Commentary Magazine


Topic: Special Envoy

Flotsam and Jetsam

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.’”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.’”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

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Starstruck Clooney Misses the Point About Disastrous Sudan Policy

George Clooney’s visit to the White House yesterday sent the press corps into something like a swoon as press secretary Robert Gibbs cut short the daily press conference so all present could ogle the actor and pepper him with a few easy questions. Clooney was there to talk to President Obama about the trip he had just taken to southern Sudan, a place that may soon replace Darfur as the focus of fears about the genocidal behavior of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s criminal regime.

To Clooney’s credit, his interest in Sudan seems genuine. He has lent his name and support to the Enough Project (which is run out of the left-wing Center for American Progress), a group that seeks to prevent African genocides such as the ones that have taken place in Darfur and Rwanda. But as much as Clooney’s concern about the imminent threat of war in southern Sudan between the largely Christian inhabitants of the region and the Muslim government in Khartoum is justified, his prescription for preventing it is a bit vague.

As for his reception by President Obama, Clooney was rapturous in describing his joy at what he thought was Obama’s intense interest in the subject — “You could feel the energy in the room” — and the sharpness of his questions. But what Clooney and the similarly starstruck press coverage of his visit failed to understand is that the current mess and the strength of Bashir’s current position stems in no small measure from the lack of “energy” demonstrated by the administration on this issue in the last year and a half. In case Clooney hasn’t noticed, human rights concerns have been accorded the lowest possible foreign policy priority by the Obama administration, as its stances toward Iran and China have demonstrated.

Even more to the point, the president’s special envoy to Sudan, Scot Gration, has placed the United States firmly on the side of appeasing Bashir, to the dismay of many advocates for the Darfuri people. That policy has set up the southern Sudanese as Bashir’s next likely victims, since the only way to ensure that such genocides don’t take place is by helping to get rid of Bashir and his Islamist gang, not by buying them off.

But unfortunately, Clooney’s idea of “robust diplomacy” is not designed to generate much pressure on the White House. He wants America to do something, but he’s not sure what. At one point, Clooney discussed the possibility for increased sanctions on the Sudanese government and the indicted war criminal at its head. At others, he mooted the possibility of a U.S. decision to normalize relations with Bashir and even consent to the suspension of his indictment by the International Criminal Court if the Sudanese leader makes peace with both southern Sudan and Darfur. As a last resort, he spoke of U.S. military action to interdict the Sudanese government’s forces and prevent another mass slaughter.

The answer for Clooney is that Gration has already proved that appeasement won’t work and that getting Bashir off the hook on war-crimes charges will merely give him impunity to commit future atrocities. As for the prospect of American intervention, Clooney ought not to hold his breath waiting for Obama to act. Having come in to office decrying the “neoconservative” agenda of trying to promote human rights and democracy around the world, the president has demonstrated that such causes are unlikely to generate action from this White House.

The disconnect between the sincere desire of liberals like Clooney to do something to help the Sudanese and their unwillingness to draw serious conclusions about how America should deal with Islamist mass murderers like Bashir is the problem here. If Clooney wants something more than lip service from Obama, he’s going to have to confront the administration, not lend his star power to the White House media strategy.

George Clooney’s visit to the White House yesterday sent the press corps into something like a swoon as press secretary Robert Gibbs cut short the daily press conference so all present could ogle the actor and pepper him with a few easy questions. Clooney was there to talk to President Obama about the trip he had just taken to southern Sudan, a place that may soon replace Darfur as the focus of fears about the genocidal behavior of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s criminal regime.

To Clooney’s credit, his interest in Sudan seems genuine. He has lent his name and support to the Enough Project (which is run out of the left-wing Center for American Progress), a group that seeks to prevent African genocides such as the ones that have taken place in Darfur and Rwanda. But as much as Clooney’s concern about the imminent threat of war in southern Sudan between the largely Christian inhabitants of the region and the Muslim government in Khartoum is justified, his prescription for preventing it is a bit vague.

As for his reception by President Obama, Clooney was rapturous in describing his joy at what he thought was Obama’s intense interest in the subject — “You could feel the energy in the room” — and the sharpness of his questions. But what Clooney and the similarly starstruck press coverage of his visit failed to understand is that the current mess and the strength of Bashir’s current position stems in no small measure from the lack of “energy” demonstrated by the administration on this issue in the last year and a half. In case Clooney hasn’t noticed, human rights concerns have been accorded the lowest possible foreign policy priority by the Obama administration, as its stances toward Iran and China have demonstrated.

Even more to the point, the president’s special envoy to Sudan, Scot Gration, has placed the United States firmly on the side of appeasing Bashir, to the dismay of many advocates for the Darfuri people. That policy has set up the southern Sudanese as Bashir’s next likely victims, since the only way to ensure that such genocides don’t take place is by helping to get rid of Bashir and his Islamist gang, not by buying them off.

But unfortunately, Clooney’s idea of “robust diplomacy” is not designed to generate much pressure on the White House. He wants America to do something, but he’s not sure what. At one point, Clooney discussed the possibility for increased sanctions on the Sudanese government and the indicted war criminal at its head. At others, he mooted the possibility of a U.S. decision to normalize relations with Bashir and even consent to the suspension of his indictment by the International Criminal Court if the Sudanese leader makes peace with both southern Sudan and Darfur. As a last resort, he spoke of U.S. military action to interdict the Sudanese government’s forces and prevent another mass slaughter.

The answer for Clooney is that Gration has already proved that appeasement won’t work and that getting Bashir off the hook on war-crimes charges will merely give him impunity to commit future atrocities. As for the prospect of American intervention, Clooney ought not to hold his breath waiting for Obama to act. Having come in to office decrying the “neoconservative” agenda of trying to promote human rights and democracy around the world, the president has demonstrated that such causes are unlikely to generate action from this White House.

