Commentary Magazine


Topic: Soviet Union

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.

Read Less

The South Park Test

I admit it. Until now I have always been a bit of an Islamophobia skeptic. Living in the Middle East, I have no illusions about what radical Islam, given the right kinds of fuel and the right weapons of oppression, can do in the parts of the world under its control, or to immediate neighbors who challenge its reign. And while I share in many Europeans’ concern about the spread of violent Islam’s influence across the Continent, I have never really seen it as cause for panic about the future of Western civilization, or even of Europe. An inveterate optimist, I have a great deal of faith that Europeans, deep down, understand what has made them special and will do what’s needed to defend themselves and their culture. And as for the U.S.? It frankly never occurred to me that there was any danger, not now, not ever. Americans cherish their freedom too much and are too willing to defend it even by force of arms for fans of Jefferson and Paine to be truly worried.

Until now. And all because of South Park.

For those of you who’ve missed it, this week South Park attempted to parody the prophet Muhammad, just as it’s parodied Jesus, God, Moses, and every institution of religion big enough to merit its parody. Yet after an Islamist website posted a veiled threat, to the effect that the creators of South Park would end up like Theo Van Gogh, the film director murdered in Amsterdam for publicly criticizing Islam, the folks at Comedy Central buckled. The episode was removed from the website. For more details about this and similar acts of self-censorship in the past few months, read Ross Douthat’s crucial column in the New York Times.

Something has gone terribly wrong. The core of liberal society is the belief that every new thought, every iconoclasm, every “dangerous” idea, can be uttered somewhere, by someone, as long as it doesn’t openly incite violence — and that every sacred cow is ultimately just a cow. I may watch my tongue about the things I hold sacred, but as long as others have a right to criticize, parody, or publicly rebuke even those things I revere without fear for their lives, I know that society is a free society, and that when the time comes, I too will be protected. (It is the fate of the Jew always to wonder what will happen to him when the mob goes wild. That is why so many Jews are liberals.) Religion, especially, needs to be protected — both its affirmation and its negation — precisely because religion claims to hold in its hands the ultimate truths, on which life and death, war and peace, often turn. And the more power hungry a given religion appears to be, the more we have to protect every person’s right to critique it, whether through parody or public debate. Nor is this just a matter of legal rights: the moment someone feels that his life is in danger because he publicly criticized a religious figure or institution, we are all in trouble.

No cultural institution in our world has embodied this right more than South Park. Aside from being very, very funny (my apologies to the dour souls who disagree), it is also often vile, filled with offensive ideas, language, images, and more. I have often been forced to turn it off, especially if kids are watching. But that’s the whole point of it, as everyone knows. South Park has, until now, been the one place where every holy thing can be made fun of, every taboo broken — especially religion, in the best tradition of Voltaire and Monty Python. Nobody has to watch it if they don’t like it. But it should be out there, somewhere.

With the collapse of South Park‘s credibility as the slayer of all cows, something has been lost, something very deep to the inner logic of liberty. We have caught a glimpse of a world where religion is, well, so sacred as to brook no humor whatsoever. It is a dark world that we escaped several centuries ago, a world where power and claims of ultimate truths fuse together to crush freedom, creativity, and the bold human endeavors that have given us our entire world of scientific and political advancement. In a flash, we moderns are now forced to contend with the myth of our own invincibility: are we so arrogant as to think that modernity can never be undone? (Oh, and another thing: this seems especially ironic at a time when the Catholic Church has been hammered with demands for transparency and accountability an a willingness to defy centuries-old sanctities, yet many of us refuse to demand the same from Islam.)

Many of us have been hoping that the emergence of democracy and liberty around much of the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union could have an impact within the Islamic world as well — that somehow there would emerge a force of religious moderation, a realm of truly free speech, that could some day form the basis of peaceful coexistence and an end to the endless bloodshed. Instead, the battle lines are shifting the other way — and freedom is in retreat. South Park was a temple to the healthy cynicism and pushing of boundaries that have to exist somewhere if we are to feel truly free anywhere. We may hate it, and hate ourselves for enjoying it. But now we need to protect it. Or we, too, like the third-grader South Park recently depicted in a scathing assault on Facebook, will have 0 friends.

I admit it. Until now I have always been a bit of an Islamophobia skeptic. Living in the Middle East, I have no illusions about what radical Islam, given the right kinds of fuel and the right weapons of oppression, can do in the parts of the world under its control, or to immediate neighbors who challenge its reign. And while I share in many Europeans’ concern about the spread of violent Islam’s influence across the Continent, I have never really seen it as cause for panic about the future of Western civilization, or even of Europe. An inveterate optimist, I have a great deal of faith that Europeans, deep down, understand what has made them special and will do what’s needed to defend themselves and their culture. And as for the U.S.? It frankly never occurred to me that there was any danger, not now, not ever. Americans cherish their freedom too much and are too willing to defend it even by force of arms for fans of Jefferson and Paine to be truly worried.

Until now. And all because of South Park.

For those of you who’ve missed it, this week South Park attempted to parody the prophet Muhammad, just as it’s parodied Jesus, God, Moses, and every institution of religion big enough to merit its parody. Yet after an Islamist website posted a veiled threat, to the effect that the creators of South Park would end up like Theo Van Gogh, the film director murdered in Amsterdam for publicly criticizing Islam, the folks at Comedy Central buckled. The episode was removed from the website. For more details about this and similar acts of self-censorship in the past few months, read Ross Douthat’s crucial column in the New York Times.

Something has gone terribly wrong. The core of liberal society is the belief that every new thought, every iconoclasm, every “dangerous” idea, can be uttered somewhere, by someone, as long as it doesn’t openly incite violence — and that every sacred cow is ultimately just a cow. I may watch my tongue about the things I hold sacred, but as long as others have a right to criticize, parody, or publicly rebuke even those things I revere without fear for their lives, I know that society is a free society, and that when the time comes, I too will be protected. (It is the fate of the Jew always to wonder what will happen to him when the mob goes wild. That is why so many Jews are liberals.) Religion, especially, needs to be protected — both its affirmation and its negation — precisely because religion claims to hold in its hands the ultimate truths, on which life and death, war and peace, often turn. And the more power hungry a given religion appears to be, the more we have to protect every person’s right to critique it, whether through parody or public debate. Nor is this just a matter of legal rights: the moment someone feels that his life is in danger because he publicly criticized a religious figure or institution, we are all in trouble.

No cultural institution in our world has embodied this right more than South Park. Aside from being very, very funny (my apologies to the dour souls who disagree), it is also often vile, filled with offensive ideas, language, images, and more. I have often been forced to turn it off, especially if kids are watching. But that’s the whole point of it, as everyone knows. South Park has, until now, been the one place where every holy thing can be made fun of, every taboo broken — especially religion, in the best tradition of Voltaire and Monty Python. Nobody has to watch it if they don’t like it. But it should be out there, somewhere.

With the collapse of South Park‘s credibility as the slayer of all cows, something has been lost, something very deep to the inner logic of liberty. We have caught a glimpse of a world where religion is, well, so sacred as to brook no humor whatsoever. It is a dark world that we escaped several centuries ago, a world where power and claims of ultimate truths fuse together to crush freedom, creativity, and the bold human endeavors that have given us our entire world of scientific and political advancement. In a flash, we moderns are now forced to contend with the myth of our own invincibility: are we so arrogant as to think that modernity can never be undone? (Oh, and another thing: this seems especially ironic at a time when the Catholic Church has been hammered with demands for transparency and accountability an a willingness to defy centuries-old sanctities, yet many of us refuse to demand the same from Islam.)

Many of us have been hoping that the emergence of democracy and liberty around much of the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union could have an impact within the Islamic world as well — that somehow there would emerge a force of religious moderation, a realm of truly free speech, that could some day form the basis of peaceful coexistence and an end to the endless bloodshed. Instead, the battle lines are shifting the other way — and freedom is in retreat. South Park was a temple to the healthy cynicism and pushing of boundaries that have to exist somewhere if we are to feel truly free anywhere. We may hate it, and hate ourselves for enjoying it. But now we need to protect it. Or we, too, like the third-grader South Park recently depicted in a scathing assault on Facebook, will have 0 friends.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: The Cost of Realism

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

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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

To continue reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Containment Has Its Own Costs

The signs are building that administration officials are essentially throwing up their hands when it comes to Iran policy and implicitly conceding defeat. Their offer to hold talks with Tehran predictably went nowhere; that wasted the administration’s first year. The justification for all this futile diplomatic activity was that it would supposedly enhance American credibility to seek crippling sanctions against Iran. No such sanctions are on the horizon; instead what we will get, at best, is more toothless gestures from the UN. With time running out, the only feasible way to stop or at least substantially delay the Iranian nuclear program is through military action. But, as senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy concedes, that option is “off the table.” (She added “in the short term,” but does anyone imagine that the Nobel laureate in the White House is going to start a war in the long term?) Meanwhile, the growing rift between the U.S. and Israel makes it less likely that Israel will risk American wrath by striking Iran on its own. (Israeli officials are said to be worried that “a unilateral strike would cause a break with Washington that would threaten Israeli national interests even more than a nuclear-armed Iran.”)

