Commentary Magazine


Topic: Senate Foreign Relations Committee

How Obama Can Win in Copenhagen

Barack Obama has a golden opportunity next week at Copenhagen in the form of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. If by the end of the conference Obama settles with New Delhi the details to implement the agreement, he will win on three crucial issues: (1) he will please business, (2) he will substantively contribute to international environmentalist efforts, and (3) he will reinforce American friendship with India at a time when the relationship has been strained.

Both India and the United States have applauded the agreement since its passage by both countries’ lawmakers last year, but details to address security, nonproliferation, and liability concerns have kept anything from actually happening on the ground.

The climate-change debate has often pitted economic interests against environmental ones, as the upset in Australia this week has shown. Here’s a chance for Obama to show that the two can be reconciled. The U.S.-India Business Council has said that the agreement will create a $150 billion business for civilian nuclear technologies over the next 30 years. The council’s president predicted the agreement will create up to 27,000 “high-quality” jobs in the United States over the next 10 years. Obama has acknowledged that the agreement increases American exports to India. And the CEO of General Electric has noted that the agreement “opens up prospects for U.S. companies to supply potentially billions of dollars worth of reactor technology, fuel and other services to India.”

Not only does the agreement please business; it also allows India a way to cut carbon emissions. Nuclear power, vastly underused in India, does not let off carbon dioxide, which has long been seen as the leading culprit in global warming. Worst for carbon emissions is coal — which now accounts for more than half of India’s energy. Some estimates even say India could avoid 130 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by switching from coal power to nuclear power — a substantial savings. “For comparison, the full range of emission cuts planned by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol will total just 200 million tons per year,” wrote David G. Victor in 2006. Demand for energy in India will only grow as it develops. By simply implementing an agreement already approved, Obama can take credit for a significant role in India’s energy future.

Nailing down the details of the agreement accomplishes both economic and environmental goals while also reinforcing good relations with India. And relations with India under Obama have already endured one misstep. New Delhi bristled at a portion of the November U.S.-China Joint Statement that implied greater meddling from Beijing in Indo-Pakistani relations, especially offensive considering the recent border tensions between China and India.

But since its passage under the Bush administration, the nuclear-energy agreement has been hailed as a monumental diplomatic reset. It was the first time the U.S. engaged in nuclear cooperation with New Delhi since India’s first test of a nuclear bomb, in 1974. The former nonproliferation policies toward India did nothing to deter the pursuit of nuclear weapons or lessen Indo-Pakistani tensions. Instead, they isolated India, a crucial country in the region. Both the United States and India have recently emphasized how they are “natural partners,” not least of all because they are both democratic regimes. This agreement is crucial to India’s perception of its relations with the U.S.; in fact, in 2005, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “India has made this the central issue in the new partnership developing between our countries.” By settling the details of the agreement, Obama would show the Indians good faith and prove that they are a priority.

The negotiations over specific details have taken a long time, partly because of justifiable security concerns. But much more procrastination will send the wrong message to India. On the other hand, next week is a prime opportunity for Obama to act on an American promise and also address environmental and economic communities. If he’s wise, he won’t squander it.

Barack Obama has a golden opportunity next week at Copenhagen in the form of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. If by the end of the conference Obama settles with New Delhi the details to implement the agreement, he will win on three crucial issues: (1) he will please business, (2) he will substantively contribute to international environmentalist efforts, and (3) he will reinforce American friendship with India at a time when the relationship has been strained.

Both India and the United States have applauded the agreement since its passage by both countries’ lawmakers last year, but details to address security, nonproliferation, and liability concerns have kept anything from actually happening on the ground.

The climate-change debate has often pitted economic interests against environmental ones, as the upset in Australia this week has shown. Here’s a chance for Obama to show that the two can be reconciled. The U.S.-India Business Council has said that the agreement will create a $150 billion business for civilian nuclear technologies over the next 30 years. The council’s president predicted the agreement will create up to 27,000 “high-quality” jobs in the United States over the next 10 years. Obama has acknowledged that the agreement increases American exports to India. And the CEO of General Electric has noted that the agreement “opens up prospects for U.S. companies to supply potentially billions of dollars worth of reactor technology, fuel and other services to India.”

