Commentary Magazine


Topic: Soviet Union

Morning Commentary

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Read Less

Kissinger and the Moral Bankruptcy of Détente

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

Read Less

Saudi Glasnost Cities Illustrate Tyranny’s Dilemma

Is it possible for a tyrannical system to modernize its society and economy while keeping its people in check? In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev tried and failed to save the Soviet Union for Communism by such an effort. Nevertheless, with help from Western businesses (of whom George Will once rightly said that they “loved commerce more than they loathed communism”), the gerontocracy that ruled Communist China succeeded in transforming the economy of its country while maintaining an iron grip on power in the world’s most populous nation.

But as difficult as such changes are for secular ideological tyrannies, the challenge is even greater for those ruled by religion. And that is the dilemma faced by Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s New York Times unveiled the plans for four new cities to be built in the Arabian desert whose purpose is to provide an outlet for the growing population of educated but underemployed Saudis. The cities, the first of which is to bear the catchy name of King Abdullah Economic City, are, as the Times notes, a dreary throwback to previous planned cities such as Brasilia or the urban monstrosities built by the Soviets in the 1930s. But the purpose of these cities is more reminiscent of Gorbachev’s glasnost than Stalin’s experiments. The Saudis want them to be places where a less-repressive form of Islam than the fanatical brand of Wahhabism that is the norm in the rest of the country will exist. They hope that the slight openings to freedom that will supposedly blossom there will satisfy their restive people and boost their economy without threatening the monarchy or the Islamist faith that has been an indispensable element in their regime’s hold on power.

But, as the article relates, the difficulties of opening the slightest crack toward a free society are enormous. Once the floodgates of freedom are even slightly ajar, it is hard to hold back the forces of change. That is why it is unlikely that much will come of this development in terms of real reform.

Those who deplore or fear the spread of democracy in the Arab world rightly note that the only current alternative to authoritarian regimes like the Saudi monarchy is an even more repressive Islamist movement. But the creation of institutions in which Islamist rules don’t always apply and that engineer a modern economy might mean that more liberal forces will appear.

The strength of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia may make that a pipe dream. Nevertheless, the Arabs deserve something better their current choices, in which the repressed anger of the people is always wrongly focused on outside forces, such as the West or Israel.

Is it possible for a tyrannical system to modernize its society and economy while keeping its people in check? In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev tried and failed to save the Soviet Union for Communism by such an effort. Nevertheless, with help from Western businesses (of whom George Will once rightly said that they “loved commerce more than they loathed communism”), the gerontocracy that ruled Communist China succeeded in transforming the economy of its country while maintaining an iron grip on power in the world’s most populous nation.

But as difficult as such changes are for secular ideological tyrannies, the challenge is even greater for those ruled by religion. And that is the dilemma faced by Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s New York Times unveiled the plans for four new cities to be built in the Arabian desert whose purpose is to provide an outlet for the growing population of educated but underemployed Saudis. The cities, the first of which is to bear the catchy name of King Abdullah Economic City, are, as the Times notes, a dreary throwback to previous planned cities such as Brasilia or the urban monstrosities built by the Soviets in the 1930s. But the purpose of these cities is more reminiscent of Gorbachev’s glasnost than Stalin’s experiments. The Saudis want them to be places where a less-repressive form of Islam than the fanatical brand of Wahhabism that is the norm in the rest of the country will exist. They hope that the slight openings to freedom that will supposedly blossom there will satisfy their restive people and boost their economy without threatening the monarchy or the Islamist faith that has been an indispensable element in their regime’s hold on power.

But, as the article relates, the difficulties of opening the slightest crack toward a free society are enormous. Once the floodgates of freedom are even slightly ajar, it is hard to hold back the forces of change. That is why it is unlikely that much will come of this development in terms of real reform.

Those who deplore or fear the spread of democracy in the Arab world rightly note that the only current alternative to authoritarian regimes like the Saudi monarchy is an even more repressive Islamist movement. But the creation of institutions in which Islamist rules don’t always apply and that engineer a modern economy might mean that more liberal forces will appear.

The strength of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia may make that a pipe dream. Nevertheless, the Arabs deserve something better their current choices, in which the repressed anger of the people is always wrongly focused on outside forces, such as the West or Israel.

Read Less

New START Treaty: Much Ado About Nothing

A lot of foreign-policy experts I respect — including John Bolton, Eric Edelman, John Yoo, and Jim Woolsey — have come out against the ratification of the New START treaty, which would decrease American and Russian nuclear arsenals. For my part, I’m with Bob Kagan in wondering what the fuss is all about.

Arms-control treaties between Moscow and Washington were a big deal during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was bent on global expansionism and the U.S. had to stand on the frontlines of freedom. But the Soviet Union is gone. Today’s Russia may be a local threat to its smaller neighbors, the likes of Georgia or Estonia, but on a global scale it’s more of a nuisance — certainly not an existential threat to the United States. Thus the continuing quest for arms-control treaties seems like a bit of an anachronism.

Yet it is an anachronism that has been pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations. As this crib sheet from the Arms Control Association reminds us, George H.W. Bush signed START II in 1993, Bill Clinton followed with a START III framework (never completed) in 1997, and George W. Bush reached agreement on SORT (a.k.a. the Moscow Treaty) in 2002. Kagan sums up the results of all these treaties along with New START:

The START I agreement cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons on both sides roughly 50 percent, from between 10,000 and 12,000 down to 6,000. The never-ratified (but generally abided-by) START II Treaty cut forces by another 50 percent, down to between 3,000 and 3,500. The 2002 Moscow Treaty made further deep cuts, bringing each side down to between 1,700 and 2,200. And New START? It would bring the number on both sides down to 1,550.

The final figure of 1,550 warheads is plenty big enough to maintain America’s nuclear deterrence; actually, we will have more than that because for the purposes of the treaty B-2 and B-52, bombers are counted as one “warhead” even though they can carry dozens of nuclear warheads. Opponents of the treaty throw out all sorts of other objections, arguing that it would constrict the development of missile defenses or non-nuclear missiles; but no such prohibition is to be found in the language of the treaty.

Let me be clear. I do not buy the Obama administration’s rationales for the treaty. Administration officials cite the need to “reset” relations with Russian and to take a step toward the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. I very much doubt that this treaty will do anything substantial to achieve either goal. We are likely to continue clashing with Russia diplomatically as long as it remains an authoritarian state. As for the quixotic goal of eliminating nuclear weapons: Suffice it to say, reductions in the American arsenal are not going to encourage North Korea or Iran to give up their nuclear programs. But nor will relatively modest reductions in our nuclear forces prevent us from vaporizing Iran or North Korea, should they use nuclear weapons against us or our allies.

One of the important benefits of the treaty is that, in the course of negotiations over ratification, Senate Republicans have won assurances from the administration that it will spend $80 billion over 10 years to modernize our nuclear program. Yet this doesn’t seem to be enough. Sen. Jon Kyl, who has been the lead GOP negotiator, now says he doesn’t want to see a vote during the lame-duck session.

As Kagan suggests, this will allow the administration to blame Republican “obstructionism” if and when relations with Russia deteriorate. Therefore, Republican foot-dragging on ratification isn’t smart politics. It’s not necessary for the national defense either. Republicans should keep their powder dry to fight off attempts to slash the defense budget — an issue that really could imperil our security. That will be harder to do, however, because there are a number of Republicans who appear willing to go along with defense cuts, even as they’re taking pot shots at the (largely symbolic) New START treaty.

A lot of foreign-policy experts I respect — including John Bolton, Eric Edelman, John Yoo, and Jim Woolsey — have come out against the ratification of the New START treaty, which would decrease American and Russian nuclear arsenals. For my part, I’m with Bob Kagan in wondering what the fuss is all about.