So where does that leave us? With policy wonks and administration officials increasingly turning to “containment” and “deterrence” as the answer to Iran — a trend noted in this Washington Post article.

Those policies worked against the Soviet Union, but no one should have any illusions that they provide a painless fix to the threat posed by Iran. In the first place, even with the Soviets, there were a few moments when nuclear war was a serious possibility. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? There is no guarantee that a replay with Iran — say a Lebanese Missile Crisis — would be resolved so peaceably. Moreover, even if we avoided World War III, containing the Soviets was hardly bloodless — it cost the lives of nearly a 100,000 American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam.

For a reminder of how difficult containment can be, consider the latest news emanating from the Korean peninsula. There are reports circulating that a South Korean ship that sank on March 26 with the loss of 46 sailors was torpedoed by North Korea. Even if true, South Korea’s options are limited. What’s it going to do — attack a nuclear-armed state? The U.S. faced a similar quandary with the Soviet Union, whose nuclear arsenal gave it a free pass to commit all sorts of aggression against the U.S. and our allies, often by proxy.

The danger is much greater from a nuclear-armed Iran than from a nuclear-armed North Korea. The latter, after all, is a sclerotic state whose leader’s only goal is to stay in power and enjoy various imported delicacies. Iran, by contrast, is a still a relatively young, revolutionary regime ruled by leaders with a fervor to remake the Middle East in accordance with their extremist ideology. Given all the carnage Iran is already responsible for — it has backed some of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq, among other places, and it has been behind the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of American service personnel — it is terrifying to imagine what the region will look like when the mullahs have nukes. But that is precisely where we are headed thanks to the Obama administration’s feckless policies.

The signs are building that administration officials are essentially throwing up their hands when it comes to Iran policy and implicitly conceding defeat. Their offer to hold talks with Tehran predictably went nowhere; that wasted the administration’s first year. The justification for all this futile diplomatic activity was that it would supposedly enhance American credibility to seek crippling sanctions against Iran. No such sanctions are on the horizon; instead what we will get, at best, is more toothless gestures from the UN. With time running out, the only feasible way to stop or at least substantially delay the Iranian nuclear program is through military action. But, as senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy concedes, that option is “off the table.” (She added “in the short term,” but does anyone imagine that the Nobel laureate in the White House is going to start a war in the long term?) Meanwhile, the growing rift between the U.S. and Israel makes it less likely that Israel will risk American wrath by striking Iran on its own. (Israeli officials are said to be worried that “a unilateral strike would cause a break with Washington that would threaten Israeli national interests even more than a nuclear-armed Iran.”)

So where does that leave us? With policy wonks and administration officials increasingly turning to “containment” and “deterrence” as the answer to Iran — a trend noted in this Washington Post article.

Those policies worked against the Soviet Union, but no one should have any illusions that they provide a painless fix to the threat posed by Iran. In the first place, even with the Soviets, there were a few moments when nuclear war was a serious possibility. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? There is no guarantee that a replay with Iran — say a Lebanese Missile Crisis — would be resolved so peaceably. Moreover, even if we avoided World War III, containing the Soviets was hardly bloodless — it cost the lives of nearly a 100,000 American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam.

For a reminder of how difficult containment can be, consider the latest news emanating from the Korean peninsula. There are reports circulating that a South Korean ship that sank on March 26 with the loss of 46 sailors was torpedoed by North Korea. Even if true, South Korea’s options are limited. What’s it going to do — attack a nuclear-armed state? The U.S. faced a similar quandary with the Soviet Union, whose nuclear arsenal gave it a free pass to commit all sorts of aggression against the U.S. and our allies, often by proxy.

The danger is much greater from a nuclear-armed Iran than from a nuclear-armed North Korea. The latter, after all, is a sclerotic state whose leader’s only goal is to stay in power and enjoy various imported delicacies. Iran, by contrast, is a still a relatively young, revolutionary regime ruled by leaders with a fervor to remake the Middle East in accordance with their extremist ideology. Given all the carnage Iran is already responsible for — it has backed some of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq, among other places, and it has been behind the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of American service personnel — it is terrifying to imagine what the region will look like when the mullahs have nukes. But that is precisely where we are headed thanks to the Obama administration’s feckless policies.

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Yet Another Step Backward

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

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Not Realpolitik

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

The New York Times and Rahm Emanuel were spinning this week that Obama was a practitioner of “realpolitik” in the style of George H.W. Bush. I suggested this was poppycock, for there is little that is realistic or hardheaded or frankly effective about the Obama foreign policy. Others agree. In a forum at Foreign Policy magazine, Peter Feaver opines:

Emanuel’s quote is puzzling. President Obama may be more “realpolitik” than George W. Bush in the sense that he has downgraded the place of human rights and support for democracy in his foreign policy. But it is certainly not “realpolitik” to slight the personal relationships of presidential diplomacy — and it would be hard to identify something more unlike George H.W. Bush than this feature of the Obama approach to foreign policy. In any case, the rewards for this alleged “realpolitik” turn are still hard to measure. President Obama is significantly more popular with the general publics in the other great powers (except possibly in Asia), but if measured cold-bloodedly by American “self-interest,” the last President Bush had at least as good and probably more effective and cooperative relations with the governments of those great powers (except possibly with Russia). Relations with Britain, China, France, Germany, India, and Japan were more troubled in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Bob Kagan – like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”) — says he thinks he knows “realpolitik,” and this isn’t it:

It is not a plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons through common agreement by all the world’s powers. And it is not a foreign policy built on the premise that if only the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, this will somehow persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, or persuade China and other reluctant nations in the world to redouble their pressure on Iran to do so. That is idealism of a high order. It is a 21st-century Wilsonian vision. And it is precisely the kind of idealism that realists in the middle of the 20th century rose up to challenge. Realists would point out that the divergent interests of the great powers, not to mention those of Iran, will not be affected in the slightest by marginal cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces.

The confusion no doubt stems from the fact that President Obama is attempting to work with autocratic governments to achieve his ends. But that does not make him Henry Kissinger. When Kissinger pursued diplomacy with China, it was to gain strategic leverage over the Soviet Union. When he sought détente with the Soviets, it was to gain breathing space for the United States after Vietnam. Right or wrong, that was “realpolitik.” Global nuclear disarmament may or may not be a worthy goal, but it is nothing if not idealistic.

It is interesting that the Obami spinners seek refuge in Kissinger (or Metternich) for a role model for the supposedly high-minded, we-are-the-world president. It does, I think, convey a certain nervousness that the country, not to mention the rest of the world, might find the president, well, not very savvy or hard-headed. After all, he frittered away a year on Iranian engagement, is shrinking our defense budget as a share of federal expenditures, and has let lefty lawyers rewrite anti-terror policies from the ACLU handbook. So perhaps they are a bit worried that the president might get tagged as a run-of-the-mill weak-on-national-security liberal. So they’ve come up with label that is as ill-suited a description of Obama’s foreign policy as “moderate” was to describe his domestic policy predilections. And frankly, they aren’t fooling anyone this time around.

Realpolitik would be using the threat of force to corner the mullahs. Realpolitik would be eschewing time-wasting entreaties to the mullahs and instead promoting regime change in Iran. Realpolitik would be bolstering our missile defenses and enhancing our Eastern European alliances to check the Russian bear. Realpolitik would be enhancing rather than straining our relations with Britain, France, Israel, and India. In short, it’s doing what Obama is not.

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Obama Legacy Watch

As Jennifer points out, Syria joined Libya at the Arab League summit this weekend in egging on the Palestinian Arabs to quit the peace process with Israel. There were many ominous references at the summit to the probable failure of the current peace process, but the League reached no unified resolution on a way ahead for the Palestinian question. Arab news outlets derided this lack of resolution as a missed opportunity to declare the peace process dead and take a harder line with Israel. But there was no question among observers that, as Al Jazeera proclaimed, “Israel dominated the summit.”

This isn’t surprising, of course, but in the larger context of regional dynamics, it’s a bad sign. With Iran supporting insurgencies in Yemen and Lebanon, establishing a military presence in the Red Sea, and nearing a nuclear breakout, the summit’s histrionic focus on housing construction in a part of Jerusalem that has never even been on the bargaining table has a somewhat demented air about it.