Not only does the agreement please business; it also allows India a way to cut carbon emissions. Nuclear power, vastly underused in India, does not let off carbon dioxide, which has long been seen as the leading culprit in global warming. Worst for carbon emissions is coal — which now accounts for more than half of India’s energy. Some estimates even say India could avoid 130 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by switching from coal power to nuclear power — a substantial savings. “For comparison, the full range of emission cuts planned by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol will total just 200 million tons per year,” wrote David G. Victor in 2006. Demand for energy in India will only grow as it develops. By simply implementing an agreement already approved, Obama can take credit for a significant role in India’s energy future.

Nailing down the details of the agreement accomplishes both economic and environmental goals while also reinforcing good relations with India. And relations with India under Obama have already endured one misstep. New Delhi bristled at a portion of the November U.S.-China Joint Statement that implied greater meddling from Beijing in Indo-Pakistani relations, especially offensive considering the recent border tensions between China and India.

But since its passage under the Bush administration, the nuclear-energy agreement has been hailed as a monumental diplomatic reset. It was the first time the U.S. engaged in nuclear cooperation with New Delhi since India’s first test of a nuclear bomb, in 1974. The former nonproliferation policies toward India did nothing to deter the pursuit of nuclear weapons or lessen Indo-Pakistani tensions. Instead, they isolated India, a crucial country in the region. Both the United States and India have recently emphasized how they are “natural partners,” not least of all because they are both democratic regimes. This agreement is crucial to India’s perception of its relations with the U.S.; in fact, in 2005, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “India has made this the central issue in the new partnership developing between our countries.” By settling the details of the agreement, Obama would show the Indians good faith and prove that they are a priority.

The negotiations over specific details have taken a long time, partly because of justifiable security concerns. But much more procrastination will send the wrong message to India. On the other hand, next week is a prime opportunity for Obama to act on an American promise and also address environmental and economic communities. If he’s wise, he won’t squander it.

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Why So Upset?

Ed Gillespie, adviser to the President, had this to say at a press gaggle today:

We did not anticipate that it would be taken that way, because it’s kind of hard to take it that way if you look at the actual words of the President’s remarks, which are consistent with what he has said in the past relative to dealing with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda; relative to standing by Israel; relative to concerns about Iran developing the prospect of a nuclear weapon. And so there was really nothing new in the speech that anyone could point to that would indicate that. . . .

I would again encourage the media, whatever you want to do, it’s your editors — to ask them if maybe you might ask the Speaker of the House, or the leader of the Senate, or the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, what sentence that the President uttered, what words do you disagree with in those comments in the Knesset?

I agree: what precisely was wrong with what Bush said? Bush has been saying these “unprecedented” things about the perils of appeasement for years. So why did Obama get so upset? The Republican Jewish Coalition has an idea:

Why, when Barack Obama hears the word “appeasement,” does he think it applies to him? Why when it comes to standing with Israel is Barack Obama so defensive? It is Barack Obama’s promise to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that causes great nervousness in the Jewish community.

What’s hard for me to understand here is why Obama would meet with Ahmejinedad, but not Hamas. After all, if you’ll sit down with the don, why not break bread with his hitmen?

Ed Gillespie, adviser to the President, had this to say at a press gaggle today:

We did not anticipate that it would be taken that way, because it’s kind of hard to take it that way if you look at the actual words of the President’s remarks, which are consistent with what he has said in the past relative to dealing with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda; relative to standing by Israel; relative to concerns about Iran developing the prospect of a nuclear weapon. And so there was really nothing new in the speech that anyone could point to that would indicate that. . . .

I would again encourage the media, whatever you want to do, it’s your editors — to ask them if maybe you might ask the Speaker of the House, or the leader of the Senate, or the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, what sentence that the President uttered, what words do you disagree with in those comments in the Knesset?

I agree: what precisely was wrong with what Bush said? Bush has been saying these “unprecedented” things about the perils of appeasement for years. So why did Obama get so upset? The Republican Jewish Coalition has an idea:

Why, when Barack Obama hears the word “appeasement,” does he think it applies to him? Why when it comes to standing with Israel is Barack Obama so defensive? It is Barack Obama’s promise to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that causes great nervousness in the Jewish community.