Arms-control treaties between Moscow and Washington were a big deal during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was bent on global expansionism and the U.S. had to stand on the frontlines of freedom. But the Soviet Union is gone. Today’s Russia may be a local threat to its smaller neighbors, the likes of Georgia or Estonia, but on a global scale it’s more of a nuisance — certainly not an existential threat to the United States. Thus the continuing quest for arms-control treaties seems like a bit of an anachronism.

Yet it is an anachronism that has been pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations. As this crib sheet from the Arms Control Association reminds us, George H.W. Bush signed START II in 1993, Bill Clinton followed with a START III framework (never completed) in 1997, and George W. Bush reached agreement on SORT (a.k.a. the Moscow Treaty) in 2002. Kagan sums up the results of all these treaties along with New START:

The START I agreement cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons on both sides roughly 50 percent, from between 10,000 and 12,000 down to 6,000. The never-ratified (but generally abided-by) START II Treaty cut forces by another 50 percent, down to between 3,000 and 3,500. The 2002 Moscow Treaty made further deep cuts, bringing each side down to between 1,700 and 2,200. And New START? It would bring the number on both sides down to 1,550.

The final figure of 1,550 warheads is plenty big enough to maintain America’s nuclear deterrence; actually, we will have more than that because for the purposes of the treaty B-2 and B-52, bombers are counted as one “warhead” even though they can carry dozens of nuclear warheads. Opponents of the treaty throw out all sorts of other objections, arguing that it would constrict the development of missile defenses or non-nuclear missiles; but no such prohibition is to be found in the language of the treaty.

Let me be clear. I do not buy the Obama administration’s rationales for the treaty. Administration officials cite the need to “reset” relations with Russian and to take a step toward the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. I very much doubt that this treaty will do anything substantial to achieve either goal. We are likely to continue clashing with Russia diplomatically as long as it remains an authoritarian state. As for the quixotic goal of eliminating nuclear weapons: Suffice it to say, reductions in the American arsenal are not going to encourage North Korea or Iran to give up their nuclear programs. But nor will relatively modest reductions in our nuclear forces prevent us from vaporizing Iran or North Korea, should they use nuclear weapons against us or our allies.

One of the important benefits of the treaty is that, in the course of negotiations over ratification, Senate Republicans have won assurances from the administration that it will spend $80 billion over 10 years to modernize our nuclear program. Yet this doesn’t seem to be enough. Sen. Jon Kyl, who has been the lead GOP negotiator, now says he doesn’t want to see a vote during the lame-duck session.

As Kagan suggests, this will allow the administration to blame Republican “obstructionism” if and when relations with Russia deteriorate. Therefore, Republican foot-dragging on ratification isn’t smart politics. It’s not necessary for the national defense either. Republicans should keep their powder dry to fight off attempts to slash the defense budget — an issue that really could imperil our security. That will be harder to do, however, because there are a number of Republicans who appear willing to go along with defense cuts, even as they’re taking pot shots at the (largely symbolic) New START treaty.

Read Less

NATO Death Watch

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the New York Times this week, declined to name Iran as a missile threat to the NATO alliance. He spoke instead of “more than 30 countries in the world” having missile technology, with some of them able to hit targets in allied territory. This strange formulation implicates Britain, France, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Israel — if Rasmussen is talking about the countries that can already hit NATO targets with medium-range or longer missiles. (Pakistan can probably also hit Turkey with its newest Ghauri-class missile.)

But the Turkish press, writing up the Times interview, was clear on Rasmussen’s meaning. Undeceived by the politically absurd reference to “30 countries,” Today’s Zaman put it bluntly: “Rasmussen declines to name Iran as threat in missile shield plans.”

This isn’t really Rasmussen’s fault. According to the New York Times, it’s a NATO negotiating posture:

…President Obama and the Europeans are offering yet another round of talks to the Iranians, to get them to stop enriching uranium, and Turkey does not want the missile system to be seen as aimed at Tehran, so it is diplomatically impolite to mention Iran.

If we’re now at the point where it is “impolite” to mention one of the most significant threats NATO faces, we are in a stage of complacent denial for which I’m not sure there is even a name.

Turkey’s reluctance to see Iran identified as a threat should not silence the North Atlantic Council or the other allies — but it has. This is the clearest possible signal that political unity is over for the alliance: NATO can no longer handle the truth. Turkey’s objections, moreover, can’t govern our bargaining position without compromising it. Silence on the Iranian missile threat amounts to tacitly conceding Iran’s argument that its programs are not a threat. If Iran is right about that, then nothing the West is asking of Iran justifies sanctions or the use of force.

It was precisely by naming and objecting to the policies of the Soviet Union that U.S. presidents — Truman, Nixon, and Reagan in particular — obtained concessions from Moscow during the Cold War. The more explicit and obstinate we were, the more we got. We are apparently about to deal away any hope of such an effective posture with Iran. The upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon is not a business-as-usual gathering: Russia is being invited to the table for the first time, and NATO’s missile-defense strategy is to be the primary topic. The act of not declaring Iran’s missile (and nuclear) programs to be a threat to the allies will put the West, for the foreseeable future, at a permanent disadvantage in negotiations with Tehran.

The picture is growing clearer that NATO can’t retain its current alliance list and also operate from a common will to defend itself. To some extent, this shift has been building for a while, but the response favored by the Obama administration is the wrong one: letting an alliance that would fail a stress test be transformed against America’s interests. NATO, to which we have long provided most of the military spending, and now provide most of the forces and the political will, cannot be transformed in this manner without becoming an entangling alliance. That process has begun.

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Obama’s Education, and Ours

The Obama administration has come to learn that its two most significant achievements — the stimulus and ObamaCare — are fundamentally flawed. President Obama’s admission that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” is to the stimulus what Ronald Reagan’s praising the freedoms of the Soviet Union would have been to the Cold War: a vitiation of the president’s political ideology. The same can be said for the administration’s granting waivers to big companies and unions, freeing almost 1 million employees from the ill effects of his health-care plan.

So the president is getting an education. Kind of like a school where the $862 billion tuition is picked up by the public and word problems describe real people in real circumstances. If unemployment is at 7.7 percent and you invest $7 billion of taxpayer money in the study of ant behavior, sage grouse mortality, and corporate travel and the refurbishment of abandoned forts, how many speeches attacking George W. Bush will you have to make before November?

Those opposed to the stimulus were not the reactive “party of no”; they were the party of knowing. They knew that warped incentives and listless bureaucracies make governments inefficient producers and employers. There is no such thing as a shovel-ready government project, because government cannot swing into therapeutic action the way liberals like to think. Conservatives know something else Barack Obama has yet to cover: there are shovel-ready jobs — in the private sector. At any given time, this country is bursting with entrepreneurs, Americans with blueprints and business plans on which they’re willing to stake everything. Perhaps next semester, Obama will learn about creating a friendly financial environment that allows small businesses to break ground, succeed, and hire. For now, it’s hampering regulations and looming taxes all the way.

The health-care-law exemptions granted to McDonald’s, the United Federation of Teachers, and 28 other employers expose the unfeasibility of ObamaCare at its core. The lucky parties didn’t want to incur the costs of phasing out annual caps on employee medical coverage. There is no reason to think doing so will be easier for employers who have not yet sought waivers. What did not work for McDonald’s and others will not work, period. The flood of objections has yet to begin. The waivers also threaten America’s claim to being a country of laws, not men. If every one of the president’s learned lessons results in a corresponding hall pass administered by the federal government, we will soon have compromised the legal framework vital to the conservation of an advanced and civilized society.