The League didn’t ignore Iran, however. On Saturday, Egypt’s Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s secretary-general, reiterated his call for a regional negotiating forum with Iran. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan endorsed the Moussa proposal — which includes Turkey as a forum participant — with alacrity. Erdogan himself was present at the summit and made headlines with his official address on Sunday, in which he referred to Israel’s stance on Jerusalem as “madness.” He then pointedly appropriated a biblical allusion — “Jerusalem is the apple of the eye of each and every Muslim” — and pretty much put to rest any doubts about his partisan posture. (Not that there were many doubts remaining after his March 7 proclamation that Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.”)

Barack Obama’s legacy is beginning to emerge. An Al Jazeera editorial writer made this telling statement in a background article on the Arab summit on Friday: “Arab leaders often meet in order to follow U.S. dictates.” We in the U.S. don’t think that’s true, naturally, but the overstatement does get at the underlying truth that U.S. policy has for several decades set boundaries on what the Middle East’s various actors consider possible. In countering the Soviet Union, affirming Israel’s right to exist, containing Iran, and keeping the seaways open, American policy has set the conditions in which the nations of the region operated.

The irresolution of this weekend’s summit is an indication that the Arab League’s members aren’t sure yet what boundaries are implied by Obama’s policy. But after 14 months of it, Turkey’s overtly Islamist posture is hardening and its commitment to secularism is being dismantled. The Arab League is talking seriously about launching a negotiating forum with Iran, precisely because of the impotence of U.S. policy. And the League is pessimistic about the future of the peace process, unified on this point if on no other: that under current conditions, the Palestinians should not agree to rejoin sponsored talks of any kind.

As Jennifer points out, Syria joined Libya at the Arab League summit this weekend in egging on the Palestinian Arabs to quit the peace process with Israel. There were many ominous references at the summit to the probable failure of the current peace process, but the League reached no unified resolution on a way ahead for the Palestinian question. Arab news outlets derided this lack of resolution as a missed opportunity to declare the peace process dead and take a harder line with Israel. But there was no question among observers that, as Al Jazeera proclaimed, “Israel dominated the summit.”

This isn’t surprising, of course, but in the larger context of regional dynamics, it’s a bad sign. With Iran supporting insurgencies in Yemen and Lebanon, establishing a military presence in the Red Sea, and nearing a nuclear breakout, the summit’s histrionic focus on housing construction in a part of Jerusalem that has never even been on the bargaining table has a somewhat demented air about it.

The League didn’t ignore Iran, however. On Saturday, Egypt’s Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s secretary-general, reiterated his call for a regional negotiating forum with Iran. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan endorsed the Moussa proposal — which includes Turkey as a forum participant — with alacrity. Erdogan himself was present at the summit and made headlines with his official address on Sunday, in which he referred to Israel’s stance on Jerusalem as “madness.” He then pointedly appropriated a biblical allusion — “Jerusalem is the apple of the eye of each and every Muslim” — and pretty much put to rest any doubts about his partisan posture. (Not that there were many doubts remaining after his March 7 proclamation that Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.”)

Barack Obama’s legacy is beginning to emerge. An Al Jazeera editorial writer made this telling statement in a background article on the Arab summit on Friday: “Arab leaders often meet in order to follow U.S. dictates.” We in the U.S. don’t think that’s true, naturally, but the overstatement does get at the underlying truth that U.S. policy has for several decades set boundaries on what the Middle East’s various actors consider possible. In countering the Soviet Union, affirming Israel’s right to exist, containing Iran, and keeping the seaways open, American policy has set the conditions in which the nations of the region operated.

The irresolution of this weekend’s summit is an indication that the Arab League’s members aren’t sure yet what boundaries are implied by Obama’s policy. But after 14 months of it, Turkey’s overtly Islamist posture is hardening and its commitment to secularism is being dismantled. The Arab League is talking seriously about launching a negotiating forum with Iran, precisely because of the impotence of U.S. policy. And the League is pessimistic about the future of the peace process, unified on this point if on no other: that under current conditions, the Palestinians should not agree to rejoin sponsored talks of any kind.

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What the Health-Care Bill Means

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 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.

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A Weather Vane Shifts in Lebanon

Walid Jumblatt is one of the wiliest and least predictable politicians in the Middle East. A canny survivor, he has led the tiny Druze community in Lebanon since the late 1970s. He is usually described as a warlord, but he is also the leader of his own political party, the Progressive Socialists. Over the years, he has been aligned both with and against Syria and has taken aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States. He is a charming host and raconteur who, as I discovered during a visit to his Beirut home last year with a group of American journalists, is not afraid of offering outspoken opinions on most subjects under the sun.

In 2007, for example, he publicly referred to Bashar al-Assad — the Syrian dictator and son of the previous Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, who was most likely responsible for the assassination of Walid’s father, Kamal, in 1977 — as a “monkey, snake and a butcher.” Now Jumblatt is saying, in effect, oops, I didn’t mean it:

“In a moment of anger I said inappropriate and illogical comments against him (Assad). Can Syria overcome this page and open a new page? I don’t know,” he told al-Jazeera television.

This is one of the more notable attempts at a retraction in recent history, but, aside from its comic value, it does have some geopolitical significance. Jumblatt, as I mentioned, is known above all for being a survivor, and if he now feels compelled to distance himself from the March 14 coalition (something he has been doing to some degree since 2008) and to propitiate Bashar al-Assad, it is an indication that the balance of power in the Levant is shifting in Assad’s favor. That is bad news, indeed. Assad has shown no willingness to give up his support of terrorist groups (notably Hezbollah and Hamas) or to sever links with Iran. And why should he, when the Obama administration is trying to court him despite his unwillingness to change his ways?

Jumblatt knows which way the wind is blowing. This most sensitive of weather vanes indicates that American interests in the region are suffering serious setbacks. But the administration is probably too busy beating up on our most reliable ally in the area to notice.

Walid Jumblatt is one of the wiliest and least predictable politicians in the Middle East. A canny survivor, he has led the tiny Druze community in Lebanon since the late 1970s. He is usually described as a warlord, but he is also the leader of his own political party, the Progressive Socialists. Over the years, he has been aligned both with and against Syria and has taken aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States. He is a charming host and raconteur who, as I discovered during a visit to his Beirut home last year with a group of American journalists, is not afraid of offering outspoken opinions on most subjects under the sun.

In 2007, for example, he publicly referred to Bashar al-Assad — the Syrian dictator and son of the previous Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, who was most likely responsible for the assassination of Walid’s father, Kamal, in 1977 — as a “monkey, snake and a butcher.” Now Jumblatt is saying, in effect, oops, I didn’t mean it:

“In a moment of anger I said inappropriate and illogical comments against him (Assad). Can Syria overcome this page and open a new page? I don’t know,” he told al-Jazeera television.

This is one of the more notable attempts at a retraction in recent history, but, aside from its comic value, it does have some geopolitical significance. Jumblatt, as I mentioned, is known above all for being a survivor, and if he now feels compelled to distance himself from the March 14 coalition (something he has been doing to some degree since 2008) and to propitiate Bashar al-Assad, it is an indication that the balance of power in the Levant is shifting in Assad’s favor. That is bad news, indeed. Assad has shown no willingness to give up his support of terrorist groups (notably Hezbollah and Hamas) or to sever links with Iran. And why should he, when the Obama administration is trying to court him despite his unwillingness to change his ways?

Jumblatt knows which way the wind is blowing. This most sensitive of weather vanes indicates that American interests in the region are suffering serious setbacks. But the administration is probably too busy beating up on our most reliable ally in the area to notice.

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Words Matter — Until They Don’t

The ever-receding Obama “timelines” for Iran, the lack of a credible threat of serious sanctions, the secretary of state’s public disavowal of an ultimate option, and the persistent presidential silence on the entire topic make it likely that the Obama administration plans to pursue its “dual track” policy (ineffectual “engagement” and ineffectual “pressure”) until the policy is eventually overtaken by events. The fallback will be “deterrence” after Iran passes the nuclear threshold.

The irony is that the discrepancy between the Obama rhetoric and the Obama performance will doom deterrence as well. In his major campaign speech on Iran, Obama promised he would do “everything” in his power to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (in the speech as delivered, he actually repeated the word everything three times — the third time as a stand-alone sentence). Such weapons, he said both before and after he was elected, were “unacceptable.”

At her confirmation hearing, his secretary of state assured the Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration would employ whatever option was ultimately necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons:

KERRY: … Is it the policy of the incoming administration, as a bottom line of our security interests and our policy, that it is unacceptable that Iran has a weapon under any circumstances and that we will take any steps necessary to prevent that or is it simply not desirable? I think, as you said, it’s in no one’s interest, which is less than the formation of the prohibition.