What’s hard for me to understand here is why Obama would meet with Ahmejinedad, but not Hamas. After all, if you’ll sit down with the don, why not break bread with his hitmen?

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Obama’s Lonely Planet Foreign Policy

Speaking in San Francisco this past Sunday, Barack Obama said:

Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.

Kind of makes you wonder where he thinks he could use some work. In any case, what makes Obama so confident that he can tackle global crises? A college trip to Pakistan, of course. Here’s the New York Times:

. . . Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980′s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said.

It must have been a rough trip!  Pakistan, after all, is the only country Obama has specifically talked about bombing.   Is he planning to cite a spring break trip to Daytona Beach as a source of authority on naval matters? A viewing of Ishtar as his point of entry into Mideast diplomacy?

Speaking in San Francisco this past Sunday, Barack Obama said:

Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.

Kind of makes you wonder where he thinks he could use some work. In any case, what makes Obama so confident that he can tackle global crises? A college trip to Pakistan, of course. Here’s the New York Times:

. . . Mr. Obama also spoke about having traveled to Pakistan in the early 1980′s. Because of that trip, which he did not mention in either of his autobiographical books, “I knew what Sunni and Shia was before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said.

It must have been a rough trip!  Pakistan, after all, is the only country Obama has specifically talked about bombing.   Is he planning to cite a spring break trip to Daytona Beach as a source of authority on naval matters? A viewing of Ishtar as his point of entry into Mideast diplomacy?

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St. Barack and His Pastor

In a front page story yesterday the New York Times devoted 1,500 words to how some pastors would base their Easter Sunday sermons on the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Among the gems we read are this:

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, said she would preach about when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb and were met by an angel who rolled away the stone before the cave to reveal that Christ had risen from the dead. “I’m going to talk about the stones that need to be rolled away from the tombs of lives, that are holding us in places of death and away from God,” Ms. Lind said. “One of the main stones in our churches, synagogues, mosques, communities, countries, world is the pervasive tone of racism. What Obama has done is moved the stone a little bit. “I will ask our congregation to look at the stones in our lives,” she said.

And this:

The Rev. Kent Millard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said he felt Mr. Obama had explained the reality of the relationship between a pastor and his congregants. “Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is member of our congregation, and I would hope he would never be held accountable for everything I have said in the last 15 years,” said Dr. Millard, who is white. “Why is there any assumption that a person in church is expected to agree with everything a pastor says?”

And this:

Some black ministers said that their sermons might address how the reputation of a man many of them revere was reduced to sound bites. They pointed out that sermons in black churches covered a long and circuitous path from crisis to resolution, and it was unfair to judge the entire message on one or two sentences. “I may not use his exact language,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., “but I can tell you that the basic thrust of much of my preaching resonates with Dr. Wright. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to preach people into anger, but I am trying to help people become conscious, become aware, to realize our power to make change in society.” Mr. Samuel said his Easter sermon would be titled “Dangerous Proclamations,” and would focus on the Apostle Paul, “who was also under attack for his faith in Jesus, and for preaching the Resurrection.”

And this:

On Easter, one of the nation’s foremost preachers, the Rev. James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus at the Riverside Church in New York, said he would take Mr. Wright’s place preaching the 6 p.m. service at Trinity in Chicago. Dr. Forbes plans to preach about how the nation is in a “night season,” a dark, destabilizing time, given the war, the economy and the vitriol over race and gender in the political primary. “It is nighttime in America,” Dr. Forbes said, “and I want to bring a word of encouragement.”

What ought we to make of the story and these quotes?

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In a front page story yesterday the New York Times devoted 1,500 words to how some pastors would base their Easter Sunday sermons on the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Among the gems we read are this:

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, said she would preach about when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb and were met by an angel who rolled away the stone before the cave to reveal that Christ had risen from the dead. “I’m going to talk about the stones that need to be rolled away from the tombs of lives, that are holding us in places of death and away from God,” Ms. Lind said. “One of the main stones in our churches, synagogues, mosques, communities, countries, world is the pervasive tone of racism. What Obama has done is moved the stone a little bit. “I will ask our congregation to look at the stones in our lives,” she said.