Even as Obama learns, he unlearns. He has not backed away from either the folly of stimulus or the debacle of ObamaCare. Similar to most educations today, his is as expensive as it is worthless. Like insuring more patients or cutting costs and surging forces or drawing down troops, the poles of ignorance and knowledge merely represent another false choice requiring no presidential decision. He’s seen the light but prefers the dark. “Obama 2.0,” as the administration conceives it, will involve more detailed explanations of the same bad policies. The rest of the country doesn’t enjoy this executive luxury. In a couple of weeks, concerned Americans will face a political choice that’s as real as it gets. It is unlikely that their education, hard earned these past 20 months, will go to waste.

The Obama administration has come to learn that its two most significant achievements — the stimulus and ObamaCare — are fundamentally flawed. President Obama’s admission that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” is to the stimulus what Ronald Reagan’s praising the freedoms of the Soviet Union would have been to the Cold War: a vitiation of the president’s political ideology. The same can be said for the administration’s granting waivers to big companies and unions, freeing almost 1 million employees from the ill effects of his health-care plan.

So the president is getting an education. Kind of like a school where the $862 billion tuition is picked up by the public and word problems describe real people in real circumstances. If unemployment is at 7.7 percent and you invest $7 billion of taxpayer money in the study of ant behavior, sage grouse mortality, and corporate travel and the refurbishment of abandoned forts, how many speeches attacking George W. Bush will you have to make before November?

Those opposed to the stimulus were not the reactive “party of no”; they were the party of knowing. They knew that warped incentives and listless bureaucracies make governments inefficient producers and employers. There is no such thing as a shovel-ready government project, because government cannot swing into therapeutic action the way liberals like to think. Conservatives know something else Barack Obama has yet to cover: there are shovel-ready jobs — in the private sector. At any given time, this country is bursting with entrepreneurs, Americans with blueprints and business plans on which they’re willing to stake everything. Perhaps next semester, Obama will learn about creating a friendly financial environment that allows small businesses to break ground, succeed, and hire. For now, it’s hampering regulations and looming taxes all the way.

The health-care-law exemptions granted to McDonald’s, the United Federation of Teachers, and 28 other employers expose the unfeasibility of ObamaCare at its core. The lucky parties didn’t want to incur the costs of phasing out annual caps on employee medical coverage. There is no reason to think doing so will be easier for employers who have not yet sought waivers. What did not work for McDonald’s and others will not work, period. The flood of objections has yet to begin. The waivers also threaten America’s claim to being a country of laws, not men. If every one of the president’s learned lessons results in a corresponding hall pass administered by the federal government, we will soon have compromised the legal framework vital to the conservation of an advanced and civilized society.

Even as Obama learns, he unlearns. He has not backed away from either the folly of stimulus or the debacle of ObamaCare. Similar to most educations today, his is as expensive as it is worthless. Like insuring more patients or cutting costs and surging forces or drawing down troops, the poles of ignorance and knowledge merely represent another false choice requiring no presidential decision. He’s seen the light but prefers the dark. “Obama 2.0,” as the administration conceives it, will involve more detailed explanations of the same bad policies. The rest of the country doesn’t enjoy this executive luxury. In a couple of weeks, concerned Americans will face a political choice that’s as real as it gets. It is unlikely that their education, hard earned these past 20 months, will go to waste.

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The Real Middle East Linkage

Barack Obama’s administration is a big fan of “linkage” — the theory that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would, in his words, “change the strategic landscape of the Middle East” and “help us deal with terrorist organizations in the region.” And actually, he’s half right: America’s handling of this conflict does affect the Middle East’s strategic landscape. But the link, as newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War make clear, isn’t what Obama thinks it is. And therefore, his policies are making war more likely, not less.

Obama believes Palestinian suffering is a top Muslim concern that contributes greatly to radicalizing Muslim extremists. Thus, if America forced Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands, not only would Muslims like America better, but all the Muslim world’s other problems would be easier to solve, because a key source of radicalization would be gone.

That version of linkage is clearly delusional. Just consider last month’s deadly bombing by Sunni extremists of a Shiite march in Pakistan. The march was one of several nationwide to “observe Al Quds Day, an annual protest to express solidarity with Palestinians and condemn Israel.” Yet solidarity with the Palestinians evidently ranks so low on the Muslim agenda that Sunnis and Shiites couldn’t suspend their mutual bloodletting for one day to unite around this issue. So how would a Palestinian state ease this Sunni-Shiite divide?

But as the Vietnam documents show, linkage does exist. When the 1973 Yom Kippur War erupted, forcing then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger to spend months brokering cease-fire agreements between Israel, Syria, and Egypt, the Vietnam War still raged. So after one of Kissinger’s trips to the region, then-ambassador to Saigon Graham Martin asked him “about the connection between what was happening in the Middle East and Vietnam.” Kissinger replied:

It hurt us with the Arabs. [Syrian President Hafez] Assad said in his talks with me, “You look what you’ve done to Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Portugal, etc.” … Assad said, “Therefore if you look at this, you will give up Israel, and so [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat should simply not give in.”

In short, it wasn’t American support for Israel that hurt America with the Arabs, but the Arabs’ conviction that this support would prove ephemeral, as it had with other American allies. The more convinced the Arabs were that America would ultimately abandon its allies, the less reason they saw to compromise, the more inflexible their positions became, and the more they preferred alliances with America’s enemies instead (in this case, the Soviet Union).

The same dynamic is evident today. Obama’s avowed goal of putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, coupled with his downgrading of other traditional American allies in favor of longtime enemies, has convinced Palestinians that if they hold out, America will eventually abandon Israel, too. And why compromise now if they could have it all later? Hence the flurry of new demands, like no negotiations without a settlement freeze, that they never posed before.

It seems some things never change. Today, too, the real link between Israel and the broader Middle Eastern strategic landscape remains America’s credibility as an ally.

Barack Obama’s administration is a big fan of “linkage” — the theory that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would, in his words, “change the strategic landscape of the Middle East” and “help us deal with terrorist organizations in the region.” And actually, he’s half right: America’s handling of this conflict does affect the Middle East’s strategic landscape. But the link, as newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War make clear, isn’t what Obama thinks it is. And therefore, his policies are making war more likely, not less.

Obama believes Palestinian suffering is a top Muslim concern that contributes greatly to radicalizing Muslim extremists. Thus, if America forced Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands, not only would Muslims like America better, but all the Muslim world’s other problems would be easier to solve, because a key source of radicalization would be gone.

That version of linkage is clearly delusional. Just consider last month’s deadly bombing by Sunni extremists of a Shiite march in Pakistan. The march was one of several nationwide to “observe Al Quds Day, an annual protest to express solidarity with Palestinians and condemn Israel.” Yet solidarity with the Palestinians evidently ranks so low on the Muslim agenda that Sunnis and Shiites couldn’t suspend their mutual bloodletting for one day to unite around this issue. So how would a Palestinian state ease this Sunni-Shiite divide?

But as the Vietnam documents show, linkage does exist. When the 1973 Yom Kippur War erupted, forcing then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger to spend months brokering cease-fire agreements between Israel, Syria, and Egypt, the Vietnam War still raged. So after one of Kissinger’s trips to the region, then-ambassador to Saigon Graham Martin asked him “about the connection between what was happening in the Middle East and Vietnam.” Kissinger replied:

It hurt us with the Arabs. [Syrian President Hafez] Assad said in his talks with me, “You look what you’ve done to Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Portugal, etc.” … Assad said, “Therefore if you look at this, you will give up Israel, and so [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat should simply not give in.”