CLINTON: The president-elect has said repeatedly it is unacceptable. It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all of its multitudinous tools to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

As I also said, no option is off the table. So the president-elect has been very clear that it is unacceptable and that is our premise and that is what we are going to be basing our actions on.

In practice, Obama’s policy has been the one favored by Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. In a March 5, 2009, hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on “US Strategy Regarding Iran,” Zbigniew Brzezinski urged a process with no public conditions or time limits, no assertions that force remained an option, and no statement that regime change was a goal. It was, he said, a process that might consume “years” — and warned we should not “become susceptible to advice from interested parties regarding how we are to proceed.” He made it clear that he meant Israel and its advice that a time limit should be set.

Senator Kerry asked if there wasn’t “an automatic timetable thrust on us” — because of “Iran’s own activities and Israel’s perception of those activities, as well as our own intelligence community’s interpretations of those activities.” Brzezinski answered, in essence, “no.” He cited the success of deterrence in the cases of the Soviet Union, China, and India and Pakistan:

The Indians and the Pakistanis have managed to deter each other — knock on wood — so far.

And deterrence, their experience with deterrence gives us some grounds for not being under tremendous time limits.

And, in any case, we know that deterrence is predictable if it works.

Deterrence is a great fallback position, knock on wood, if it works. So there is no need for tremendous time limits. They can just be points on a calendar.

But the effectiveness of deterrence ultimately depends on the credibility of the U.S. promise to come to the defense of states throughout the region — from Israel to Saudi Arabia — threatened by a nuclear Iran. That credibility may not survive a failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Let me be clearer: once you have pledged to do “everything” to prevent an “unacceptable” occurrence, and then you allow it to occur, with no effort other than “smart” diplomacy, your next promise will not be believed. Your credibility will be gone.

The ever-receding Obama “timelines” for Iran, the lack of a credible threat of serious sanctions, the secretary of state’s public disavowal of an ultimate option, and the persistent presidential silence on the entire topic make it likely that the Obama administration plans to pursue its “dual track” policy (ineffectual “engagement” and ineffectual “pressure”) until the policy is eventually overtaken by events. The fallback will be “deterrence” after Iran passes the nuclear threshold.

The irony is that the discrepancy between the Obama rhetoric and the Obama performance will doom deterrence as well. In his major campaign speech on Iran, Obama promised he would do “everything” in his power to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (in the speech as delivered, he actually repeated the word everything three times — the third time as a stand-alone sentence). Such weapons, he said both before and after he was elected, were “unacceptable.”

At her confirmation hearing, his secretary of state assured the Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration would employ whatever option was ultimately necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons:

KERRY: … Is it the policy of the incoming administration, as a bottom line of our security interests and our policy, that it is unacceptable that Iran has a weapon under any circumstances and that we will take any steps necessary to prevent that or is it simply not desirable? I think, as you said, it’s in no one’s interest, which is less than the formation of the prohibition.

CLINTON: The president-elect has said repeatedly it is unacceptable. It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all of its multitudinous tools to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.

As I also said, no option is off the table. So the president-elect has been very clear that it is unacceptable and that is our premise and that is what we are going to be basing our actions on.

In practice, Obama’s policy has been the one favored by Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. In a March 5, 2009, hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on “US Strategy Regarding Iran,” Zbigniew Brzezinski urged a process with no public conditions or time limits, no assertions that force remained an option, and no statement that regime change was a goal. It was, he said, a process that might consume “years” — and warned we should not “become susceptible to advice from interested parties regarding how we are to proceed.” He made it clear that he meant Israel and its advice that a time limit should be set.

Senator Kerry asked if there wasn’t “an automatic timetable thrust on us” — because of “Iran’s own activities and Israel’s perception of those activities, as well as our own intelligence community’s interpretations of those activities.” Brzezinski answered, in essence, “no.” He cited the success of deterrence in the cases of the Soviet Union, China, and India and Pakistan:

The Indians and the Pakistanis have managed to deter each other — knock on wood — so far.

And deterrence, their experience with deterrence gives us some grounds for not being under tremendous time limits.

And, in any case, we know that deterrence is predictable if it works.

Deterrence is a great fallback position, knock on wood, if it works. So there is no need for tremendous time limits. They can just be points on a calendar.

But the effectiveness of deterrence ultimately depends on the credibility of the U.S. promise to come to the defense of states throughout the region — from Israel to Saudi Arabia — threatened by a nuclear Iran. That credibility may not survive a failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Let me be clearer: once you have pledged to do “everything” to prevent an “unacceptable” occurrence, and then you allow it to occur, with no effort other than “smart” diplomacy, your next promise will not be believed. Your credibility will be gone.

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Re: Leveretts Revealed

In case you thought Michael Crowley may have gotten it wrong (really, could any two supposedly sophisticated people have willingly revealed themselves to be pawns of a brutal dictatorship?), or in case you thought the Leveretts really hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of shillery for the butchers of Tehran, think again. They have their own blog, a CONTENTIONS reader informs me. This particular post should be read in full, not so much for the suck-uppery for the University of Tehran or for giddy flattery bestowed on its students, who put American students to shame, tell Flynt and Hillary Mann. No, that’s sort of par for the course for the pair who find Tehran the happiest place on earth. Rather, it is this bit of jaw-dropping propaganda, putting Jane Fonda circa 1972 to shame, which deserves a gander:

Shortly before we arrived in Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Islamic Republic is turning into a “military dictatorship”.  As we drove around Tehran, we looked hard to see a soldier anywhere on the street but did not see a single one—except for a couple at the entrance to the Behest-e Zahra cemetery just south of Tehran, where many of the Iranian soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War are buried.  Over the years, we have spent a lot of time in a lot of Middle Eastern capitals.  We have never been in one—including in Egypt and Israel—that has fewer guys in uniform on the streets than in Tehran right now.

Brutal military repression? What military repression? Amir Taheri, writing recently and not under the thrall of the Tehran regime, reminded us:

The pro-democracy movement had promised that last Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, would be a turning point for the cause of freedom. But Mr. Khamenei’s regime contained the mounting opposition.The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controlled Tehran with the help of tens of thousands of club-wielding street fighters shipped in from all over the country. Opposition marchers, confined to the northern part of the city, were locked into hit-and-run battles with the regime’s professional goons. An opposition attempt at storming the Evin Prison, where more than 3,000 dissidents are being tortured, did not materialize. The would-be liberators failed to break a ring of steel the IRGC threw around the sprawling compound…

For the first time the regime had to transform Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry. The IRGC was in total control. Code-named “Simorgh,” after a bird in Persian mythology, its operation created an atmosphere of war in the divided city. Warned that his life may be in danger, Mr. Khamenei was forced to watch the events on TV rather than take his usual personal tour.

Foggy Bottom isn’t exactly home base for aggressive Iran analysis. But really, it’s well accepted at this point that the IRCG has infiltrated and is now controlling government ministries. But the Leveretts, surrounded by evil, see and hear and speak of none.

The comments below the Leveretts’ inanity are worth a read. One of the Leveretts’ readers remarks: “As far as your jab on Iran being a militarized state — only a fool would have derived at the Clinton’s comments and more importantly the actions of Sepah in the past years that what was meant was that if one drives around Tehran with a government guide s/he will see tanks and soldiers! … Are you two really analysts or politicians?” Hmm. Propagandists, I think.

UPDATE: Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism and Islamism, reacts to the Leverett’s observations: “It is astonishing that people who consider themselves political scientists have concluded that the Revolutionary Guards are not in control because ‘as they drove around Tehran’ they didn’t see in many soldiers in the streets. One wonders: If they had visited the Soviet Union in the 1960s and not seen members of the KGB in the streets, would they have included the USSR was not a police state?”

In case you thought Michael Crowley may have gotten it wrong (really, could any two supposedly sophisticated people have willingly revealed themselves to be pawns of a brutal dictatorship?), or in case you thought the Leveretts really hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of shillery for the butchers of Tehran, think again. They have their own blog, a CONTENTIONS reader informs me. This particular post should be read in full, not so much for the suck-uppery for the University of Tehran or for giddy flattery bestowed on its students, who put American students to shame, tell Flynt and Hillary Mann. No, that’s sort of par for the course for the pair who find Tehran the happiest place on earth. Rather, it is this bit of jaw-dropping propaganda, putting Jane Fonda circa 1972 to shame, which deserves a gander:

Shortly before we arrived in Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Islamic Republic is turning into a “military dictatorship”.  As we drove around Tehran, we looked hard to see a soldier anywhere on the street but did not see a single one—except for a couple at the entrance to the Behest-e Zahra cemetery just south of Tehran, where many of the Iranian soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War are buried.  Over the years, we have spent a lot of time in a lot of Middle Eastern capitals.  We have never been in one—including in Egypt and Israel—that has fewer guys in uniform on the streets than in Tehran right now.