The disconnect between the sincere desire of liberals like Clooney to do something to help the Sudanese and their unwillingness to draw serious conclusions about how America should deal with Islamist mass murderers like Bashir is the problem here. If Clooney wants something more than lip service from Obama, he’s going to have to confront the administration, not lend his star power to the White House media strategy.

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Cleaning Up After Mitchell and Obama

The Washington Post tells us that Dennis Ross is cultivating a “back channel” to Israeli officials to minimize the damage done by George Mitchell, the decidedly Israel-hostile State Department, and the president. Now the Post doesn’t put it quite that bluntly. But it comes close:

Ross’s role, described by officials and other sources close to the process, is highly sensitive because it might be seen as undercutting the mission of George J. Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace. Virtually no one interviewed would agree to be quoted by name because of such concerns. …

Sources in both the United States and Israel said that Ross has provided an element that had been missing from the bilateral relationship, which has been rocky since Obama took office.

But of course, if Obama really enjoyed a warm relationship with, or was even respected and trusted by, the Israeli government, no alternative channel would be needed, nor would the administration need to recite its bribes … er, promises … in writing to prevent the direct negotiations from unraveling.

But is Ross accomplishing anything? It doesn’t appear so. To be fair, he’s handicapped by the flawed approach that the president has clung stubbornly to, namely, the fixation on a settlement moratorium and a willful disregard of the PA’s inability and unwillingness to take the essential steps needed (e.g., recognition of the Jewish state) to reach a meaningful peace deal.

Ross may have convinced himself that things would be much worse were it not for his soothing presence, an unprovable hypothesis that one suspects is nevertheless necessary if one is to justify serving in an administration such as this. But frankly, all this remains a dangerous sideshow. As Abbas waits for instructions from his overseers at the Arab League, and Obama’s promises must be documented (we hope a notary is not required as well), those centrifuges keep spinning in Iran. No back channel to repair that debacle-in-the-making.

The Washington Post tells us that Dennis Ross is cultivating a “back channel” to Israeli officials to minimize the damage done by George Mitchell, the decidedly Israel-hostile State Department, and the president. Now the Post doesn’t put it quite that bluntly. But it comes close:

Ross’s role, described by officials and other sources close to the process, is highly sensitive because it might be seen as undercutting the mission of George J. Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace. Virtually no one interviewed would agree to be quoted by name because of such concerns. …

Sources in both the United States and Israel said that Ross has provided an element that had been missing from the bilateral relationship, which has been rocky since Obama took office.

But of course, if Obama really enjoyed a warm relationship with, or was even respected and trusted by, the Israeli government, no alternative channel would be needed, nor would the administration need to recite its bribes … er, promises … in writing to prevent the direct negotiations from unraveling.

But is Ross accomplishing anything? It doesn’t appear so. To be fair, he’s handicapped by the flawed approach that the president has clung stubbornly to, namely, the fixation on a settlement moratorium and a willful disregard of the PA’s inability and unwillingness to take the essential steps needed (e.g., recognition of the Jewish state) to reach a meaningful peace deal.

Ross may have convinced himself that things would be much worse were it not for his soothing presence, an unprovable hypothesis that one suspects is nevertheless necessary if one is to justify serving in an administration such as this. But frankly, all this remains a dangerous sideshow. As Abbas waits for instructions from his overseers at the Arab League, and Obama’s promises must be documented (we hope a notary is not required as well), those centrifuges keep spinning in Iran. No back channel to repair that debacle-in-the-making.

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Empty Promises to Bibi

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Democrats are in trouble: “If voters think the economy’s gotten worse under a Democratic President they’re going to vote Republican. Add in the Democrats’ enthusiasm issues and you have the formula for the big GOP victory that’s likely on the way.”

Obama is in trouble when his base-rousing appeals are annoying the base. “‘I think it is a remarkably condescending message,’ said Darcy Burner, the executive director of ProgressCongress.org and the Progressive Congress Action Fund. Progressives, she said, continue to be deeply involved in policy and in politics and are not at all lethargic or disengaged. ‘The fact that they are frustrated and discouraged has as much to do with the rhetoric coming out of the White House as anything else,’ she said. ‘And this is the latest example of that.’” When Burner and Rubin agree, it’s not a good sign for Dems.

The non-peace talks are hanging by a thread, and their collapse would mean trouble for Obama and his “smart” diplomacy: “Special Envoy George Mitchell, his deputy David Hale, and the NSC’s Dan Shapiro left Monday for the Middle East to try to hold together the direct peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas won’t say whether he will leave the talks until next week, following the end of the Israeli settlement moratorium. The U.S. was ‘disappointed’ in the Israeli decision, Crowley said.” You get the feeling its panic time at Foggy Bottom and in the White House.

The Rahm Emanuel brand is in trouble if he can’t get his own tenant to let him back in his Chicago house. Not even to live in the basement. Live in the basement?!

Obama must be in more trouble than we thought if his disapproval rating is 55 percent in the state that launched his presidential run.

The blame-Bush gambit is in trouble: “Portman, budget director and U.S. trade representative in Bush’s administration, leads Democrat Lee Fisher 50 percent to 37 percent barely more than one month before the November 2 congressional election. … The poll found a majority of Ohio voters brushed aside Democratic charges that Portman would represent a return to the failed economic policies of Bush, with 60 percent saying his work with Bush made no difference in their vote.”

No wonder the Obami are in such trouble. Emanuel was apparently under the belief that “the White House must govern principally through the [New York] Times.” OK, that’s scary.

Hotline: “Democrats See Old Bulls in Trouble.”

The economy is still in trouble: “September consumer confidence sagged to its lowest levels since February, driven by deteriorating labor market and business conditions, according to a private report released Tuesday. The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes fell to 48.5 in September from a revised 53.2 in August. ‘September’s pull-back in confidence was due to less favorable business and labor market conditions, coupled with a more pessimistic short-term outlook, ‘said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. …  ‘Overall, consumers’ confidence in the state of the economy remains quite grim,’ Franco said.”