In short, it wasn’t American support for Israel that hurt America with the Arabs, but the Arabs’ conviction that this support would prove ephemeral, as it had with other American allies. The more convinced the Arabs were that America would ultimately abandon its allies, the less reason they saw to compromise, the more inflexible their positions became, and the more they preferred alliances with America’s enemies instead (in this case, the Soviet Union).

The same dynamic is evident today. Obama’s avowed goal of putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, coupled with his downgrading of other traditional American allies in favor of longtime enemies, has convinced Palestinians that if they hold out, America will eventually abandon Israel, too. And why compromise now if they could have it all later? Hence the flurry of new demands, like no negotiations without a settlement freeze, that they never posed before.

It seems some things never change. Today, too, the real link between Israel and the broader Middle Eastern strategic landscape remains America’s credibility as an ally.

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Whining About Whining

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

As the President and Vice President whine about the whining of their shrinking “base,” as being insufficiently appreciative of the superhuman efforts to confront our problems, they might remember the old saying that “in times like these, we should remember there have always been times like these.” Victor Davis Hanson writes that the problems Obama has faced have not, in fact, been worse than those that other presidents confronted as they entered the presidency:

A recession and 9/11 were not easy in 2001. And 18% interest, 18% inflation, 7% unemployment, and gas lines by 1981 greeted Reagan. Truman took over with a war … a wrecked Asia and Europe, a groundswell of communism, a climate of panic at home, and a soon to be nuclear Soviet Union … capped off soon by a war in Korea.

The President and Vice President might also reflect on the answer of the prior president, in his last press conference on January 12, 2009, when asked as to when Obama would feel the full impact of the presidency. Bush’s answer was “the minute he walks in the Oval Office,” but that:

… the phrase “burdens of the office” is overstated. You know, it’s kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It’s just — it’s pathetic, isn’t it, self-pity. And I don’t believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find — you know, your — the people that don’t like you, the critics, they’re pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound …

In Wisconsin yesterday, Obama repeated his constant refrain that he had arrived in Washington to “confront the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and blamed his current problems on an “opposition party … determined from the start to let us deal with the mess that they had done so much to create.”

And they figured, if we just sit on the sidelines and just say no and just throw bombs and let Obama and the Democrats deal with everything, they figured they might be able to prosper at the polls.

When politicians start whining about their fate and begin referring to themselves in the third person, it is a sign the campaign is not going well. Just ask Bob Dole, as Bob Dole might say.

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Reading (and Misreading) Kim

Now and then a media theme comes along that can only be called fatuous. Next week, North Korea will hold its first ruling-party conference in 30 years. In advance of the conference, the Kim government has promoted to higher office three senior officials with career connections to the nuclear program. The three men in question were prominent in previous iterations of the multilateral negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Therefore, Western media are depicting these personnel moves as a sign that “the country’s leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.” Very few of the mainstream media outlets report, however, that Kang Sok Ju, who has been made the new vice premier, was the chief designer of the North Korean nuclear program. He was chosen in 1994 to negotiate the Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration because he was the North’s nuclear chief. From the perspective of the Kim regime — which intended all along to retain its program and achieve a weapons capability — the most senior proponent of the program was the appropriate emissary to the proceedings.

There are a number of indications that Kim Jong-Il is planning to introduce his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his political successor next week. The current Kim was named successor at the last such conference in 1980. Close followers of Pyongyang’s ineffable party media note that in the last six months, Kim Jong-Il has been referred to as “Great Leader,” a title once reserved for his father Kim Il-Sung.  The post of “Dear Leader” is now unoccupied, just in time for the rare party conference. The three men in the new government positions are Kim Jong-Il loyalists: from any standpoint — tensions with the South, the terrible toll of typhoons and flooding this summer, the need to secure a succession — it makes sense for the current Kim to ensure loyalty in his senior ranks.

The logical interpretation of the personnel moves is that they are intended to secure the optimum conditions for Kim’s internal political plans. The men in question are trusted, long-time aides of the regime: that’s why they were associated with the nuclear program to begin with, it’s why they were dispatched for nuclear negotiations in the past, and it’s why they are being shuffled upward now.

It bears reiterating that their record in foreign negotiations was all to Pyongyang’s advantage. They never negotiated in good faith and North Korea never kept the commitments it made. At no time were they or their regime negotiating in order to cultivate good foreign relations — or, in fact, to seek any common objective with the other parties to the talks.

It hasn’t been that long since the Soviet Union collapsed. But today’s mainstream media seem to retain no corporate memory of the dynamics of secretive Communist regimes. Regime succession is a recurring national-security emergency for such governments. Many Western media outlets have picked up on the warning from a Russian diplomat this week that the Koreas are on the brink of conflict. But if the Russians are observing a bustling in North Korea’s national-defense apparatus, that would be perfectly in character for a Communist thugocracy before a landmark party conference. “The wicked flee when none pursueth,” say the Proverbs; it’s much more likely that the Kim regime is maneuvering, in the Communist manner, against anticipated threats to itself rather than taking a vow of “good diplomacy” to improve relations with the U.S.

Now and then a media theme comes along that can only be called fatuous. Next week, North Korea will hold its first ruling-party conference in 30 years. In advance of the conference, the Kim government has promoted to higher office three senior officials with career connections to the nuclear program. The three men in question were prominent in previous iterations of the multilateral negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Therefore, Western media are depicting these personnel moves as a sign that “the country’s leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.” Very few of the mainstream media outlets report, however, that Kang Sok Ju, who has been made the new vice premier, was the chief designer of the North Korean nuclear program. He was chosen in 1994 to negotiate the Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration because he was the North’s nuclear chief. From the perspective of the Kim regime — which intended all along to retain its program and achieve a weapons capability — the most senior proponent of the program was the appropriate emissary to the proceedings.

There are a number of indications that Kim Jong-Il is planning to introduce his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his political successor next week. The current Kim was named successor at the last such conference in 1980. Close followers of Pyongyang’s ineffable party media note that in the last six months, Kim Jong-Il has been referred to as “Great Leader,” a title once reserved for his father Kim Il-Sung.  The post of “Dear Leader” is now unoccupied, just in time for the rare party conference. The three men in the new government positions are Kim Jong-Il loyalists: from any standpoint — tensions with the South, the terrible toll of typhoons and flooding this summer, the need to secure a succession — it makes sense for the current Kim to ensure loyalty in his senior ranks.

The logical interpretation of the personnel moves is that they are intended to secure the optimum conditions for Kim’s internal political plans. The men in question are trusted, long-time aides of the regime: that’s why they were associated with the nuclear program to begin with, it’s why they were dispatched for nuclear negotiations in the past, and it’s why they are being shuffled upward now.

It bears reiterating that their record in foreign negotiations was all to Pyongyang’s advantage. They never negotiated in good faith and North Korea never kept the commitments it made. At no time were they or their regime negotiating in order to cultivate good foreign relations — or, in fact, to seek any common objective with the other parties to the talks.

It hasn’t been that long since the Soviet Union collapsed. But today’s mainstream media seem to retain no corporate memory of the dynamics of secretive Communist regimes. Regime succession is a recurring national-security emergency for such governments. Many Western media outlets have picked up on the warning from a Russian diplomat this week that the Koreas are on the brink of conflict. But if the Russians are observing a bustling in North Korea’s national-defense apparatus, that would be perfectly in character for a Communist thugocracy before a landmark party conference. “The wicked flee when none pursueth,” say the Proverbs; it’s much more likely that the Kim regime is maneuvering, in the Communist manner, against anticipated threats to itself rather than taking a vow of “good diplomacy” to improve relations with the U.S.