Brutal military repression? What military repression? Amir Taheri, writing recently and not under the thrall of the Tehran regime, reminded us:

The pro-democracy movement had promised that last Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, would be a turning point for the cause of freedom. But Mr. Khamenei’s regime contained the mounting opposition.The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controlled Tehran with the help of tens of thousands of club-wielding street fighters shipped in from all over the country. Opposition marchers, confined to the northern part of the city, were locked into hit-and-run battles with the regime’s professional goons. An opposition attempt at storming the Evin Prison, where more than 3,000 dissidents are being tortured, did not materialize. The would-be liberators failed to break a ring of steel the IRGC threw around the sprawling compound…

For the first time the regime had to transform Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry. The IRGC was in total control. Code-named “Simorgh,” after a bird in Persian mythology, its operation created an atmosphere of war in the divided city. Warned that his life may be in danger, Mr. Khamenei was forced to watch the events on TV rather than take his usual personal tour.

Foggy Bottom isn’t exactly home base for aggressive Iran analysis. But really, it’s well accepted at this point that the IRCG has infiltrated and is now controlling government ministries. But the Leveretts, surrounded by evil, see and hear and speak of none.

The comments below the Leveretts’ inanity are worth a read. One of the Leveretts’ readers remarks: “As far as your jab on Iran being a militarized state — only a fool would have derived at the Clinton’s comments and more importantly the actions of Sepah in the past years that what was meant was that if one drives around Tehran with a government guide s/he will see tanks and soldiers! … Are you two really analysts or politicians?” Hmm. Propagandists, I think.

UPDATE: Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism and Islamism, reacts to the Leverett’s observations: “It is astonishing that people who consider themselves political scientists have concluded that the Revolutionary Guards are not in control because ‘as they drove around Tehran’ they didn’t see in many soldiers in the streets. One wonders: If they had visited the Soviet Union in the 1960s and not seen members of the KGB in the streets, would they have included the USSR was not a police state?”

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Rome and the Romanovs We Are Not

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

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The ADL Is Wrong: Boycotts Can Be Kosher

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

A long simmering dispute about the level of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement going on at the University of California at Irvine has prompted a debate between Jewish groups about the propriety of academic boycotts. After the latest incident in which heckler disrupted a speech being given by Michael Oren — Israel’s ambassador to the United States — at the school’s campus, the Zionist Organization of America has called for donors to cease making contributions to the institution and for students to stop applying to the school. But the Anti-Defamation League says this is a mistake, since such boycotts are a “double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel.”

The problem with UC Irvine goes deeper than just the bunch of loudmouths who interrupted Oren. For a number of years, the Irvine campus’s Muslim Student Union and its leftist allies have made the school a haven of Israel-and-Jew bashing without the university’s administration doing much or anything about it. The result has apparently been the creation of a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. Repeated attempts to get the university to address the grievances of the Jewish community have failed. After years of talking about the problem, the ZOA has apparently concluded that the only thing the school will understand is a boycott that will bring home to them that their indulgence of radical anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements has consequences. The ADL prefers to keep the lines of communications open with the university and, in its usual manner, spends as much time complimenting the administration for the little it has done as it does criticizing them for their obvious failures.

The conflict on campus is sometimes construed as one between free speech and civility. On the one hand, friends of Israel have a right to expect that a campus mafia of Muslim Jew-haters does not disrupt pro-Israel speakers and events, thus protecting the right of the Jews to free speech. That means that anti-Israel events must have the same protection. Yet if the latter descend as they often do, into hate speech against Israelis and Jews, a university that claims to be trying to create a haven of free inquiry must at some point step in and say enough is enough. The dispute here is not between Jews and Arabs who both want to be heard but rather between a democratic Zionist movement on campus that is under siege and a Muslim anti-Zionist movement that holds fundraisers for Hamas terrorists.

The question here is whether, after repeated attempts to get satisfaction, the Jewish community is justified in throwing up its hands and saying that it serves no further purpose to go on supporting a place that allows such a situation to persist — or whether, by contrast, it should continue its quiet diplomacy aimed at flattering or shaming the university into doing the right thing. The ZOA and the ADL, with their very different organizational cultures — the former being rabble-rousing activists at heart and the latter, the quintessential establishment group — are bound to disagree about that.

But no matter whether you think further efforts to improve the situation at UC Irvine are warranted or not, the ADL’s belief that boycotts are inherently wrong cannot be sustained. It is true that in our own time anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements have attempted to create boycotts of Israeli academics and produce and that the Jewish community has rightly decried such despicable campaigns. But these boycotts are wrong not because a desire to isolate any movement or country is inherently evil but rather because it is unjust to apply such measures to a democratic state besieged by terrorists who wish to destroy. In the past, Jews have readily embraced boycotts. Jewish activists once boycotted the Soviet Union and protested any commerce or diplomatic niceties conducted with an anti-Semitic Communist government, which had refused to let Russian Jews immigrate to freedom in Israel or the United States. Jews also boycotted Germany during the 1930s as the Nazis set the stage for the Holocaust. There is also the fact that the vast majority of American Jews were profoundly sympathetic to boycotts of grapes picked by non-union labor as well as those aimed at isolating apartheid-era South Africa. The idea that one cannot boycott evildoers just because leftist extremists wish to wrongly use the same tactic on Israel makes no sense.

Thus, one can argue that the ZOA’s boycott of UC Irvine is unjustified, not helpful, or even premature. But you cannot, as the ADL does, argue that there is something inherently wrong with any boycott. The principle of free speech must protect pro-Israel speakers as well as forums for those who take the other side. But no principle obligates any Jew to attend or contribute to a school where Jews are made to feel uncomfortable or where fundraisers are held for groups that kill Jews.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Joe Biden (not really): “So there I was on the Amtrak, and I was thinking Dick Cheney, God love him, my friend Dick Cheney, he is probably worse than Pol Pot. It was because Democrats opposed the surge that the surge worked. If we had gotten behind the winning strategy, the enemy would have known it was too soft. We needed to oppose it in order for it to succeed.”

The real Joe Biden now says he is happy to thank George W. Bush on Iraq policy. Yes, good thing indeed that Bush was wise enough to ignore everything Biden ever said on the subject.

The real Dick Cheney on the Obami’s claiming credit for Iraq: “If they are going to take credit for [Iraq], fair enough, for what they’ve done while they are there. But it ought to go with a healthy dose of ‘thank you George Bush’ up front.” Then he plays Darth Vader mind games with them — praising the surge in Afghanistan and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The real Liz Cheney asks, “Bipartisanship to what end?” As she notes, there should be little to praise in “bipartisanship” if the goal is to pass a health-care bill that everyone hates. Ceci Connolly notes that what is interesting is the “bad blood” between the White House and Democratic congressional leaders, as well as between the House and Senate. Bill Kristol remarks that the Obami “can’t resist” making partisan digs. And to prove their point, Juan William says Dick Cheney is helping al-Qaeda by criticizing the Obami’s handling of the war against Islamic fascists.

The unfortunately all too real antics of the Congressional Black Caucus: “From 2004 to 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus’s political and charitable wings took in at least $55 million in corporate and union contributions, according to an analysis by the New York Times, an impressive amount even by the standards of a Washington awash in cash. Only $1 million of that went to the caucus’s political action committee; the rest poured into the largely unregulated nonprofit network. . . . But the bulk of the money has been spent on elaborate conventions that have become a high point of the Washington social season, as well as the headquarters building, golf outings by members of Congress and an annual visit to a Mississippi casino resort.” Among the CBC’s pals: “cigarette companies, Internet poker operators, beer brewers and the rent-to-own industry, which has become a particular focus of consumer advocates for its practice of charging high monthly fees for appliances, televisions and computers.”

Flynt Leverett, who was canned by the Bush administration (“Leverett continually missed deadlines and misplaced documents, and the NSC Records office had a long list of his delinquencies. His office was notoriously messy—documents were strewn over chairs, windowsills, the floor, and piled high on his desk … repeatedly missing deadlines and losing important letters was simply not tolerable behavior for an NSC officer, and Leverett was told to leave”), has now become the favorite flack for the mullahs. “The curious dance between Washington’s Iran experts and the foreign government whose actions they are supposedly analyzing has parallels in the ways that totalitarian governments like the Soviet Union and Mao’s China manipulated Western public opinion by only granting access to scholars and policy hands who would toe the party line. Similarly, the Iranian government today decides who in the West will be granted the kind of access that will allow them to speak with authority about the regime to Washington.” (h/t Jeffrey Goldberg)

James Carafano says that he is not surprised that “there would be more killing of high level terrorists than capture for interrogation and trial. That’s because the administration has botched efforts to come up with a coherent program for detention, interrogation, and trial.”