The Democrats are in trouble: “If voters think the economy’s gotten worse under a Democratic President they’re going to vote Republican. Add in the Democrats’ enthusiasm issues and you have the formula for the big GOP victory that’s likely on the way.”

Obama is in trouble when his base-rousing appeals are annoying the base. “‘I think it is a remarkably condescending message,’ said Darcy Burner, the executive director of ProgressCongress.org and the Progressive Congress Action Fund. Progressives, she said, continue to be deeply involved in policy and in politics and are not at all lethargic or disengaged. ‘The fact that they are frustrated and discouraged has as much to do with the rhetoric coming out of the White House as anything else,’ she said. ‘And this is the latest example of that.’” When Burner and Rubin agree, it’s not a good sign for Dems.

The non-peace talks are hanging by a thread, and their collapse would mean trouble for Obama and his “smart” diplomacy: “Special Envoy George Mitchell, his deputy David Hale, and the NSC’s Dan Shapiro left Monday for the Middle East to try to hold together the direct peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas won’t say whether he will leave the talks until next week, following the end of the Israeli settlement moratorium. The U.S. was ‘disappointed’ in the Israeli decision, Crowley said.” You get the feeling its panic time at Foggy Bottom and in the White House.

The Rahm Emanuel brand is in trouble if he can’t get his own tenant to let him back in his Chicago house. Not even to live in the basement. Live in the basement?!

Obama must be in more trouble than we thought if his disapproval rating is 55 percent in the state that launched his presidential run.

The blame-Bush gambit is in trouble: “Portman, budget director and U.S. trade representative in Bush’s administration, leads Democrat Lee Fisher 50 percent to 37 percent barely more than one month before the November 2 congressional election. … The poll found a majority of Ohio voters brushed aside Democratic charges that Portman would represent a return to the failed economic policies of Bush, with 60 percent saying his work with Bush made no difference in their vote.”

No wonder the Obami are in such trouble. Emanuel was apparently under the belief that “the White House must govern principally through the [New York] Times.” OK, that’s scary.

Hotline: “Democrats See Old Bulls in Trouble.”

The economy is still in trouble: “September consumer confidence sagged to its lowest levels since February, driven by deteriorating labor market and business conditions, according to a private report released Tuesday. The Conference Board, an industry group, said its index of consumer attitudes fell to 48.5 in September from a revised 53.2 in August. ‘September’s pull-back in confidence was due to less favorable business and labor market conditions, coupled with a more pessimistic short-term outlook, ‘said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. …  ‘Overall, consumers’ confidence in the state of the economy remains quite grim,’ Franco said.”

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Man Bites Dog: Frank Talk About Islamist Hate in the Times

So much is wrong about the New York Times’s coverage of Jewish issues and Israel in particular. As John points out, this morning’s broadside against the funding of Jewish charities in the West Bank is an especially egregious example of the way this newspaper’s editorial agenda on Israel is allowed to distort the news pages.

But along with the avalanche of the bad, there is, every now and then, some good, such as Edward Rothstein’s column in today’s Arts section. Given the way things usually go at the Times, one might expect his essay reviewing two new books on anti-Semitism to stick to deploring the anti-Semites of the past while leaving out of the argument contemporary Jew-haters, especially those in the Muslim world and others who single Israel out for special treatment. But to Rothstein’s great credit, he hones in on the way criticisms of the state of Israel veer into traditional anti-Semitism: “There is a wildly exaggerated scale of condemnation, in which extremes of contempt confront a country caricatured as the world’s worst enemy of peace; such attacks (and the use of Nazi analogies) are beyond evidence and beyond pragmatic political debate or protest. Israel’s autonomy — its very presence — is the problem.”

Even better, after rightly analogizing the upsurge in anti-Semitism in the Islamic world to the history of the Nazis, Rothstein goes after Hannah Rosenthal, President Obama’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism. Last week in a speech in Kazakhstan, Rosenthal claimed that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were similar straits of hatred. But, as Rothstein points out, not only are they not the same thing, the latter is a concept invented to defend Islamists against the consequences of the hatred that they have propagated:

Islamophobia is a concept developed within the last two decades by those who wish to elevate Islam’s reputation in the West; anti-Semitism was a concept eagerly embraced and expanded by haters of Jews. One was constructed by a group’s supporters, the other by a group’s enemies. Moreover, much of what is characterized as Islamophobia today arises out of taking seriously the impassioned claims of doctrinal allegiance made by Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters. Anti-Semitism, though, has nothing to do with any claims at all.

Wisdom and frank talk about Islamist hate are rare these days. They are even more so at the Times.

So much is wrong about the New York Times’s coverage of Jewish issues and Israel in particular. As John points out, this morning’s broadside against the funding of Jewish charities in the West Bank is an especially egregious example of the way this newspaper’s editorial agenda on Israel is allowed to distort the news pages.

But along with the avalanche of the bad, there is, every now and then, some good, such as Edward Rothstein’s column in today’s Arts section. Given the way things usually go at the Times, one might expect his essay reviewing two new books on anti-Semitism to stick to deploring the anti-Semites of the past while leaving out of the argument contemporary Jew-haters, especially those in the Muslim world and others who single Israel out for special treatment. But to Rothstein’s great credit, he hones in on the way criticisms of the state of Israel veer into traditional anti-Semitism: “There is a wildly exaggerated scale of condemnation, in which extremes of contempt confront a country caricatured as the world’s worst enemy of peace; such attacks (and the use of Nazi analogies) are beyond evidence and beyond pragmatic political debate or protest. Israel’s autonomy — its very presence — is the problem.”