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Bill Clinton: Giving Carter a Run for His Money

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],’” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.’”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.’”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

Bill Clinton’s noxious comments, complaining that Russian immigrants to Israel pose an obstacle to peace, sounded like the utterances of xenophobes in America who lament that our country is being “overrun” by outsiders. Clinton’s comments were cringe-inducing:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.”

And then to prove that decency and discretion were never Clinton’s strong suits, he cited a conversation between him and Natan Sharansky:

“I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],’” Clinton recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t vote for this, I’m Russian… I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.’”

Clinton responded, “Don’t give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It’s a lot bigger than your jail cell.”

Classy, Bill. Maybe next he’ll go after Elie Wiesel.

As you can imagine, Israelis were not too pleased. Bibi, demonstrating the art of understatement which has marked his political maturation, had this to say:

As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace.

Now with Bill Clinton — it’s always a safe bet that he’s making stuff up. Sharansky’s associates hinted as much. (“Sharansky’s associates were surprised by Clinton’s remarks. The Jewish Agency chairman said, ‘I wasn’t even at Camp David. Clinton may have gotten confused with our conversations three years earlier, when I expressed my doubts over the dictatorial nature of the Palestinian Authority regime.’”)

But, as a colleague observed, the best retort was this:

Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said he felt “great pride” following Clinton’s remarks. Elkin, who a Russian immigrant himself, told Ynet, “I am proud of former President Clinton’s distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years. “We see this in the number of people graduating from IDF officer courses, and unfortunately, in the Second Lebanon War obituaries. We also see it in the struggle for our right to settle in all of the Land of Israel.”

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another, as detailed in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, is that Russians have provided much of the brainpower and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has fueled Israel’s technology boom, transforming Israel’s economy from a socialist basket-case to a vibrant, modern economy.

Why does Clinton say these things? Who knows — maybe he’s tired of Jimmy Carter and his wife getting all the headlines. Or maybe he’s just an undisciplined egomaniac who says whatever pops into his head.

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The Democrat’s Health-Care Wounds: Six Months After the Suicide Mission

The discussion over the past week stimulated by Jay Cost’s claim that health-care reform must be accounted a major part of the desperate woes of Obama and the Democrats led me to go back and look at some of my own posts at the time the bill was passed in the spring. I do this not to claim prescience but to show that the deep damage the bill would do to the president and his party was already in the mix of the public discussion and obvious at the time to anyone who was not deluding himself with hope born from passion for the bill’s goals. The same delusions appear to be at work today in some quarters.

Three weeks before the bill passed, on February 26, in a post called “The Charge of the Democratic Light Brigade,” I wrote: “If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.  It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission?…I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.”

Thus, on the evening the House approved the bill with 219 votes in favor, I wrote: “The passage tonight in the House of Representatives of the Senate’s health-care bill is indeed a historic moment. It draws the brightest ideological and political line between the two parties since the end of the Cold War — which featured a profound conflict of visions about the question of confronting the Soviet Union or accommodating it — and revivifies the Republican party’s role in opposition to the state’s growing encroachment on the particulars of American life. The fighting has only just begun.”

The next day, I wrote a post called Obama’s Pseudo-Achievement: “He and his advisers surveyed the political field after the election of Scott Brown and they saw their own potential epitaph — not in the rejection of his ideas but in the potential exposure of his weakness. A president cannot seem politically weak; much if not most of his ability to act is predicated on the notion that he is the strongest public official in the country. They determined that they had to push health care or die, and they worked their will relentlessly, and they got what they wanted….And yet one must not get carried away. The story here is not that he succeeded against all odds and with the winds against him to push through historic legislation, even though that is what the media would have you believe. The story is that a party holding a 75-seat margin in the House of Representatives was barely able to squeak by with its greatest legislative priority and most devoutly desired policy. That is the salient fact here. What Obama pulled off was a textbook example of raw intra-party discipline; the unpopularity of the measure and its political consequences remain exactly as they were before the vote.”

Hezbollah’s “Soviet” Southern Lebanon

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

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RE: Going Far Beyond Goldstone

David Gerstman (Soccer Dad) e-mailed yesterday to suggest that Jeane J. Kirkpatrick’s 1989 COMMENTARY essay “How the PLO Was Legitimized” demonstrates that the use of diplomacy as another means of waging war against Israel extends back three decades. It began as a technique used by the Soviet Union to assist its clients, and it has been co-opted by the Islamists.

Kirkpatrick’s essay describes how the UN was effectively transformed from a body intended to eliminate violence in international relations to one that effectively licenses it in the name of Orwellian terms like “colonialism,” “imperialism,” and “racism.” The current effort to delegitimize a UN member in connection with its self-defense against double war crimes (firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians to avoid an effective response) is part of a broader pattern that Kirkpatrick described. Her essay is worth (re)reading in connection with Peter Berkowitz’s current article.

David Gerstman (Soccer Dad) e-mailed yesterday to suggest that Jeane J. Kirkpatrick’s 1989 COMMENTARY essay “How the PLO Was Legitimized” demonstrates that the use of diplomacy as another means of waging war against Israel extends back three decades. It began as a technique used by the Soviet Union to assist its clients, and it has been co-opted by the Islamists.

Kirkpatrick’s essay describes how the UN was effectively transformed from a body intended to eliminate violence in international relations to one that effectively licenses it in the name of Orwellian terms like “colonialism,” “imperialism,” and “racism.” The current effort to delegitimize a UN member in connection with its self-defense against double war crimes (firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians to avoid an effective response) is part of a broader pattern that Kirkpatrick described. Her essay is worth (re)reading in connection with Peter Berkowitz’s current article.

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A Times Bouquet for Those Lovable North Koreans

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of one of America’s least-known conflicts: the Korean War. The remarkable thing about Korea is that even at the height of the Cold War, when leftist apologists for the Soviet Union and other Communist aggressors were at their high watermark, in the West there were few if any among them who spent much time criticizing America’s decision to save South Korea after it was invaded in June of 1950. Even in those decades when defenders of the Soviets, Castro, and even Mao were never in short supply, it was hard to find anyone to say a good word about the lunatic regime in Pyongyang, a government so oppressive that it gave dedicated Stalinists the willies. There was little room for debate about how the Korean conflict started or what the consequences for the Korean people would have been had the Communists been allowed to complete their takeover of the entire country. But with the passage of time, memory of these basic facts fade, and for the squishy left there is no topic, no matter how cut and dried, that is not ripe for a revisionist retelling as long as America can be portrayed as the villain. That’s the only way to explain a new book about Korea by Bruce Cumings, the chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and the rapturous review it received in today’s New York Times. Turning history and logic on its head, Cumings believes that not only was American intervention in Korea wrong but the North Koreans were the good guys.

To be fair, Cumings clearly knows a lot more about modern Korean history than most of those Americans who have written about the war. He has a point when he notes that a record of collaboration with the brutal Japanese occupation of the country compromised the South Korean leadership during the first half of the 20th century. But however nasty some of the South Korean leaders were, it is impossible to compare them unfavorably with their Stalinist opponents in the North. Cumings also spends much of his book attempting to paint the American-led United Nations force that defended the South against Communist aggression as genocidal murderers. The strategic bombing of the North exacted a high toll of casualties, but the same could be said of Allied bombings of Germany and Japan during World War Two. But Cumings’s argument isn’t so much with American tactics but rather with its goal of defeating the Communists.

One of the interesting sidelights of the book, touched on with approval in Dwight Garner’s fawning review, is the way the Chicago historian torches the late David Halberstam’s book about Korea. Halberstam, a liberal icon, played a key role in demolishing support for America’s war in Vietnam, but he rightly understood that there could be no ambivalence about his country’s role in saving South Korea. But for a blinkered leftist like Cumings, there are no enemies, no matter how despicable, on the left and no good American wars.