Matt Welch confirms my suspicion that libertarians have principles inconsistent with big-government liberals: “What I do care about, regardless of who’s president, is human freedom and prosperity. And I strongly and consistently suspect that when the government accumulates more power, I and everyone else (except those wielding it) have less of which I seek.” That said, if Republicans gain power and continue the spending jag, libertarians will turn their ire on them too.

Joe Biden (not really): “So there I was on the Amtrak, and I was thinking Dick Cheney, God love him, my friend Dick Cheney, he is probably worse than Pol Pot. It was because Democrats opposed the surge that the surge worked. If we had gotten behind the winning strategy, the enemy would have known it was too soft. We needed to oppose it in order for it to succeed.”

The real Joe Biden now says he is happy to thank George W. Bush on Iraq policy. Yes, good thing indeed that Bush was wise enough to ignore everything Biden ever said on the subject.

The real Dick Cheney on the Obami’s claiming credit for Iraq: “If they are going to take credit for [Iraq], fair enough, for what they’ve done while they are there. But it ought to go with a healthy dose of ‘thank you George Bush’ up front.” Then he plays Darth Vader mind games with them — praising the surge in Afghanistan and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The real Liz Cheney asks, “Bipartisanship to what end?” As she notes, there should be little to praise in “bipartisanship” if the goal is to pass a health-care bill that everyone hates. Ceci Connolly notes that what is interesting is the “bad blood” between the White House and Democratic congressional leaders, as well as between the House and Senate. Bill Kristol remarks that the Obami “can’t resist” making partisan digs. And to prove their point, Juan William says Dick Cheney is helping al-Qaeda by criticizing the Obami’s handling of the war against Islamic fascists.

The unfortunately all too real antics of the Congressional Black Caucus: “From 2004 to 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus’s political and charitable wings took in at least $55 million in corporate and union contributions, according to an analysis by the New York Times, an impressive amount even by the standards of a Washington awash in cash. Only $1 million of that went to the caucus’s political action committee; the rest poured into the largely unregulated nonprofit network. . . . But the bulk of the money has been spent on elaborate conventions that have become a high point of the Washington social season, as well as the headquarters building, golf outings by members of Congress and an annual visit to a Mississippi casino resort.” Among the CBC’s pals: “cigarette companies, Internet poker operators, beer brewers and the rent-to-own industry, which has become a particular focus of consumer advocates for its practice of charging high monthly fees for appliances, televisions and computers.”

Flynt Leverett, who was canned by the Bush administration (“Leverett continually missed deadlines and misplaced documents, and the NSC Records office had a long list of his delinquencies. His office was notoriously messy—documents were strewn over chairs, windowsills, the floor, and piled high on his desk … repeatedly missing deadlines and losing important letters was simply not tolerable behavior for an NSC officer, and Leverett was told to leave”), has now become the favorite flack for the mullahs. “The curious dance between Washington’s Iran experts and the foreign government whose actions they are supposedly analyzing has parallels in the ways that totalitarian governments like the Soviet Union and Mao’s China manipulated Western public opinion by only granting access to scholars and policy hands who would toe the party line. Similarly, the Iranian government today decides who in the West will be granted the kind of access that will allow them to speak with authority about the regime to Washington.” (h/t Jeffrey Goldberg)

James Carafano says that he is not surprised that “there would be more killing of high level terrorists than capture for interrogation and trial. That’s because the administration has botched efforts to come up with a coherent program for detention, interrogation, and trial.”

Matt Welch confirms my suspicion that libertarians have principles inconsistent with big-government liberals: “What I do care about, regardless of who’s president, is human freedom and prosperity. And I strongly and consistently suspect that when the government accumulates more power, I and everyone else (except those wielding it) have less of which I seek.” That said, if Republicans gain power and continue the spending jag, libertarians will turn their ire on them too.

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Wanted: Realism in Nuclear-Arms Policy

Ross Douthat sounds like former UN Ambassador John Bolton in calling out the Obami’s silly, dangerous notion of a nuclear arms-free world. Douthat rightly observes that the premise of denuclearization is flawed:

The American nuclear arsenal doesn’t encourage local arms races; it forestalls them. Remove our nuclear umbrella from the North Pacific, and South Korea and Japan would feel compelled to go nuclear in a hurry. If Iran gets the bomb, the protections afforded by American missiles may be the only way to prevent nuclearization in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. (In the panel immediately following the “Is Zero Possible?” colloquy [at the weekend Munich Security Conference], the Turkish foreign minister declared that his country has no need of nuclear arms — because, he quickly added, “we are part of the NATO umbrella, so that is sufficient.”)

As Douthat notes, ambitious states want nuclear arms for reasons other than direct competition with the U.S. In the case of Iran, the object is regional hegemony and the ability to threaten the annihilation of the Jewish state.

So why do the Obami persist in this dangerous fiction that unarming ourselves will prevent rogue states from going nuclear? Largely, this is the same nuclear-freeze fetish from the Cold War, throughout which liberals, who refused to discern the moral and political difference between the Soviet bloc and the West, sought to identify the weapons as the source of evil and danger. (It is no coincidence that Obama was a big nuclear freeze fan in his college days.) Refusing to hold rogue sates responsible or candidly recognize that all nations are not “equal,” the Left avoids the messy business of discerning our foes’ motives and intentions and holding them, rather than the U.S. or inanimate objects, responsible for dangers in the world.

But part of the issue here is denial and avoidance. As Douthat notes:

The Munich nuclear-abolition panel took place just 24 hours before Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ordered his scientists to forge ahead with uranium enrichment. Faced with yet another round of Iranian brinkmanship, you can understand why Western leaders might prefer to talk about a world without nuclear weapons. By making the issue bigger, more long-term and more theoretical, they can almost make it seem to go away.

Regardless of where the infatuation with eliminating nuclear weapons originated, it is clear that it is not born of “realism” — that is, an appreciation for how the world works and the motives and nature of our foes and competitors. Hillary Clinton tells us ideology is “so yesterday.” But what could be more “yesterday” than dredging up the nuclear-freeze vision of the 1980s — which, if Obama had been paying attention, was discredited when, in the face of the buildup of American military strength, the Soviet Union collapsed.

As Douthat notes: “When it comes to containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the existing American arsenal simply isn’t part of the problem. And if Iran does acquire the bomb, our nuclear deterrent will quickly become an important part of the solution.” But our own nuclear arsenal does give Obama something to talk about when he’s doing nothing to prevent the Iranians from acquiring one of their own.

Ross Douthat sounds like former UN Ambassador John Bolton in calling out the Obami’s silly, dangerous notion of a nuclear arms-free world. Douthat rightly observes that the premise of denuclearization is flawed:

The American nuclear arsenal doesn’t encourage local arms races; it forestalls them. Remove our nuclear umbrella from the North Pacific, and South Korea and Japan would feel compelled to go nuclear in a hurry. If Iran gets the bomb, the protections afforded by American missiles may be the only way to prevent nuclearization in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. (In the panel immediately following the “Is Zero Possible?” colloquy [at the weekend Munich Security Conference], the Turkish foreign minister declared that his country has no need of nuclear arms — because, he quickly added, “we are part of the NATO umbrella, so that is sufficient.”)

As Douthat notes, ambitious states want nuclear arms for reasons other than direct competition with the U.S. In the case of Iran, the object is regional hegemony and the ability to threaten the annihilation of the Jewish state.

So why do the Obami persist in this dangerous fiction that unarming ourselves will prevent rogue states from going nuclear? Largely, this is the same nuclear-freeze fetish from the Cold War, throughout which liberals, who refused to discern the moral and political difference between the Soviet bloc and the West, sought to identify the weapons as the source of evil and danger. (It is no coincidence that Obama was a big nuclear freeze fan in his college days.) Refusing to hold rogue sates responsible or candidly recognize that all nations are not “equal,” the Left avoids the messy business of discerning our foes’ motives and intentions and holding them, rather than the U.S. or inanimate objects, responsible for dangers in the world.

But part of the issue here is denial and avoidance. As Douthat notes:

The Munich nuclear-abolition panel took place just 24 hours before Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ordered his scientists to forge ahead with uranium enrichment. Faced with yet another round of Iranian brinkmanship, you can understand why Western leaders might prefer to talk about a world without nuclear weapons. By making the issue bigger, more long-term and more theoretical, they can almost make it seem to go away.