Even better, after rightly analogizing the upsurge in anti-Semitism in the Islamic world to the history of the Nazis, Rothstein goes after Hannah Rosenthal, President Obama’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism. Last week in a speech in Kazakhstan, Rosenthal claimed that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were similar straits of hatred. But, as Rothstein points out, not only are they not the same thing, the latter is a concept invented to defend Islamists against the consequences of the hatred that they have propagated:

Islamophobia is a concept developed within the last two decades by those who wish to elevate Islam’s reputation in the West; anti-Semitism was a concept eagerly embraced and expanded by haters of Jews. One was constructed by a group’s supporters, the other by a group’s enemies. Moreover, much of what is characterized as Islamophobia today arises out of taking seriously the impassioned claims of doctrinal allegiance made by Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters. Anti-Semitism, though, has nothing to do with any claims at all.

Wisdom and frank talk about Islamist hate are rare these days. They are even more so at the Times.

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It’s the Security Arrangements, Stupid

If U.S. envoy George Mitchell is truly “frustrated” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to give “clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state,” as Haaretz reported this week, then Washington needs a new envoy — because this one clearly doesn’t understand the most basic requirements of an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Mitchell apparently views Netanyahu’s behavior as sheer obstructionism; Jennifer cited it as an encouraging sign of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to “knuckle under to Obama.” But the truth is that Netanyahu genuinely doesn’t know how much territory he might be willing to cede — and cannot know until he receives the answer to another critical question: what security arrangements will be put in place in the vacated territory? The more robust these arrangements are, the more territory Israel could concede without endangering itself.

That is precisely why Netanyahu urged that security arrangements be one of the first two items discussed in the indirect talks Mitchell is mediating (he proposed water as the other). Mitchell, however, wanted borders to come first, in the bizarre belief that borders should have nothing to do with security arrangements. In his view, the latter is a secondary issue that can be dealt with later.

But having seen what happened when his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did exactly that, Netanyahu is rightly wary of falling into this trap. Olmert, trusting in his strong relationship with former president George W. Bush, made generous territorial concessions up front, offering the Palestinians some 93 percent of the territories with 1:1 swaps to compensate for the rest. But when he then presented the extensive security arrangements that he deemed necessary to mitigate the risks of these concessions, he discovered that not only did the Palestinians reject them but so did Washington. And the Obama administration is not likely to be more supportive of Israel’s security concerns than Bush was.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, currently the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, hit the nail on the head in an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, in which he explained his response to people who ask whether Netanyahu is “prepared for a Palestinian state.”

“I say, ‘yes, in the right circumstances.’ And they say, ‘Well, you’re qualifying it.’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to qualify it.’

The truth is that if the circumstances are right – and those circumstances, from the point of view of Israel, are about their long-term security – then yes, I think people are prepared to recognize that a Palestinian state is the right solution.

But if you can’t deal with the security issue, the circumstances aren’t right.”

Mitchell, however, has evidently not grasped this salient fact. It’s not clear whether he actually thinks there’s no need to take Israel’s security concerns into account or whether, despite the rampant terror that every previous Israeli withdrawal has spawned, he still hasn’t realized that withdrawals entail real risks and that therefore Israel must know what security arrangements will be put in place before it can decide how much additional territory to vacate. Either way, he is clearly unfit for his job.

If U.S. envoy George Mitchell is truly “frustrated” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to give “clear answers on the borders of the future Palestinian state,” as Haaretz reported this week, then Washington needs a new envoy — because this one clearly doesn’t understand the most basic requirements of an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Mitchell apparently views Netanyahu’s behavior as sheer obstructionism; Jennifer cited it as an encouraging sign of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to “knuckle under to Obama.” But the truth is that Netanyahu genuinely doesn’t know how much territory he might be willing to cede — and cannot know until he receives the answer to another critical question: what security arrangements will be put in place in the vacated territory? The more robust these arrangements are, the more territory Israel could concede without endangering itself.

That is precisely why Netanyahu urged that security arrangements be one of the first two items discussed in the indirect talks Mitchell is mediating (he proposed water as the other). Mitchell, however, wanted borders to come first, in the bizarre belief that borders should have nothing to do with security arrangements. In his view, the latter is a secondary issue that can be dealt with later.

But having seen what happened when his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did exactly that, Netanyahu is rightly wary of falling into this trap. Olmert, trusting in his strong relationship with former president George W. Bush, made generous territorial concessions up front, offering the Palestinians some 93 percent of the territories with 1:1 swaps to compensate for the rest. But when he then presented the extensive security arrangements that he deemed necessary to mitigate the risks of these concessions, he discovered that not only did the Palestinians reject them but so did Washington. And the Obama administration is not likely to be more supportive of Israel’s security concerns than Bush was.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, currently the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, hit the nail on the head in an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, in which he explained his response to people who ask whether Netanyahu is “prepared for a Palestinian state.”

“I say, ‘yes, in the right circumstances.’ And they say, ‘Well, you’re qualifying it.’ And I say, ‘You’ve got to qualify it.’

The truth is that if the circumstances are right – and those circumstances, from the point of view of Israel, are about their long-term security – then yes, I think people are prepared to recognize that a Palestinian state is the right solution.

But if you can’t deal with the security issue, the circumstances aren’t right.”

Mitchell, however, has evidently not grasped this salient fact. It’s not clear whether he actually thinks there’s no need to take Israel’s security concerns into account or whether, despite the rampant terror that every previous Israeli withdrawal has spawned, he still hasn’t realized that withdrawals entail real risks and that therefore Israel must know what security arrangements will be put in place before it can decide how much additional territory to vacate. Either way, he is clearly unfit for his job.

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Success Without Victory

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

We finally have the perfect (and poetic) telling of the Tipper and Al saga.

Obama finally tries to undo some of the damage wrought by his troop-pullout deadline: “We did not say, starting in July 2011, suddenly there will be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. … We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. … We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.” Now he just needs an affirmative statement that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.

The voters finally get to grade Obama and the Democrats in November. They won’t be getting a B+: “This year’s low approval ratings for Congress are a potentially ominous sign for President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. Gallup has found greater party seat change in Congress in midterm elections when Congress has had low approval ratings.” Congress has a 20 percent approval rating; in 1994, Democrats scored 23 percent and lost 53 seats.