It is Cumings who can’t face the basic truth about Korea. Without American military intervention, the whole of the peninsula would today be under the rule of a maniacal Communist dictatorship that prides itself on starving and oppressing its own people and threatening its neighbors. After a rocky start to life in the midst of the destruction wrought by the North Korean invasion, South Korea has become a democracy with a vibrant economy. The reality of the contrasting fates of the two halves of the Korean peninsula is a testament to the courage of President Truman and the Americans and other UN troops that fought there. It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary liberal intellectual life — demonstrated by Cumings’s book and the Times review — that the impulse to trash America’s past is so strong that it takes precedence over a respect for history’s verdict about Communist aggression in Korea.

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Obama’s Whiplash Diplomacy

The executive director of the Arab American Institute, James Zogby, writes that the Obama-Netanyahu press conference last week gave him “a bad case of whiplash”:

I had fair warning that this visit would be different than the last, reportedly testy, encounter between these two leaders. And so I should have been prepared for the fact that tough love would be replaced by just plain love. I just wasn’t prepared for how much love. And so I confess that I found the apparent public pass Netanyahu received on settlements, the U.S. threat to boycott a summit on Middle East non-proliferation, and all the “unwaverings” and “unbreakables” to be a bit too much to ingest.

Wait until Zogby finds out that the “testy” meeting last March (the one held after-hours, with no photos and no press, with Netanyahu leaving the White House unescorted late at night, having been ambushed by Obama) was actually a “terrific” meeting. That is the description Obama used in his interview with Israeli TV last week — the first he has given to Israeli media in the 18 months of his administration.

It is in fact all a bit whiplash-producing and somewhat reminiscent of the old saying about history in the Soviet Union — there the future was always known; it was the past that kept changing. In Obama’s new narrative, relations with Netanyahu are not only currently excellent but retroactively terrific as well.

Obama’s “unwavering commitments” are becoming the new “let me be clear.” They include his “unwavering” commitments to comprehensive immigration reform (which left Lindsey Graham unconvinced); to NASA (after he slashed its budget); to the gay community (in response to their growing impatience); and to Afghanistan (at least until next July). After canceling the U.S. commitment to build an anti-missile shield in Poland, Obama sent Joe Biden to tell the Poles: “Make no mistake about it: our commitment to Poland is unwavering.” This is the same message Biden delivered to Georgia, even as Russian troops continue their occupation while Obama’s reset proceeds apace. It is the rhetorical response of choice after Obama’s actions or inaction call into question one of his commitments.

After a year of sending signals to the international community that the U.S. commitment to Israel was wavering, it is good that it is unwavering again. But after November 2, whiplash may strike again. It would not be the first time.

The executive director of the Arab American Institute, James Zogby, writes that the Obama-Netanyahu press conference last week gave him “a bad case of whiplash”:

I had fair warning that this visit would be different than the last, reportedly testy, encounter between these two leaders. And so I should have been prepared for the fact that tough love would be replaced by just plain love. I just wasn’t prepared for how much love. And so I confess that I found the apparent public pass Netanyahu received on settlements, the U.S. threat to boycott a summit on Middle East non-proliferation, and all the “unwaverings” and “unbreakables” to be a bit too much to ingest.

Wait until Zogby finds out that the “testy” meeting last March (the one held after-hours, with no photos and no press, with Netanyahu leaving the White House unescorted late at night, having been ambushed by Obama) was actually a “terrific” meeting. That is the description Obama used in his interview with Israeli TV last week — the first he has given to Israeli media in the 18 months of his administration.

It is in fact all a bit whiplash-producing and somewhat reminiscent of the old saying about history in the Soviet Union — there the future was always known; it was the past that kept changing. In Obama’s new narrative, relations with Netanyahu are not only currently excellent but retroactively terrific as well.

Obama’s “unwavering commitments” are becoming the new “let me be clear.” They include his “unwavering” commitments to comprehensive immigration reform (which left Lindsey Graham unconvinced); to NASA (after he slashed its budget); to the gay community (in response to their growing impatience); and to Afghanistan (at least until next July). After canceling the U.S. commitment to build an anti-missile shield in Poland, Obama sent Joe Biden to tell the Poles: “Make no mistake about it: our commitment to Poland is unwavering.” This is the same message Biden delivered to Georgia, even as Russian troops continue their occupation while Obama’s reset proceeds apace. It is the rhetorical response of choice after Obama’s actions or inaction call into question one of his commitments.

After a year of sending signals to the international community that the U.S. commitment to Israel was wavering, it is good that it is unwavering again. But after November 2, whiplash may strike again. It would not be the first time.

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Rewarding Dictators

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

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RE: RE: Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

Emanuele, I understand your enthusiasm for the sport the rest of the world calls football, but I’m a little confused by your argument that the World Cup is good because it allows liberal NPR-types who run down their own countries the rest of the year to engage in a little meaningless nationalist chest-beating. That may provide us with an interesting irony, but it can’t be considered commendable. Confusing sports with politics is bad regardless of whether it is done by totalitarians or democrats, and that is why I insist that wrapping national sports teams in the flag is sheer humbug. While Americans are, unfortunately, as vulnerable to the appeal of sports globaloney, such as the Olympics, as anyone else, for the most part, we much prefer our own team sports to international competitions, and that is all the better. Keeping those flags and nationalist sentiments, which are so easily and wrongly manipulated by tyrannies, out of the realm of sport is much to be preferred.

If, as you suggest, the success of the U.S. team in the World Cup will discourage those who root for American decline in the world, then so much the better. Let the foes of the United States tremble, whether the reason be substantial or not. But the notion you advance, that the possibility of future American dominance in soccer (a sport in which it has lagged behind principally because most Americans don’t care much about it) will illustrate the greatness of the American character, is, while flattering to our vanity, just as much of a humbug as the idea that Eastern-bloc dominance in other sports during the Cold War illustrated the superiority of communism.

Indeed, the best example of this was the “miracle on ice,” when an underdog bunch of American college ice-hockey players defeated the mighty professionals of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. As an American hockey fan, I was thrilled by it. But the widely believed notion that it was an illustration of American greatness or, heaven help us, that it helped win the Cold War, is sheer hyperbole. It was an amazing upset — but just a hockey game. The players on the Soviet hockey team were just athletes in red uniforms, not off-duty Gulag prison guards or KGB agents being bested by all-American G.I. Joes. The outcome had nothing to do with the triumph of American values any more than the numerous defeats inflicted on American squads at other times by that magnificent Soviet team portrayed the preeminence of the totalitarian ideology of their masters in the Kremlin.

While I wish the American team well in the subsequent rounds of the World Cup and encourage our friends around the world — who care more about this game than most of us here do — to root for them if they like, let us not make the mistake of confusing sports with politics or national character. Love of country has many admirable as well as distasteful manifestations. But good or bad, it has nothing to do with soccer or any other sport.

Emanuele, I understand your enthusiasm for the sport the rest of the world calls football, but I’m a little confused by your argument that the World Cup is good because it allows liberal NPR-types who run down their own countries the rest of the year to engage in a little meaningless nationalist chest-beating. That may provide us with an interesting irony, but it can’t be considered commendable. Confusing sports with politics is bad regardless of whether it is done by totalitarians or democrats, and that is why I insist that wrapping national sports teams in the flag is sheer humbug. While Americans are, unfortunately, as vulnerable to the appeal of sports globaloney, such as the Olympics, as anyone else, for the most part, we much prefer our own team sports to international competitions, and that is all the better. Keeping those flags and nationalist sentiments, which are so easily and wrongly manipulated by tyrannies, out of the realm of sport is much to be preferred.