Regardless of where the infatuation with eliminating nuclear weapons originated, it is clear that it is not born of “realism” — that is, an appreciation for how the world works and the motives and nature of our foes and competitors. Hillary Clinton tells us ideology is “so yesterday.” But what could be more “yesterday” than dredging up the nuclear-freeze vision of the 1980s — which, if Obama had been paying attention, was discredited when, in the face of the buildup of American military strength, the Soviet Union collapsed.

As Douthat notes: “When it comes to containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the existing American arsenal simply isn’t part of the problem. And if Iran does acquire the bomb, our nuclear deterrent will quickly become an important part of the solution.” But our own nuclear arsenal does give Obama something to talk about when he’s doing nothing to prevent the Iranians from acquiring one of their own.

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The Search for the Next Hillary

Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that she will not be with Obama for the long haul has some pondering her replacement. One list ranges from the uninspired (Sen. Richard Lugar, who shares Obama’s yen for non-proliferation deals) to the horrifying (George Mitchell, having offended all parties in the Middle East, can bring his own brand of clueless incompetence to the rest of the world). There is the ever-eager Sen. John Kerry — but could the Democrats risk another Massachusetts Senate seat? (I jest — but just a little.) Intriguing but unlikely is David Petraeus, who one suspects has had quite enough of Obama’s equivocation.

One name not on the list: Bill Clinton. No, seriously, he’s unlikely to get lost in minutiae (as his wife has), allow special envoys to steal the limelight (as his wife has), or repeatedly offend allies (as his wife has). And by selecting another Clinton, Obama would once again keep the Clintons sidelined in the intra-party political wars. Put it this way: we could, and likely will, do worse.

But going through the names, one must conclude that any secretary of state is bound to be as ineffective as Hillary Clinton unless Obama changes his perspective and his game plan. So long as Obama seeks to make America as inoffensive as possible and to downplay our own interests and values for the sake of avoiding confrontation, no secretary of state is going to do much better than Hillary Clinton. Who doubts, after all, that the aversion to Iranian regime change comes directly from Obama? Does anyone imagine our retreat on human rights isn’t part and parcel of Obama’s infatuation with endearing ourselves to despots? It is the president whose cockeyed recollection of the Cold War fails to recognize that our military superiority broke the back of the Soviet Union. It was he who argued in Cairo that Israel owes its legitimacy to the Holocaust and that the Palestinians are analogous to enslaved African-Americans.

So in a very real sense, it doesn’t matter who might succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. We’ve learned once again that what matters is who occupies the Oval Office. And in this case, it’s a president with some very mistaken notions about how the world works.

Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that she will not be with Obama for the long haul has some pondering her replacement. One list ranges from the uninspired (Sen. Richard Lugar, who shares Obama’s yen for non-proliferation deals) to the horrifying (George Mitchell, having offended all parties in the Middle East, can bring his own brand of clueless incompetence to the rest of the world). There is the ever-eager Sen. John Kerry — but could the Democrats risk another Massachusetts Senate seat? (I jest — but just a little.) Intriguing but unlikely is David Petraeus, who one suspects has had quite enough of Obama’s equivocation.

One name not on the list: Bill Clinton. No, seriously, he’s unlikely to get lost in minutiae (as his wife has), allow special envoys to steal the limelight (as his wife has), or repeatedly offend allies (as his wife has). And by selecting another Clinton, Obama would once again keep the Clintons sidelined in the intra-party political wars. Put it this way: we could, and likely will, do worse.

But going through the names, one must conclude that any secretary of state is bound to be as ineffective as Hillary Clinton unless Obama changes his perspective and his game plan. So long as Obama seeks to make America as inoffensive as possible and to downplay our own interests and values for the sake of avoiding confrontation, no secretary of state is going to do much better than Hillary Clinton. Who doubts, after all, that the aversion to Iranian regime change comes directly from Obama? Does anyone imagine our retreat on human rights isn’t part and parcel of Obama’s infatuation with endearing ourselves to despots? It is the president whose cockeyed recollection of the Cold War fails to recognize that our military superiority broke the back of the Soviet Union. It was he who argued in Cairo that Israel owes its legitimacy to the Holocaust and that the Palestinians are analogous to enslaved African-Americans.

So in a very real sense, it doesn’t matter who might succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. We’ve learned once again that what matters is who occupies the Oval Office. And in this case, it’s a president with some very mistaken notions about how the world works.

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From Disgusting to Odd

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

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A Whiff of Desperation in Massachusetts

Byron York relates this amusing account of the latest pull-out-all-the-stops frantic effort by Democrats in Massachusetts:

Frantic over the possibility that a Democrat might lose the race to replace Sen. Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, the Democratic National Committee has sent its top spinner, Hari Sevugan, to the aid of Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, who appears to be rapidly losing ground to Republican Scott Brown. But what can Sevugan do to shore up Coakley’s struggling campaign? Well, he spent his first day on the job trying to tie Brown to Sarah Palin.

Early Monday afternoon, Sevugan sent out an email to reporters featuring a link to a story on the lefty website TPM. The headline: “Is Sarah Palin Avoiding Mass Senate Race?” The story quoted a Democratic strategist saying that “it’s interesting” that Palin is “nowhere to be found in this race.” TPM conceded that GOP sources say there has been “no talk” about Palin visiting Massachusetts. But that didn’t stop Sevugan, who is quoted declaring that Palin’s supporters “are anxious for her to weigh in.” At the top of his email to journalists, Sevugan wrote, “Come on, Sarah, why are you being so shy?”

And that was just the beginning, it seems, of Sevugan’s “scare the voters with Sarah” e-mails. So what does this tells us? Perhaps that the race is in fact much closer than Democrats, already smarting from a run of bad news, can take. Maybe that they’re reduced to high school tactics because the party, a mere year into the presidency of the man who was to revolutionize politics, is mired is sleazy old-school politics and is largely bereft of ideas other than “spend more money and raise taxes.” It might also signify that George W. Bush is about to be replaced by Palin as the Left’s favorite bogey-person. Not that the Left isn’t planning on running against the “Bush economy” this November, but when they need to go to the well to force their netroots off their couches and out of their moms’ basements, Bush may be losing his usefulness.

Now there’s good reason for Democrats not to talk about issues. In the debate, Martha Coakley managed a “Poland is not controlled by the Soviet Union” gaffe. It concerned her opposition to the surge in Afghanistan:

I am not sure there is a way to succeed. If the goal was and the vision in Afghanistan was to go in because we believe the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists, we supported that, I supported that goal. They are gone, they are not there anymore, they are in apparently Yemen and Pakistan. Let’s focus our efforts on where Al Qaeda is.

I think even Joe Biden knows there are al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan, and of course the president supports the surge. But if the goal is to maximize the ultra-Left vote, then I suppose this, too, will get a few netroots off the couch and to the polls.  But then again, conservatives and independents who think the Christmas Day bombing was a wake-up call to get serious about the worldwide threat of Islamic fundamentalists might be charged up too.

We’ll know next week if Coakley’s cynical campaign can stumble across the finish line. If she manages to win by the standard double-digit margin in Massachusetts, all this will fade into memory. If not, Democrats will be in high panic, although it at least might get Harry Reid off the front pages.

Byron York relates this amusing account of the latest pull-out-all-the-stops frantic effort by Democrats in Massachusetts:

Frantic over the possibility that a Democrat might lose the race to replace Sen. Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, the Democratic National Committee has sent its top spinner, Hari Sevugan, to the aid of Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, who appears to be rapidly losing ground to Republican Scott Brown. But what can Sevugan do to shore up Coakley’s struggling campaign? Well, he spent his first day on the job trying to tie Brown to Sarah Palin.

Early Monday afternoon, Sevugan sent out an email to reporters featuring a link to a story on the lefty website TPM. The headline: “Is Sarah Palin Avoiding Mass Senate Race?” The story quoted a Democratic strategist saying that “it’s interesting” that Palin is “nowhere to be found in this race.” TPM conceded that GOP sources say there has been “no talk” about Palin visiting Massachusetts. But that didn’t stop Sevugan, who is quoted declaring that Palin’s supporters “are anxious for her to weigh in.” At the top of his email to journalists, Sevugan wrote, “Come on, Sarah, why are you being so shy?”

And that was just the beginning, it seems, of Sevugan’s “scare the voters with Sarah” e-mails. So what does this tells us? Perhaps that the race is in fact much closer than Democrats, already smarting from a run of bad news, can take. Maybe that they’re reduced to high school tactics because the party, a mere year into the presidency of the man who was to revolutionize politics, is mired is sleazy old-school politics and is largely bereft of ideas other than “spend more money and raise taxes.” It might also signify that George W. Bush is about to be replaced by Palin as the Left’s favorite bogey-person. Not that the Left isn’t planning on running against the “Bush economy” this November, but when they need to go to the well to force their netroots off their couches and out of their moms’ basements, Bush may be losing his usefulness.