And this:

The Rev. Kent Millard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said he felt Mr. Obama had explained the reality of the relationship between a pastor and his congregants. “Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is member of our congregation, and I would hope he would never be held accountable for everything I have said in the last 15 years,” said Dr. Millard, who is white. “Why is there any assumption that a person in church is expected to agree with everything a pastor says?”

And this:

Some black ministers said that their sermons might address how the reputation of a man many of them revere was reduced to sound bites. They pointed out that sermons in black churches covered a long and circuitous path from crisis to resolution, and it was unfair to judge the entire message on one or two sentences. “I may not use his exact language,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., “but I can tell you that the basic thrust of much of my preaching resonates with Dr. Wright. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to preach people into anger, but I am trying to help people become conscious, become aware, to realize our power to make change in society.” Mr. Samuel said his Easter sermon would be titled “Dangerous Proclamations,” and would focus on the Apostle Paul, “who was also under attack for his faith in Jesus, and for preaching the Resurrection.”

And this:

On Easter, one of the nation’s foremost preachers, the Rev. James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus at the Riverside Church in New York, said he would take Mr. Wright’s place preaching the 6 p.m. service at Trinity in Chicago. Dr. Forbes plans to preach about how the nation is in a “night season,” a dark, destabilizing time, given the war, the economy and the vitriol over race and gender in the political primary. “It is nighttime in America,” Dr. Forbes said, “and I want to bring a word of encouragement.”

What ought we to make of the story and these quotes?

For one thing, the Times piece was much more charitable toward Reverend Wright than I can ever remember the New York Times being toward anyone on the “religious right.” Making a hate-spewing, conspiracy-minded, anti-American pastor appear sympathetic isn’t easy–but leave it to the good folks at the Times to try their best to achieve it.

Beyond that, Senator Obama has now taken on, at least among his supporters, angelic powers. To them St. Barack can move figurative (and perhaps even literal?) stones that are holding us in places of death and away from God. And to think I only viewed him as an impressive, if deeply liberal, junior senator from Illinois. Silly me.

As for Senator Lugar’s pastor: I’m sure Senator Lugar hasn’t agreed with everything he’s heard from the pulpit. But I also assume that if Senator Lugar heard his pastor asking God (repeatedly) to damn America rather than bless it and giving voice to batty conspiracy theories (America invented AIDS in order to champion genocide), Lugar would be troubled – troubled enough at least to raise the issue with the Reverend Millard and perhaps even troubled enough to leave the church if such rhetoric persisted.

I’m personally delighted to learn that the Reverend Samuel “may not use [Wright’s] exact language,” even as the basic thrust of much of his preaching would resonate with Wright. I am oh-so-eager to see just what formulations Kenneth Samuel would use that would bring joy and delight to the heart of Jeremiah Wright.

And then there is James A. Forbes, representing our reliable old friends at Riverside Church in New York City. It’s “nighttime” in America, according to the good Reverend, but fear not; James Forbes will bring a word of encouragement to us all. Of course the proposition on which Forbes relies–that America is a dark, aggrieved, divided and broken country– requires him to ignore the fact that we are the most fortunate and blessed people not only on earth but in human history; that we live in a nation that is imperfect and plagued by problems, but one that is more prosperous, freer, more benevolent, and filled with more opportunities than any Reverend Forbes could name.

Risible comments like those made by Forbes and company underscore why the “mainstream” churches in America have been steadily losing congregants for decades. They are utterly consumed by left-wing politics, so much so that on the most holy day of the Christian year they decide to devote their sermons to racial politics and an effort to restore the reputation of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. The degree to which the Left is contorting itself in an effort to rationalize the venom of Wright is now moving into the comical category. One can only imagine what kind of story Laurie Goldstein and Neela Banerjee of the Times would have written if they had stumbled across words as fierce, demagogic, and loathsome as Wright’s from a right-winger instead of a left-winger.

The double standard of the Times is on display almost every day, but it is rarely as apparent as it was on Easter Sunday.

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Who Is Afraid of Iran’s Nukes?