Congress should finally defund this position: “Rashad Hussain, America’s special envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Saudi-based body formed in 1969 to ‘protect’ Jerusalem from the Israelis, announced a new title this week for President Barack Obama. According to Hussain, Obama is America’s ‘Educator-in-Chief on Islam.’” Unfortunately, until we have a new president, there’s nothing to be done — other than object loudly to this: “Hussain has now divulged that the U.S. will support the OIC in the latter’s United Nations effort to criminalize ‘defamation of religion’ — widely perceived as a measure to suppress criticism of Muslim practices that violate human rights.”

Will the Washington Post finally admit that the paper was snookered into hiring David Weigel as an authentic conservative voice? The latest: he apologizes to readers — for comments made on the lefty Journolist. Ahh … doesn’t that meant that … ? Even the Post should be able to figure that out now.

Will Democrats (and the rest of the country) finally be rid of Harry Reid? “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Nevada shows [Sharon] Angle earning 48% support, while Reid, the state’s longtime Democratic senator, picks up 41% of the vote.”

Jonathan Chait finally stumbles onto the truth. On Rand Paul’s obfuscation regarding the BP fund: “He’s intellectually honest enough that he doesn’t want to lie about his views. But he’s not quite intellectually honest enough to actually say what his views are. So he just keeps talking about issues related to the question without answering it.”

We finally have the perfect (and poetic) telling of the Tipper and Al saga.

Obama finally tries to undo some of the damage wrought by his troop-pullout deadline: “We did not say, starting in July 2011, suddenly there will be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. … We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. … We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.” Now he just needs an affirmative statement that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.

The voters finally get to grade Obama and the Democrats in November. They won’t be getting a B+: “This year’s low approval ratings for Congress are a potentially ominous sign for President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. Gallup has found greater party seat change in Congress in midterm elections when Congress has had low approval ratings.” Congress has a 20 percent approval rating; in 1994, Democrats scored 23 percent and lost 53 seats.

Congress should finally defund this position: “Rashad Hussain, America’s special envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Saudi-based body formed in 1969 to ‘protect’ Jerusalem from the Israelis, announced a new title this week for President Barack Obama. According to Hussain, Obama is America’s ‘Educator-in-Chief on Islam.’” Unfortunately, until we have a new president, there’s nothing to be done — other than object loudly to this: “Hussain has now divulged that the U.S. will support the OIC in the latter’s United Nations effort to criminalize ‘defamation of religion’ — widely perceived as a measure to suppress criticism of Muslim practices that violate human rights.”

Will the Washington Post finally admit that the paper was snookered into hiring David Weigel as an authentic conservative voice? The latest: he apologizes to readers — for comments made on the lefty Journolist. Ahh … doesn’t that meant that … ? Even the Post should be able to figure that out now.

Will Democrats (and the rest of the country) finally be rid of Harry Reid? “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Nevada shows [Sharon] Angle earning 48% support, while Reid, the state’s longtime Democratic senator, picks up 41% of the vote.”

Jonathan Chait finally stumbles onto the truth. On Rand Paul’s obfuscation regarding the BP fund: “He’s intellectually honest enough that he doesn’t want to lie about his views. But he’s not quite intellectually honest enough to actually say what his views are. So he just keeps talking about issues related to the question without answering it.”

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The Audacity of Nope

Today in New Orleans, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman lifted President Obama’s six-month ban on deepwater drilling:

Government lawyers told Feldman that ban was based on findings in a U.S. report following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig off the Louisiana coast in April.

“The court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium,” Feldman said in his 22-page decision. “The blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”

The U.S. will appeal. In response to the ruling, drilling companies’ shares jumped; Obama’s slumped. This is shaping up to be an exceptionally bad day for the administration. First, the Rolling Stone article exposes the ugly disconnect that has emerged between top civilian and military leaders. Now, the president learns the limitations of executive decree.

It doesn’t end there, however. In Pakistan, where Fareed Zakaria had assured us of “Obama’s Foreign Policy Success,” the prime minister has announced plans to move forward on importing natural gas from Iran, in defiance of Washington’s wishes:

Pakistan’s prime minister promised Tuesday to go ahead with a plan to import natural gas from Iran even if the U.S. levies additional sanctions against the Mideast country.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s comments came two days after the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, cautioned Pakistan not to “overcommit” itself to the deal because it could run afoul of new sanctions against Iran being finalized by Congress.

As if Islamabad wasn’t causing us enough trouble by failing to crack down adequately on the Taliban both in Pakistan and on its border.

This is what it looks like after moral authority erodes and leaves material authority hanging by a thread. In Afghanistan, Obama’s focus has been on finishing up, not winning. In the Gulf of Mexico, it’s been about optics. And in Iran, it’s been about respecting the bad guys. None of that will prove effective among those who know their vital interests to be tied up in what the U.S. has been treating as peripheral concerns.

Up until now, nothing has managed to sway the president from his ideological course and stylistic approach. There is little reason to think the latest succession of mishaps will be any different. If Obama and company have access to a course-correction mechanism, they’re sure holding out for as long as they can. The administration that swore never to let a crisis go to waste has certainly been given plenty to work with.

Today in New Orleans, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman lifted President Obama’s six-month ban on deepwater drilling:

Government lawyers told Feldman that ban was based on findings in a U.S. report following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig off the Louisiana coast in April.

“The court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium,” Feldman said in his 22-page decision. “The blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”

The U.S. will appeal. In response to the ruling, drilling companies’ shares jumped; Obama’s slumped. This is shaping up to be an exceptionally bad day for the administration. First, the Rolling Stone article exposes the ugly disconnect that has emerged between top civilian and military leaders. Now, the president learns the limitations of executive decree.