Now there’s good reason for Democrats not to talk about issues. In the debate, Martha Coakley managed a “Poland is not controlled by the Soviet Union” gaffe. It concerned her opposition to the surge in Afghanistan:

I am not sure there is a way to succeed. If the goal was and the vision in Afghanistan was to go in because we believe the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists, we supported that, I supported that goal. They are gone, they are not there anymore, they are in apparently Yemen and Pakistan. Let’s focus our efforts on where Al Qaeda is.

I think even Joe Biden knows there are al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan, and of course the president supports the surge. But if the goal is to maximize the ultra-Left vote, then I suppose this, too, will get a few netroots off the couch and to the polls.  But then again, conservatives and independents who think the Christmas Day bombing was a wake-up call to get serious about the worldwide threat of Islamic fundamentalists might be charged up too.

We’ll know next week if Coakley’s cynical campaign can stumble across the finish line. If she manages to win by the standard double-digit margin in Massachusetts, all this will fade into memory. If not, Democrats will be in high panic, although it at least might get Harry Reid off the front pages.

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Europe to Step Up?

For quite a while — for decades, in fact — it has been fashionable to predict the eclipse of American power. What’s changed over the years is the identity of the country that would knock us off the top perch. In the 1930s and for a long time afterward progressive opinion viewed the Soviet Union as the power that would rise to dominance. Then it was Japan. Now it’s China. But another popular claimant for the top spot has also been Europe, especially since European integration has gotten tighter over the course of the last decade. Many pundits expect — and no doubt hope — that the EU will supplant the U.S. as the world’s most influential actor. There are many problems with this analysis but not the least of them is the EU itself, which shows no desire to wield substantial military power and can’t even achieve much policy coherence to make use of the hard and soft power at its disposal.

The latest evidence of this chronic shortcoming is the selection of the EU’s leadership under its new constitution. As the New York Times notes, “The combination of Belgium’s prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, for the bloc’s presidential post and Catherine Ashton, the European commissioner for trade, who is British, as foreign policy chief leaves the Union without the high-profile leadership for which many had yearned.”

It would have been a very different situation if Tony Blair had been chosen for the top spot and if, say, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, had been chosen as the foreign-policy representative. They would have been a high-profile duo who could have maximized European power. So why choose instead two unknowns of little stature or influence? One suspects that the Europeans chose Van Rompuy and Ashton precisely because they are unlikely to threaten national prerogatives over foreign policy. For all their talk of unity and their actions to achieve some in economic policy, European states remain intensely nationalistic when it comes to the core prerogatives of a nation-state, such as defense and foreign policy. They have little desire to subcontract out those responsibilities to bureaucrats in Brussels. As long as that remains the dominant attitude on the continent — and it shows little sign of changing — the nations of the EU will never achieve the aggregate power that, in theory, the size of their population and economy (both larger than those of the U.S.) would entitle them.

For quite a while — for decades, in fact — it has been fashionable to predict the eclipse of American power. What’s changed over the years is the identity of the country that would knock us off the top perch. In the 1930s and for a long time afterward progressive opinion viewed the Soviet Union as the power that would rise to dominance. Then it was Japan. Now it’s China. But another popular claimant for the top spot has also been Europe, especially since European integration has gotten tighter over the course of the last decade. Many pundits expect — and no doubt hope — that the EU will supplant the U.S. as the world’s most influential actor. There are many problems with this analysis but not the least of them is the EU itself, which shows no desire to wield substantial military power and can’t even achieve much policy coherence to make use of the hard and soft power at its disposal.

The latest evidence of this chronic shortcoming is the selection of the EU’s leadership under its new constitution. As the New York Times notes, “The combination of Belgium’s prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, for the bloc’s presidential post and Catherine Ashton, the European commissioner for trade, who is British, as foreign policy chief leaves the Union without the high-profile leadership for which many had yearned.”

It would have been a very different situation if Tony Blair had been chosen for the top spot and if, say, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, had been chosen as the foreign-policy representative. They would have been a high-profile duo who could have maximized European power. So why choose instead two unknowns of little stature or influence? One suspects that the Europeans chose Van Rompuy and Ashton precisely because they are unlikely to threaten national prerogatives over foreign policy. For all their talk of unity and their actions to achieve some in economic policy, European states remain intensely nationalistic when it comes to the core prerogatives of a nation-state, such as defense and foreign policy. They have little desire to subcontract out those responsibilities to bureaucrats in Brussels. As long as that remains the dominant attitude on the continent — and it shows little sign of changing — the nations of the EU will never achieve the aggregate power that, in theory, the size of their population and economy (both larger than those of the U.S.) would entitle them.

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Unilateral Moves and Countermoves

Interviewed by BBC Arabic this weekend, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denied reports that he would seek UN Security Council approval for unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state. Rather, he said, “We will turn to the United Nations and the Security Council to strengthen what has been agreed on in the road map and approved by the Security Council, a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders.”

That may sound innocuous. But in fact, Security Council acquiescence to this proposal would both radically alter the current international position and demolish the already faltering principle that the talks’ outcome should not be prejudiced by unilateral action.

While most of the world already believes the 1967 lines should be the final border, the formal basis for the talks remains Security Council Resolution 242, which says no such thing. This resolution purposefully required an Israeli withdrawal only from “territories” captured in 1967, not “the territories” or “all the territories.” As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted 242, explained, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” America’s then UN ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, similarly said the two omitted words “were not accidental …. the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” This was equally clear to the Soviet Union and Arab states, which is why they unsuccessfully pushed to include those extra words.

Formally, therefore, the final border is subject to negotiations: The Palestinians can seek the 1967 lines, but Israel is free to seek to retain parts of the territories. However, should the council endorse “a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders,” this would no longer be true: Instead, the world would have formally adopted the Palestinian position in a binding resolution — thereby blatantly prejudicing the outcome of the talks.

Ironically, this could force Israel to respond with accelerated unilateral action of its own: settlement construction, and perhaps even formal annexation. A major spur to continued settlement construction in recent years has been the escalating international pressure on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which led Jerusalem to conclude that its only chance of retaining areas it deems critical for its security was to put so many people there that moving them would be impossible. If this pressure switched from de facto to de jure, more aggressive Israeli countermeasures might become necessary.

In contrast, had the world really treated the border as negotiable rather than openly backed the Palestinian position, Israel could have agreed to freeze settlement construction, because creating “facts on the ground” would not have been necessary to protect its interests.

An escalating war of unilateral moves and countermoves would not be conducive to any agreement. That might not disturb Abbas, who has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for dictated rather than negotiated solutions. But it ought to disturb all those Security Council members who claim to view an Israeli-Palestinian agreement as top priority.

Interviewed by BBC Arabic this weekend, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denied reports that he would seek UN Security Council approval for unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state. Rather, he said, “We will turn to the United Nations and the Security Council to strengthen what has been agreed on in the road map and approved by the Security Council, a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders.”

That may sound innocuous. But in fact, Security Council acquiescence to this proposal would both radically alter the current international position and demolish the already faltering principle that the talks’ outcome should not be prejudiced by unilateral action.

While most of the world already believes the 1967 lines should be the final border, the formal basis for the talks remains Security Council Resolution 242, which says no such thing. This resolution purposefully required an Israeli withdrawal only from “territories” captured in 1967, not “the territories” or “all the territories.” As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted 242, explained, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” America’s then UN ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, similarly said the two omitted words “were not accidental …. the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” This was equally clear to the Soviet Union and Arab states, which is why they unsuccessfully pushed to include those extra words.

Formally, therefore, the final border is subject to negotiations: The Palestinians can seek the 1967 lines, but Israel is free to seek to retain parts of the territories. However, should the council endorse “a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders,” this would no longer be true: Instead, the world would have formally adopted the Palestinian position in a binding resolution — thereby blatantly prejudicing the outcome of the talks.

Ironically, this could force Israel to respond with accelerated unilateral action of its own: settlement construction, and perhaps even formal annexation. A major spur to continued settlement construction in recent years has been the escalating international pressure on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which led Jerusalem to conclude that its only chance of retaining areas it deems critical for its security was to put so many people there that moving them would be impossible. If this pressure switched from de facto to de jure, more aggressive Israeli countermeasures might become necessary.

In contrast, had the world really treated the border as negotiable rather than openly backed the Palestinian position, Israel could have agreed to freeze settlement construction, because creating “facts on the ground” would not have been necessary to protect its interests.

An escalating war of unilateral moves and countermoves would not be conducive to any agreement. That might not disturb Abbas, who has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for dictated rather than negotiated solutions. But it ought to disturb all those Security Council members who claim to view an Israeli-Palestinian agreement as top priority.

Read Less




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