Norman Podhoretz has been courageously making the case for a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear-weapon’s program for some time now. He also has — or had — been predicting that President Bush would carry out such a strike before the end of his presidency. As time grows short, that seems increasingly unlikely.

But let’s not rule it out entirely.We have already pointed to the fact that as Iran acquires sophisticated Russian air-defenses, which it may deploy as early as this fall, the execution of a U.S. strike will be greatly complicated and the risks associated with it will rise. It would be easier for the U.S. to the job before the SA-20s are pointing toward the skies.

There is another factor as well that pushes in the same direction: growing pressure from an insecure but highly influential ally in the region — and, no, it is not Israel.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has taken a look at Saudi Arabian attitudes toward Iran’s nuclear program:

senior and mid-level Saudi officials express an apparently unambiguous belief among the upper-echelon of the Saudi Government that the Iranian nuclear program does not solely exist for peaceful purposes. One senior Saudi official told staff confidently, “Iran is determined to get a nuclear weapon.”. . . One senior long-serving U.S. diplomat in Riyadh said he had “never met anyone from the King on down who didn’t think it was a nuclear weapons program.”

Saudi officials believe Iran wants a nuclear weapon in order to become a regional superpower, to alleviate a sense of marginalization, to serve as a deterrent, and to be a more dominant force in the Gulf. While senior Saudi officials describe a nuclear-armed Iran as “an existential threat,” most Saudi officials do not believe Iran would actually use nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia worries that Iranian nuclear weapons would encourage and enable the Iranians to pursue a more aggressive, hegemonic foreign policy in the region. However, it would be inaccurate to completely characterize SAG [Saudia Arabian government] anxiety regarding Iranian nuclear weapons as a purely “balance of power concern.” Based largely on Iran’s subversive activities directed against the Saudi regime in the 1980′s, some senior Saudi leaders find a nuclear-armed Iran especially disconcerting. Such past Iranian subversion efforts has imbued the senior Saudi leadership with an intense distrust of Tehran.

What do the Saudis think should be done about the mounting danger?

When presented with a hypothetical choice between a nuclear-armed Iran and a U.S. [preventive] attack, a significant number of Saudi officials interviewed explicitly or implicitly preferred a U.S. attack. A correlation seems to exist between the seniority of Saudi officials and views on Iranian nuclear weapons. More senior Saudi officials tended to be more “hawkish” in their viewpoint toward Iran. Some key Saudi officials believe a U.S. attack could set the Iranian nuclear program back over a decade. More cautious members of the senior inner circle express concern that a military attack would affect “everything and will not be easy to pull off,” and doubt whether a U.S. attack could destroy all key components of the Iranian nuclear program. Based on U.S. actions in Iraq, some key Saudi officials feared a “nightmare” scenario in which the U.S. attacks Iran but fails to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The Saudis have a lot of oil, a lot of money, and a lot of influence in Washington. If the U.S. does take action, and if it is successful, they will surely reap some of the credit. And if it goes badly, we will surely hear from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that the “Israel Lobby” is to blame.

Norman Podhoretz has been courageously making the case for a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear-weapon’s program for some time now. He also has — or had — been predicting that President Bush would carry out such a strike before the end of his presidency. As time grows short, that seems increasingly unlikely.

But let’s not rule it out entirely.We have already pointed to the fact that as Iran acquires sophisticated Russian air-defenses, which it may deploy as early as this fall, the execution of a U.S. strike will be greatly complicated and the risks associated with it will rise. It would be easier for the U.S. to the job before the SA-20s are pointing toward the skies.

There is another factor as well that pushes in the same direction: growing pressure from an insecure but highly influential ally in the region — and, no, it is not Israel.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has taken a look at Saudi Arabian attitudes toward Iran’s nuclear program:

senior and mid-level Saudi officials express an apparently unambiguous belief among the upper-echelon of the Saudi Government that the Iranian nuclear program does not solely exist for peaceful purposes. One senior Saudi official told staff confidently, “Iran is determined to get a nuclear weapon.”. . . One senior long-serving U.S. diplomat in Riyadh said he had “never met anyone from the King on down who didn’t think it was a nuclear weapons program.”

