iran is an important country,” said Alexander Pikayev, a Russian analyst.

Putin is scheduled to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in what is bound to be a difficult session. Undoubtedly, the most contentious issue is Russia’s ongoing failure to supply uranium fuel for Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, the nation’s first. The Russians were instrumental in building the facility, but they’ve shown reluctance to let it begin operations. “Tehran views Russia as an unreliable partner that uses Iran in its game with the West,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, the Russian editor of Global Affairs. Although some of the disagreements between Russia and Iran undoubtedly are manufactured for the West’s consumption, there is more than a hint of real tension in Tehran’s recent relations with Moscow. Perhaps the Interfax report is intended to put Ahmadinejad on the defensive by embarrassing Putin’s Persian hosts.

Putin, for instance, is just about out of maneuvering room in his delicate—and duplicitous—balancing game between Iran and the West. If, for example, in the next few weeks, the atomic ayatollahs do not come clean with the International Atomic Energy Agency about their nuclear program, Russia may be backed into supporting a third set of Security Council sanctions against Tehran next month. Any new measures are bound to be more coercive than the slap-on-the-wrist provisions imposed in the past, and new UN actions are bound to turn Tehran against Moscow. So whatever the unusual assassination rumor indicates, it shows that not all is well between Russia and Iran. And the disagreements between the two nations are just additional symptoms that the Iranian crisis is reaching a decisive moment.

Yesterday, Interfax reported that “several groups of suicide terrorists” are planning an attack on the life of Vladimir Putin during his oft-postponed visit to Tehran, which begins tonight. The Russian news agency, the country’s largest, attributed the report to “various sources outside Russia.” Iran’s foreign ministry called the report “completely baseless.”

For once, the Iranians appear to be correct. Interfax often works closely with the Russian government to disseminate its views, and, if the assassination threat were real, it is unlikely we would ever have heard about it. Moreover, Putin is shrugging off the threat and continuing with his travel plans, a sure sign that the Interfax report is bogus. So we have to ask what the Kremlin seeks to gain by releasing the news about a Persian plot. Putin’s Iranian visit, the first by a Russian leader since Stalin’s 1943 trip, is important to the mullahs. “It’s a break in international isolation, a chance to show that Iran is an important country,” said Alexander Pikayev, a Russian analyst.

Putin is scheduled to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in what is bound to be a difficult session. Undoubtedly, the most contentious issue is Russia’s ongoing failure to supply uranium fuel for Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, the nation’s first. The Russians were instrumental in building the facility, but they’ve shown reluctance to let it begin operations. “Tehran views Russia as an unreliable partner that uses Iran in its game with the West,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, the Russian editor of Global Affairs. Although some of the disagreements between Russia and Iran undoubtedly are manufactured for the West’s consumption, there is more than a hint of real tension in Tehran’s recent relations with Moscow. Perhaps the Interfax report is intended to put Ahmadinejad on the defensive by embarrassing Putin’s Persian hosts.

Putin, for instance, is just about out of maneuvering room in his delicate—and duplicitous—balancing game between Iran and the West. If, for example, in the next few weeks, the atomic ayatollahs do not come clean with the International Atomic Energy Agency about their nuclear program, Russia may be backed into supporting a third set of Security Council sanctions against Tehran next month. Any new measures are bound to be more coercive than the slap-on-the-wrist provisions imposed in the past, and new UN actions are bound to turn Tehran against Moscow. So whatever the unusual assassination rumor indicates, it shows that not all is well between Russia and Iran. And the disagreements between the two nations are just additional symptoms that the Iranian crisis is reaching a decisive moment.

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