It doesn’t end there, however. In Pakistan, where Fareed Zakaria had assured us of “Obama’s Foreign Policy Success,” the prime minister has announced plans to move forward on importing natural gas from Iran, in defiance of Washington’s wishes:

Pakistan’s prime minister promised Tuesday to go ahead with a plan to import natural gas from Iran even if the U.S. levies additional sanctions against the Mideast country.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s comments came two days after the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, cautioned Pakistan not to “overcommit” itself to the deal because it could run afoul of new sanctions against Iran being finalized by Congress.

As if Islamabad wasn’t causing us enough trouble by failing to crack down adequately on the Taliban both in Pakistan and on its border.

This is what it looks like after moral authority erodes and leaves material authority hanging by a thread. In Afghanistan, Obama’s focus has been on finishing up, not winning. In the Gulf of Mexico, it’s been about optics. And in Iran, it’s been about respecting the bad guys. None of that will prove effective among those who know their vital interests to be tied up in what the U.S. has been treating as peripheral concerns.

Up until now, nothing has managed to sway the president from his ideological course and stylistic approach. There is little reason to think the latest succession of mishaps will be any different. If Obama and company have access to a course-correction mechanism, they’re sure holding out for as long as they can. The administration that swore never to let a crisis go to waste has certainly been given plenty to work with.

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The Military vs. Obama

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

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Why Are We Making It Harder for Our Military to Win in Afghanistan?

In a clip played on Fox News Sunday, General Stanley McChrystal explained that the effort to force the Taliban out of Kandahar is slow going: “I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally anticipated, and so I think it will take a number of months for this to play out.  And I think it’s more important we get it right than we get it fast.”

It turns out this has much to do with our civilian officials. Bill Kristol reveals the time line that Obama imposed on our troops and that conservative critics loudly panned is, indeed, part of the problem:

KRISTOL:  I was at a dinner this week with about a dozen experts on Afghanistan, most of whom have been there for quite some time and quite recently, bipartisan group, all of them supportive of the effort, but many very close to the Obama administration, and the non- governmental organizations and the like, and I was amazed by the consensus on two things. One, the time line.  We are paying a much bigger price for the time line over there than a lot of us thought we would when Obama announced…

WALLACE:  The time when we begin pulling troops out in July of 2011.

KRISTOL:  We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it.  Over there it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone’s got to hedge and cut their deals.

I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, “Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay.”

The next problem is that our State Department, specifically special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, is hindering the effort:

The second thing is diplomatically, politically, we’re not doing our job over there.  The military is doing a good job.  General McChrystal’s right to say let’s get it right rather than doing it quickly.  And I think on the whole that General McChrystal certainly knows what he’s doing.

The diplomatic effort — and this is coming from people who are sympathetic, who are on the soft power side of things, who are, you know, from liberal non-governmental organizations — is that our effort has been bad.  It’s not just that we lack a reliable partner there.

Richard Holbrooke, the senior diplomat who’s in charge of it — everyone agrees that it’s been a fiasco.  He’s not — he can’t set foot there because Karzai doesn’t get along with him.  Ambassador Eikenberry doesn’t get along with General McChrystal.  He doesn’t get along either — Eikenberry, that is — with Karzai.  All the burden has fallen on the military.

This is unconscionable. Why, if there is widespread consensus, do Holbrooke and Eikenberry remain? Is Obama’s relationship with the military so bad that he does not understand or appreciate that his own administration is undercutting the war effort?

When the time line was announced, I observed that we would have to win in Afghanistan despite our commander in chief. It is absurd that our military labors under such a handicap, made even more burdensome by incompetent and obnoxious emissaries of the president. It is time for the latter to go and for Obama to fix his errors. However, his political hacks insist on reiterating the president’s faulty and counterproductive strategy. On Meet the Press, David Axelrod had this to say:

Well, the president made it clear that we can’t make an open-ended commitment there, that the Afghan government and the Afghan people have to take responsibility themselves, and their army, their security.  And their civil institutions have to take responsibility.  We–he is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of, of next year, and that is–continues to be the plan, and we’re going to pursue that on that schedule.

The administration keeps this up, and Obama will bear the responsibility for losing a war he deemed critical.

In a clip played on Fox News Sunday, General Stanley McChrystal explained that the effort to force the Taliban out of Kandahar is slow going: “I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally anticipated, and so I think it will take a number of months for this to play out.  And I think it’s more important we get it right than we get it fast.”

It turns out this has much to do with our civilian officials. Bill Kristol reveals the time line that Obama imposed on our troops and that conservative critics loudly panned is, indeed, part of the problem:

KRISTOL:  I was at a dinner this week with about a dozen experts on Afghanistan, most of whom have been there for quite some time and quite recently, bipartisan group, all of them supportive of the effort, but many very close to the Obama administration, and the non- governmental organizations and the like, and I was amazed by the consensus on two things. One, the time line.  We are paying a much bigger price for the time line over there than a lot of us thought we would when Obama announced…

WALLACE:  The time when we begin pulling troops out in July of 2011.

KRISTOL:  We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it.  Over there it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone’s got to hedge and cut their deals.

I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, “Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay.”

The next problem is that our State Department, specifically special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, is hindering the effort:

The second thing is diplomatically, politically, we’re not doing our job over there.  The military is doing a good job.  General McChrystal’s right to say let’s get it right rather than doing it quickly.  And I think on the whole that General McChrystal certainly knows what he’s doing.

The diplomatic effort — and this is coming from people who are sympathetic, who are on the soft power side of things, who are, you know, from liberal non-governmental organizations — is that our effort has been bad.  It’s not just that we lack a reliable partner there.

Richard Holbrooke, the senior diplomat who’s in charge of it — everyone agrees that it’s been a fiasco.  He’s not — he can’t set foot there because Karzai doesn’t get along with him.  Ambassador Eikenberry doesn’t get along with General McChrystal.  He doesn’t get along either — Eikenberry, that is — with Karzai.  All the burden has fallen on the military.

This is unconscionable. Why, if there is widespread consensus, do Holbrooke and Eikenberry remain? Is Obama’s relationship with the military so bad that he does not understand or appreciate that his own administration is undercutting the war effort?