If, as you suggest, the success of the U.S. team in the World Cup will discourage those who root for American decline in the world, then so much the better. Let the foes of the United States tremble, whether the reason be substantial or not. But the notion you advance, that the possibility of future American dominance in soccer (a sport in which it has lagged behind principally because most Americans don’t care much about it) will illustrate the greatness of the American character, is, while flattering to our vanity, just as much of a humbug as the idea that Eastern-bloc dominance in other sports during the Cold War illustrated the superiority of communism.

Indeed, the best example of this was the “miracle on ice,” when an underdog bunch of American college ice-hockey players defeated the mighty professionals of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. As an American hockey fan, I was thrilled by it. But the widely believed notion that it was an illustration of American greatness or, heaven help us, that it helped win the Cold War, is sheer hyperbole. It was an amazing upset — but just a hockey game. The players on the Soviet hockey team were just athletes in red uniforms, not off-duty Gulag prison guards or KGB agents being bested by all-American G.I. Joes. The outcome had nothing to do with the triumph of American values any more than the numerous defeats inflicted on American squads at other times by that magnificent Soviet team portrayed the preeminence of the totalitarian ideology of their masters in the Kremlin.

While I wish the American team well in the subsequent rounds of the World Cup and encourage our friends around the world — who care more about this game than most of us here do — to root for them if they like, let us not make the mistake of confusing sports with politics or national character. Love of country has many admirable as well as distasteful manifestations. But good or bad, it has nothing to do with soccer or any other sport.

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Olbermann to Daily Kos: I Know You Are, but What Am I?

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is leaving the Daily Kos after reading a “diary trashing first me and my colleague Rachel.” You can read about it here and here.

As a friend wrote me, “It’s a bit like the Iran-Iraq or Germany–Soviet Union wars. But who does one root for?” That is an existential question I cannot possibly hope to answer. But watching this all unfold is quite fascinating.

Liberals do seem quite unhappy these days, don’t they? Call it the Obama Effect.

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is leaving the Daily Kos after reading a “diary trashing first me and my colleague Rachel.” You can read about it here and here.

As a friend wrote me, “It’s a bit like the Iran-Iraq or Germany–Soviet Union wars. But who does one root for?” That is an existential question I cannot possibly hope to answer. But watching this all unfold is quite fascinating.

Liberals do seem quite unhappy these days, don’t they? Call it the Obama Effect.

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RE: Mitch Daniels Makes the Rounds

Reihan Salam writes that although he understands that I “am  troubled by the idea of nickel-and-diming national security,” he believes “we need to give serious thought to paring back our commitments, to the extent doing so is consonant with our long-term interests.  … [Like] a growing number of conservatives, including Sen. Tom Coburn, I’m concerned about profligacy in the defense budget.” This is an important debate, which candidates and office holders will have to address.

There are two issues. First, is our defense budget “profligate”? Certainly, there are excesses, and lawmakers such as Rep. John Murtha did a fine job of gumming up the budget with goodies for their constituents. But let’s put this in perspective: our defense budget, thanks to Obama, is below its 45-year average as a percentage of GDP. Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly write:

Compare for a moment the size of the Obama stimulus package in 2009 — nearly $800 billion — with the more than $300 billion Gates has already cut from the Pentagon’s budget and the planned “flat-lining” of defense expenditures in the years ahead. … Defense spending has gone up. But never in our history have we fought wars of this magnitude as cheaply. Take, for example, the percentage of the federal budget allocated to defense: In 1994, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pentagon spending amounted to slightly more than 19 percent of the budget; in 2010, it is the same. And if the administration has its way, that figure will drop to 15.6 percent by 2015. Is any other part of the federal budget getting similarly whacked?

But there is a broader, philosophical question here: do we face one or two threats to our civilization? Conservatives and a great many others agree that there is at least one, the economic: the unsustainable debt burden, the decline in “dynamic destruction,” which is essential to a vibrant economy, the crushing weight of entitlements on future generations, and the resulting atrophying of growth and job creation. If that is the sole emergency, then everything else takes second place — a remote second.

But if you believe there are two threats to America and to the West, a second even more grievous than the first, then it is a different story. The other threat is, of course, that of Islamic jihadism — the actual war on the West. We are witnessing the expansion of that war from conventional battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and from serial bombing runs, sponsored and inspired by jihadist networks, to a nuclear standoff against an Iran. That foe’s influence is increasing and its terrorist agents and allies are capable of inciting violence and instability from Indonesia to Lebanon to the western Sahara.

It would be grand to stand down from our commitments, take a “peace dividend.” But alas, there is no peace. The spending on defense is not optional if we and our allies are to survive. While it is true that our economic vitality is essential to maintain a robust defense, it is equally true that economic prosperity cannot exist in a world torn asunder by Islamic terror and war.

This is an important discussion, and the temptation to recede and husband our resources is strong. It was so after WWI and it was so in the Clinton years. We need to think carefully about what that means and whether we can take a holiday from history.

Reihan Salam writes that although he understands that I “am  troubled by the idea of nickel-and-diming national security,” he believes “we need to give serious thought to paring back our commitments, to the extent doing so is consonant with our long-term interests.  … [Like] a growing number of conservatives, including Sen. Tom Coburn, I’m concerned about profligacy in the defense budget.” This is an important debate, which candidates and office holders will have to address.

There are two issues. First, is our defense budget “profligate”? Certainly, there are excesses, and lawmakers such as Rep. John Murtha did a fine job of gumming up the budget with goodies for their constituents. But let’s put this in perspective: our defense budget, thanks to Obama, is below its 45-year average as a percentage of GDP. Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly write:

Compare for a moment the size of the Obama stimulus package in 2009 — nearly $800 billion — with the more than $300 billion Gates has already cut from the Pentagon’s budget and the planned “flat-lining” of defense expenditures in the years ahead. … Defense spending has gone up. But never in our history have we fought wars of this magnitude as cheaply. Take, for example, the percentage of the federal budget allocated to defense: In 1994, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pentagon spending amounted to slightly more than 19 percent of the budget; in 2010, it is the same. And if the administration has its way, that figure will drop to 15.6 percent by 2015. Is any other part of the federal budget getting similarly whacked?

But there is a broader, philosophical question here: do we face one or two threats to our civilization? Conservatives and a great many others agree that there is at least one, the economic: the unsustainable debt burden, the decline in “dynamic destruction,” which is essential to a vibrant economy, the crushing weight of entitlements on future generations, and the resulting atrophying of growth and job creation. If that is the sole emergency, then everything else takes second place — a remote second.

But if you believe there are two threats to America and to the West, a second even more grievous than the first, then it is a different story. The other threat is, of course, that of Islamic jihadism — the actual war on the West. We are witnessing the expansion of that war from conventional battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and from serial bombing runs, sponsored and inspired by jihadist networks, to a nuclear standoff against an Iran. That foe’s influence is increasing and its terrorist agents and allies are capable of inciting violence and instability from Indonesia to Lebanon to the western Sahara.

It would be grand to stand down from our commitments, take a “peace dividend.” But alas, there is no peace. The spending on defense is not optional if we and our allies are to survive. While it is true that our economic vitality is essential to maintain a robust defense, it is equally true that economic prosperity cannot exist in a world torn asunder by Islamic terror and war.

This is an important discussion, and the temptation to recede and husband our resources is strong. It was so after WWI and it was so in the Clinton years. We need to think carefully about what that means and whether we can take a holiday from history.