Saudi officials believe Iran wants a nuclear weapon in order to become a regional superpower, to alleviate a sense of marginalization, to serve as a deterrent, and to be a more dominant force in the Gulf. While senior Saudi officials describe a nuclear-armed Iran as “an existential threat,” most Saudi officials do not believe Iran would actually use nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia worries that Iranian nuclear weapons would encourage and enable the Iranians to pursue a more aggressive, hegemonic foreign policy in the region. However, it would be inaccurate to completely characterize SAG [Saudia Arabian government] anxiety regarding Iranian nuclear weapons as a purely “balance of power concern.” Based largely on Iran’s subversive activities directed against the Saudi regime in the 1980′s, some senior Saudi leaders find a nuclear-armed Iran especially disconcerting. Such past Iranian subversion efforts has imbued the senior Saudi leadership with an intense distrust of Tehran.

What do the Saudis think should be done about the mounting danger?

When presented with a hypothetical choice between a nuclear-armed Iran and a U.S. [preventive] attack, a significant number of Saudi officials interviewed explicitly or implicitly preferred a U.S. attack. A correlation seems to exist between the seniority of Saudi officials and views on Iranian nuclear weapons. More senior Saudi officials tended to be more “hawkish” in their viewpoint toward Iran. Some key Saudi officials believe a U.S. attack could set the Iranian nuclear program back over a decade. More cautious members of the senior inner circle express concern that a military attack would affect “everything and will not be easy to pull off,” and doubt whether a U.S. attack could destroy all key components of the Iranian nuclear program. Based on U.S. actions in Iraq, some key Saudi officials feared a “nightmare” scenario in which the U.S. attacks Iran but fails to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The Saudis have a lot of oil, a lot of money, and a lot of influence in Washington. If the U.S. does take action, and if it is successful, they will surely reap some of the credit. And if it goes badly, we will surely hear from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt that the “Israel Lobby” is to blame.

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When It’s Too Easy

Barack Obama’s faith in his own abilities seems as impressionistic and casual as that of his zombified acolytes. ABC News has some interesting quotes from Obama on his foreign policy experience and his proficiency to lead. On the former: “Look, I’ve lived overseas, I have family overseas. I have served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

The first two claims are undeniable, and also true of at least half of the Americans I know. Obama’s time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at least ranks as something more than owning a passport. However, his people have defended his somewhat lackadaisical approach to chairing a subcommittee on European matters by pointing to the Senator’s demanding campaign schedule. One gets the sense that Obama has dispensed with the idea of accountability altogether.

Which brings us to his thoughts on proficiency: “I think the question is, how do you know any president is ready? [Until] you’re president, you haven’t made these decisions.”

A few months back, when Bill Clinton went on Charlie Rose and compared a vote for Obama to a “roll of the dice,” it was considered a somewhat intemperate outburst. Now Obama offers it up as a selling point. This is a man who’s been led to believe that his own credentials are beside the point. Here’s more Obama on Obama:

One of the things that I’ve known about myself for a long time,” he said, “is that, in difficult or stressful moments, I don’t get rattled. And I don’t get rattled during campaigns. I don’t get rattled when things are up … and I don’t get too low when things are down.

There’s a hyperconfident cruise-control at work here, and if Hillary can pull off a two-state victory tonight, she should waste no time turning up the heat on Mr. Cool. The truth is, he hasn’t been rattled because he hasn’t experienced what it’s like “when things are down.”

Barack Obama’s faith in his own abilities seems as impressionistic and casual as that of his zombified acolytes. ABC News has some interesting quotes from Obama on his foreign policy experience and his proficiency to lead. On the former: “Look, I’ve lived overseas, I have family overseas. I have served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

The first two claims are undeniable, and also true of at least half of the Americans I know. Obama’s time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at least ranks as something more than owning a passport. However, his people have defended his somewhat lackadaisical approach to chairing a subcommittee on European matters by pointing to the Senator’s demanding campaign schedule. One gets the sense that Obama has dispensed with the idea of accountability altogether.

Which brings us to his thoughts on proficiency: “I think the question is, how do you know any president is ready? [Until] you’re president, you haven’t made these decisions.”