When the time line was announced, I observed that we would have to win in Afghanistan despite our commander in chief. It is absurd that our military labors under such a handicap, made even more burdensome by incompetent and obnoxious emissaries of the president. It is time for the latter to go and for Obama to fix his errors. However, his political hacks insist on reiterating the president’s faulty and counterproductive strategy. On Meet the Press, David Axelrod had this to say:

Well, the president made it clear that we can’t make an open-ended commitment there, that the Afghan government and the Afghan people have to take responsibility themselves, and their army, their security.  And their civil institutions have to take responsibility.  We–he is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of, of next year, and that is–continues to be the plan, and we’re going to pursue that on that schedule.

The administration keeps this up, and Obama will bear the responsibility for losing a war he deemed critical.

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Encouraging the Mullahs, Not Iranian Democracy Activists

Roxana Saberi, who was locked up in Evin prison for 100 days, writes — pleads, really — for the West to take human rights seriously. She explains that on Sunday, five Kurdish political activists were executed. You might have missed it (I did) because, as usual, our government is mute. She argues:

If the international community fails to condemn such atrocities, Iran’s regime will continue to trample on the basic rights of individuals, many of whom have been detained simply for peacefully standing up for universal human rights. It is common for Tehran’s prisoners — including journalists, bloggers, women’s rights campaigners, student activists and adherents of the minority Baha’i faith — to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and “propaganda against Islam” or the regime.

She makes a key point: Tehran cares what is said about it in the free media and struggles to keep negative accounts from its own citizens. In other words, our quietude only aids in the regime’s repression. See, the West doesn’t care. How bad can things be if the Obama administration still wants to talk to us? Our silence both emboldens the oppressor and disheartens the oppressed.

Saberi makes an excellent suggestion:

As the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear program, it should also make human rights a first-tier issue. When the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva next month, Washington and the European Union should lead calls for a resolution setting up a mechanism to investigate human rights atrocities in Iran during the past year. A bigger push should be made to send a U.N. special envoy on human rights to Iran and to aid Iranians, including the many journalists forced to flee their country out of fear of persecution.

But perhaps even more important than government efforts is the outcry of ordinary people worldwide. When everyday citizens speak out against Iran’s human rights violations, Tehran has a tougher time asserting that their calls have been masterminded by foreign governments.

But what are the chances that is going to happen? This administration let Iran into the Commission on the Status of Women with nary a peep. We continue to explain that sanctions are only a means to get the regime back to the bargaining table. The notion that we should undermine the mullahs or attempt to make the regime a pariah in the international community appears not to be under consideration. So rather than empower Iranian political dissidents and encourage journalists and activists, we encourage the mullahs to continue their reign of brutality. After all, if the West isn’t going to object, why not?

Roxana Saberi, who was locked up in Evin prison for 100 days, writes — pleads, really — for the West to take human rights seriously. She explains that on Sunday, five Kurdish political activists were executed. You might have missed it (I did) because, as usual, our government is mute. She argues:

If the international community fails to condemn such atrocities, Iran’s regime will continue to trample on the basic rights of individuals, many of whom have been detained simply for peacefully standing up for universal human rights. It is common for Tehran’s prisoners — including journalists, bloggers, women’s rights campaigners, student activists and adherents of the minority Baha’i faith — to be held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to an attorney as they try to defend themselves against fabricated charges such as espionage and “propaganda against Islam” or the regime.

She makes a key point: Tehran cares what is said about it in the free media and struggles to keep negative accounts from its own citizens. In other words, our quietude only aids in the regime’s repression. See, the West doesn’t care. How bad can things be if the Obama administration still wants to talk to us? Our silence both emboldens the oppressor and disheartens the oppressed.

Saberi makes an excellent suggestion:

As the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear program, it should also make human rights a first-tier issue. When the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva next month, Washington and the European Union should lead calls for a resolution setting up a mechanism to investigate human rights atrocities in Iran during the past year. A bigger push should be made to send a U.N. special envoy on human rights to Iran and to aid Iranians, including the many journalists forced to flee their country out of fear of persecution.

But perhaps even more important than government efforts is the outcry of ordinary people worldwide. When everyday citizens speak out against Iran’s human rights violations, Tehran has a tougher time asserting that their calls have been masterminded by foreign governments.

But what are the chances that is going to happen? This administration let Iran into the Commission on the Status of Women with nary a peep. We continue to explain that sanctions are only a means to get the regime back to the bargaining table. The notion that we should undermine the mullahs or attempt to make the regime a pariah in the international community appears not to be under consideration. So rather than empower Iranian political dissidents and encourage journalists and activists, we encourage the mullahs to continue their reign of brutality. After all, if the West isn’t going to object, why not?

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RE: The Shocking Rashad Hussain Interview

No doubt alarmed by the Rashad Hussain interview, the State Department has provided a transcript and an audio recording of the interview that departs in significant respects from the interview that was printed at the Asharq Al-Awsat website. As a preliminary matter, one has to wonder whether there is utility in speaking to such publications if the words of our special envoy are simply converted to anti-American and pro-Palestinian talking points. It is not clear whether the State Department will be requesting a retraction/correction.

What is different? Most clearly Hussain does not bash the Bush administration. In fact, when asked about overcoming hostility caused by the Bush administration, he says:

What we are really concerned about and moving forward on is implementing new areas of cooperation. Just to give you an example, to be fair to the previous administration, the envoy to the OIC was something that President Bush announced towards the end of his administration, so we are looking to go forward and really build on that and to make sure that the cooperation between the envoy and Muslim communities around the world is based on a whole range of issues, and some of those I’ve discussed with you.

However, as I indicated in my earlier post, the premise of the question — that the U.S. is responsible for hostility — is nowhere rebutted by Hussain, who is supposed to be representing the U.S., after all.