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Iran’s Oppressed Workers

Today, progressives across the world mark the international labor movement’s official holiday. As trade unions celebrate their remarkable conquests with parades, demonstrations, and speeches, their Iranian comrades languished in jail, guilty of having sought similar working conditions from their government. As for those labor activists who are still free, the mere attempt to join street demonstrations on May Day is inviting a ruthless response by the Islamic Republic.

Much like the Soviet Union boasted of being “workers’ paradise,” Iran claims to stand for the “oppressed of the earth.” Yet, much like the Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic engages in a great deal of oppression. Iranians suffer on account of their views, their faith, or their ethnicity. They are also targeted by the regime if they seek to organize themselves independently. This applies especially to trade unions, a thorn in the side of the regime and among its most vulnerable victims. Iran’s labor market is stagnant, and it remains relatively competitive by exploiting its workers, who are treated, in effect, as slave labor. Iranian workers often do not get paid. When they do, high inflation significantly erodes the purchasing power of their earnings.

Social legislation permits companies to hire workers on short-term, three-month contracts. Under these conditions, wages are usually below the poverty line, and employers are not obliged to contribute to any social benefits. To avoid giving the social payments, Iranian companies regularly fire workers within the three-month period and then re-hire them. This lamentable state of affairs is compounded by the fact that workers, without independent unions, have no recourse. Their sole means of representation are so-called Islamic unions. These unions, in fact, represent the interests of the regime and its state-owned companies, not the working people.

In the past, workers defied the state through strikes and the establishment of independent unions, much like Solidarity did in Poland in 1980. In 2008, workers struck (in spite of government threats) at the Khodro car factory and at the Haft Tapeh sugar mills. To the Western ear, their demands are far from extravagant. They sought the right to establish independent unions, forbid security forces from storming the plants, halt compulsory overtime, receive benefits linked to productivity, and have their wages linked to the cost of living. They also demanded an end to the iniquitous three-month contract, combined with an end to the practice of running employees through revolving doors to avoid having to make social-welfare payments. In addition, workers sought basic social benefits, including a salary above the poverty line, a reduction of pressures on workers through the expansion of the work force, worker participation in factory committees, and improved measures to protect them from work accidents.

The regime’s response was further repression. Ali Nejati, the leader of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Trade Union, was arrested and kept incommunicado for months. Mansour Osanloo, the leader of the bus drivers’ union, was repeatedly arrested and abused in prison. Jailed on the eve of a delicate eye surgery, he was allowed to go to the hospital after considerable pressure from international organizations but was denied the time needed to recover and immediately sent back to jail. After a prolonged period of detention at Evin, he was transferred, along with a colleague, Ebrahim Madadi, to a common criminals’ ward. They are still there, both being denied basic health care – though Osanloo suffers from a heart condition and Madadi is diabetic. They are frequently held in solitary confinement and denied the right to see their families and their lawyers. Osanloo and Madadi are not the only victims – this week, to discourage May Day demonstrations, the regime rounded up more trade unionists and jailed them as a warning. Their predicament reveals that, even in the field of social justice, repression remains the prevailing theme of the Islamic Revolutionary Republic.

Caring for them should be a foregone conclusion for the European left and America’s labor unions. Promoting their cause should be part of the agenda of those who seek to undermine Iran’s regime and help its fledgling opposition gain strength.

What could be done to help Iran’s unionists?

Though much has been done already, labor unions could seek to further isolate Iran by highlighting the plight of their comrades in international forums like the International Trade Union Federation and its branches. Governments – especially Western governments led by social-democratic parties – should use the International Labor Organization and other international forums to isolate and expel Iran on account of its dismal record. Imprisoned activists such as Osanloo and Madadi should become household names in the struggle for freedom – the European parliament, for example, should consider awarding them with the prestigious Sakharov prize this year.

Iran’s unionists are paying with their freedom, health, and life to demand rights that the Socialist International has considered sacrosanct for over a century. For any decent progressive, this should be a call to action – especially on May 1.

Today, progressives across the world mark the international labor movement’s official holiday. As trade unions celebrate their remarkable conquests with parades, demonstrations, and speeches, their Iranian comrades languished in jail, guilty of having sought similar working conditions from their government. As for those labor activists who are still free, the mere attempt to join street demonstrations on May Day is inviting a ruthless response by the Islamic Republic.

Much like the Soviet Union boasted of being “workers’ paradise,” Iran claims to stand for the “oppressed of the earth.” Yet, much like the Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic engages in a great deal of oppression. Iranians suffer on account of their views, their faith, or their ethnicity. They are also targeted by the regime if they seek to organize themselves independently. This applies especially to trade unions, a thorn in the side of the regime and among its most vulnerable victims. Iran’s labor market is stagnant, and it remains relatively competitive by exploiting its workers, who are treated, in effect, as slave labor. Iranian workers often do not get paid. When they do, high inflation significantly erodes the purchasing power of their earnings.

Social legislation permits companies to hire workers on short-term, three-month contracts. Under these conditions, wages are usually below the poverty line, and employers are not obliged to contribute to any social benefits. To avoid giving the social payments, Iranian companies regularly fire workers within the three-month period and then re-hire them. This lamentable state of affairs is compounded by the fact that workers, without independent unions, have no recourse. Their sole means of representation are so-called Islamic unions. These unions, in fact, represent the interests of the regime and its state-owned companies, not the working people.

In the past, workers defied the state through strikes and the establishment of independent unions, much like Solidarity did in Poland in 1980. In 2008, workers struck (in spite of government threats) at the Khodro car factory and at the Haft Tapeh sugar mills. To the Western ear, their demands are far from extravagant. They sought the right to establish independent unions, forbid security forces from storming the plants, halt compulsory overtime, receive benefits linked to productivity, and have their wages linked to the cost of living. They also demanded an end to the iniquitous three-month contract, combined with an end to the practice of running employees through revolving doors to avoid having to make social-welfare payments. In addition, workers sought basic social benefits, including a salary above the poverty line, a reduction of pressures on workers through the expansion of the work force, worker participation in factory committees, and improved measures to protect them from work accidents.

The regime’s response was further repression. Ali Nejati, the leader of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Trade Union, was arrested and kept incommunicado for months. Mansour Osanloo, the leader of the bus drivers’ union, was repeatedly arrested and abused in prison. Jailed on the eve of a delicate eye surgery, he was allowed to go to the hospital after considerable pressure from international organizations but was denied the time needed to recover and immediately sent back to jail. After a prolonged period of detention at Evin, he was transferred, along with a colleague, Ebrahim Madadi, to a common criminals’ ward. They are still there, both being denied basic health care – though Osanloo suffers from a heart condition and Madadi is diabetic. They are frequently held in solitary confinement and denied the right to see their families and their lawyers. Osanloo and Madadi are not the only victims – this week, to discourage May Day demonstrations, the regime rounded up more trade unionists and jailed them as a warning. Their predicament reveals that, even in the field of social justice, repression remains the prevailing theme of the Islamic Revolutionary Republic.

Caring for them should be a foregone conclusion for the European left and America’s labor unions. Promoting their cause should be part of the agenda of those who seek to undermine Iran’s regime and help its fledgling opposition gain strength.

What could be done to help Iran’s unionists?

Though much has been done already, labor unions could seek to further isolate Iran by highlighting the plight of their comrades in international forums like the International Trade Union Federation and its branches. Governments – especially Western governments led by social-democratic parties – should use the International Labor Organization and other international forums to isolate and expel Iran on account of its dismal record. Imprisoned activists such as Osanloo and Madadi should become household names in the struggle for freedom – the European parliament, for example, should consider awarding them with the prestigious Sakharov prize this year.

Iran’s unionists are paying with their freedom, health, and life to demand rights that the Socialist International has considered sacrosanct for over a century. For any decent progressive, this should be a call to action – especially on May 1.

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