A few months back, when Bill Clinton went on Charlie Rose and compared a vote for Obama to a “roll of the dice,” it was considered a somewhat intemperate outburst. Now Obama offers it up as a selling point. This is a man who’s been led to believe that his own credentials are beside the point. Here’s more Obama on Obama:

One of the things that I’ve known about myself for a long time,” he said, “is that, in difficult or stressful moments, I don’t get rattled. And I don’t get rattled during campaigns. I don’t get rattled when things are up … and I don’t get too low when things are down.

There’s a hyperconfident cruise-control at work here, and if Hillary can pull off a two-state victory tonight, she should waste no time turning up the heat on Mr. Cool. The truth is, he hasn’t been rattled because he hasn’t experienced what it’s like “when things are down.”

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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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Lugar on the Surge

Senator Richard Lugar is winning encomia from all the predictable quarters—e.g., Joe Conason in the New York Observer—for his supposed wisdom and independence in declaring the surge a failure before it has barely begun.

Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared in a widely covered speech that he doesn’t think “that the current ‘surge’ strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President” and that we should therefore “downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq.” Interestingly, Lugar does “not doubt the assessments of military commanders that there has been some progress in security” as a result of the surge. He just doesn’t think that the surge will succeed in the long run because “three factors—the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process—are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame.”

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Senator Richard Lugar is winning encomia from all the predictable quarters—e.g., Joe Conason in the New York Observer—for his supposed wisdom and independence in declaring the surge a failure before it has barely begun.

Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared in a widely covered speech that he doesn’t think “that the current ‘surge’ strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President” and that we should therefore “downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq.” Interestingly, Lugar does “not doubt the assessments of military commanders that there has been some progress in security” as a result of the surge. He just doesn’t think that the surge will succeed in the long run because “three factors—the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process—are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame.”

But of those three factors it is the last that is clearly the biggest impediment to success. Yes, Iraqi politicians are at loggerheads over difficult issues; so are Senator Lugar and his colleagues. The whole surge strategy rests on the notion that improving the security climate will improve the political climate in Iraq. Since the attempts to improve the security situation have only just started—the final surge forces only recently arrived in Iraq—it is too soon to write off the chances of political progress. And, yes, there is “growing stress on our military,” but reenlistment rates remain strong, and, based on current projections, the army and Marine Corps can continue the surge until at least next April. (Longer if more National Guard and Reserve forces are mobilized.) Lugar seems to be asking for the surge to be called off not for these reasons, but because he doubts that any progress on the ground can be made fast enough to keep up with “the timetable imposed by our own domestic political process.”

Fair point, but that’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Democrats are certainly eager to cut off funding for the war effort. But they are unlikely to succeed in the face of united GOP opposition, given that Republicans not only control the White House, but also maintain substantial minorities in both houses of Congress. If Republicans keep their nerve, there is a good chance that, as happened recently, they can win a showdown with Democrats over war-funding.

But if leading Republicans like Richard Lugar write off the surge prematurely, they are likely to set off a bidding war over troop withdrawals—a bidding war that Republicans cannot win and one for which they are likely to get scant credit from the electorate, given that troop withdrawals will almost certainly make the situation in Iraq even worse than it is today. The few undeniable signs of progress—e.g., the great improvements made recently in Anbar province—are likely to disappear if American forces start heading for the exits. That, in turn, will make it harder politically to keep even a minimal force in Iraq to continue missions—such as chasing al Qaeda and training the Iraqi Security Forces—which most Republican and Democratic leaders agree are still necessary.

It may well be that the surge won’t, in fact, work. But General David Petraeus and the 160,000 troops who are putting their lives on the line under his command deserve at least a decent chance to succeed without having the carpet pulled out from under them on Capitol Hill. Especially by Republicans.

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Iran’s Long War

There has been a surge of alarmism about Iran within the U.S. foreign-policy community. Many experts fear that belligerent fanatics will soon use their fearsome arsenals to put the entire world at risk with unprovoked aggression.

Makes sense, you might say. Except that in the view of some analysts, the fanatics are in Washington not Tehran. Some of our most eminent foreign-policy thinkers seem to think that supposedly trigger-happy hawks in America are a bigger threat to world peace than terrorism-sponsoring mullahs in Iran.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 1, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a looming conflict with Iran “and much of the world of Islam at large” in which he sees the U.S. as the culprit: “A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” Note the skeptical quotes around “defensive.” In Brzezinski’s telling, a U.S. attack on Iran could resemble Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which was preceded by a staged provocation in which SS soldiers in Polish uniforms pretended to attack a German radio station.

Stanford political scientists Larry Diamond and Leonard Weiss take up a similar refrain in the Los Angeles Times, urging Congress to use “its power of the purse to prevent an American attack on Iran.” Weiss and Diamond concede that “Iran is not innocent of dangerous and provocative behavior” but go on to assert that “war is not yet justified, except in the minds of those who have been lobbying for it for years.” Whoever they are.

As it happens, I agree with Weiss and Diamond—and with Edward Luttwak—that it’s not time to bomb, at least not yet. But I take exception to the premise of their argument and of Brzezinski’s, which is that if the U.S. were to bomb Iran, this would amount to starting a war out of the blue. In reality, Iran has been waging war on the U.S. for a quarter century, from the 1979 hostage crisis to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut to its present policy of supplying Explosively Formed Projectiles—i.e., highly potent landmines—to Shiite and possibly even Sunni insurgents in Iraq who use them to blow up American armored vehicles, killing or injuring the occupants. A U.S. attack on Iran would not represent the beginning of a war; it would merely represent belated recognition on our part that a war is going on.

That isn’t to say that military action is the right course. For the time being, I would prefer more political, economic, and diplomatic pressure, which already seems to be taking a toll on President Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the Iranian political class. But my fear is not that we will respond too belligerently but that, as in years past (including during the first six years of the Bush administration), we will respond too supinely—that we will continue to do nothing, beyond a few tartly worded statements, about the growing Iranian threat. That really will make war more likely.

There has been a surge of alarmism about Iran within the U.S. foreign-policy community. Many experts fear that belligerent fanatics will soon use their fearsome arsenals to put the entire world at risk with unprovoked aggression.

Makes sense, you might say. Except that in the view of some analysts, the fanatics are in Washington not Tehran. Some of our most eminent foreign-policy thinkers seem to think that supposedly trigger-happy hawks in America are a bigger threat to world peace than terrorism-sponsoring mullahs in Iran.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 1, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a looming conflict with Iran “and much of the world of Islam at large” in which he sees the U.S. as the culprit: “A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” Note the skeptical quotes around “defensive.” In Brzezinski’s telling, a U.S. attack on Iran could resemble Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which was preceded by a staged provocation in which SS soldiers in Polish uniforms pretended to attack a German radio station.

Stanford political scientists Larry Diamond and Leonard Weiss take up a similar refrain in the Los Angeles Times, urging Congress to use “its power of the purse to prevent an American attack on Iran.” Weiss and Diamond concede that “Iran is not innocent of dangerous and provocative behavior” but go on to assert that “war is not yet justified, except in the minds of those who have been lobbying for it for years.” Whoever they are.

As it happens, I agree with Weiss and Diamond—and with Edward Luttwak—that it’s not time to bomb, at least not yet. But I take exception to the premise of their argument and of Brzezinski’s, which is that if the U.S. were to bomb Iran, this would amount to starting a war out of the blue. In reality, Iran has been waging war on the U.S. for a quarter century, from the 1979 hostage crisis to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut to its present policy of supplying Explosively Formed Projectiles—i.e., highly potent landmines—to Shiite and possibly even Sunni insurgents in Iraq who use them to blow up American armored vehicles, killing or injuring the occupants. A U.S. attack on Iran would not represent the beginning of a war; it would merely represent belated recognition on our part that a war is going on.

That isn’t to say that military action is the right course. For the time being, I would prefer more political, economic, and diplomatic pressure, which already seems to be taking a toll on President Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the Iranian political class. But my fear is not that we will respond too belligerently but that, as in years past (including during the first six years of the Bush administration), we will respond too supinely—that we will continue to do nothing, beyond a few tartly worded statements, about the growing Iranian threat. That really will make war more likely.

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