The Palestinian-Israeli question, however, is still the focus of Hussain’s pitch in the State Department version of the transcript. When asked what can be done about criticism of the U.S. “for its standing by Israel,” Hussain does not assert that Israel is an ally nor suggest that there is any other cause of hostility. (Iran perhaps? Syria?) He praises George Mitchell and coos about the two-state solution. His answer as to how to “renew the Islamic world’s confidence in the USA” is a bit strange:

The main thing which is going to improve relations between the United States and Muslims around the world is first of all when we make it clear that we have created a framework of cooperation and that our cooperation will not simply be based on one or two issues such as violent extremism, and that the United States makes it clear that we recognize that this is an issue where Muslims reject violent extremism and terrorism. That is the first step. But another step will be to really show results in a number of areas and those include working towards solving the political conflicts. The United States is working to get out of Iraq and the same thing we can say about Afghanistan. The United States is working tirelessly on a solution with the parties involved on the Middle East issue, but we’ve also implemented programs in the area of education where we’ve increased exchanges, in the area of health, we’re working on polio eradication, we’ve cooperated before Hajj on H1N1.  The President just held an entrepreneurship summit as you know, and we have many forums for interfaith dialogue. So we think that as we continue to develop these areas and Muslims and all people around the world see progress, then we’ll have a good basis for restoring positive relations.

Do all Muslims really reject “violent extremism and terrorism”? Why isn’t Hussain making a pitch to defend Muslims, who are the primary victims of Islamic terror? And is the message for Afghanistan — recall that we are now in the business of reassuring President Karzai — really like the one for  Iraq, i.e., that we are “getting out”?

But it is his answer on Sami Al-Arian that remains the most questionable:

You know in that case that I said very clearly on the panel that I wasn’t commenting on any of the specific allegations on him but I was making a comment about the process that was used in that case. And I think that in many of the cases which I’ve talked about, for example Chaplain Yee, the case of Brandon Mayfield, that the outcomes that have resulted in the United States, for example in both of those cases resulting in the two that were accused of being freed for example, that the justice system has fairly resolved the outcome in those cases. And I think that in America we have one of the most — we have the most just and process-oriented legal systems in the world, and I am very confident that we’ll continue in this way and we’ll continue to produce just outcomes.

This version is arguably worse than the original one. Here he seems to be reiterating that the prosecution was tainted in some respect. What is he saying about “the process used in that case”? Again, he doesn’t deny that such an allegation is shameful.

It is fair to exonerate Hussain of Bush-bashing. But this version remains problematic for the reasons stated earlier. Hussain seems to that think his job is to conceal the relationship with Israel, downplay our war in Afghanistan, minimize the focus on terrorism, and be utterly silent on Iran. This is the message we are transmitting to the “Muslim World.”

No doubt alarmed by the Rashad Hussain interview, the State Department has provided a transcript and an audio recording of the interview that departs in significant respects from the interview that was printed at the Asharq Al-Awsat website. As a preliminary matter, one has to wonder whether there is utility in speaking to such publications if the words of our special envoy are simply converted to anti-American and pro-Palestinian talking points. It is not clear whether the State Department will be requesting a retraction/correction.

What is different? Most clearly Hussain does not bash the Bush administration. In fact, when asked about overcoming hostility caused by the Bush administration, he says:

What we are really concerned about and moving forward on is implementing new areas of cooperation. Just to give you an example, to be fair to the previous administration, the envoy to the OIC was something that President Bush announced towards the end of his administration, so we are looking to go forward and really build on that and to make sure that the cooperation between the envoy and Muslim communities around the world is based on a whole range of issues, and some of those I’ve discussed with you.

However, as I indicated in my earlier post, the premise of the question — that the U.S. is responsible for hostility — is nowhere rebutted by Hussain, who is supposed to be representing the U.S., after all.

The Palestinian-Israeli question, however, is still the focus of Hussain’s pitch in the State Department version of the transcript. When asked what can be done about criticism of the U.S. “for its standing by Israel,” Hussain does not assert that Israel is an ally nor suggest that there is any other cause of hostility. (Iran perhaps? Syria?) He praises George Mitchell and coos about the two-state solution. His answer as to how to “renew the Islamic world’s confidence in the USA” is a bit strange:

The main thing which is going to improve relations between the United States and Muslims around the world is first of all when we make it clear that we have created a framework of cooperation and that our cooperation will not simply be based on one or two issues such as violent extremism, and that the United States makes it clear that we recognize that this is an issue where Muslims reject violent extremism and terrorism. That is the first step. But another step will be to really show results in a number of areas and those include working towards solving the political conflicts. The United States is working to get out of Iraq and the same thing we can say about Afghanistan. The United States is working tirelessly on a solution with the parties involved on the Middle East issue, but we’ve also implemented programs in the area of education where we’ve increased exchanges, in the area of health, we’re working on polio eradication, we’ve cooperated before Hajj on H1N1.  The President just held an entrepreneurship summit as you know, and we have many forums for interfaith dialogue. So we think that as we continue to develop these areas and Muslims and all people around the world see progress, then we’ll have a good basis for restoring positive relations.

Do all Muslims really reject “violent extremism and terrorism”? Why isn’t Hussain making a pitch to defend Muslims, who are the primary victims of Islamic terror? And is the message for Afghanistan — recall that we are now in the business of reassuring President Karzai — really like the one for  Iraq, i.e., that we are “getting out”?

But it is his answer on Sami Al-Arian that remains the most questionable:

You know in that case that I said very clearly on the panel that I wasn’t commenting on any of the specific allegations on him but I was making a comment about the process that was used in that case. And I think that in many of the cases which I’ve talked about, for example Chaplain Yee, the case of Brandon Mayfield, that the outcomes that have resulted in the United States, for example in both of those cases resulting in the two that were accused of being freed for example, that the justice system has fairly resolved the outcome in those cases. And I think that in America we have one of the most — we have the most just and process-oriented legal systems in the world, and I am very confident that we’ll continue in this way and we’ll continue to produce just outcomes.

This version is arguably worse than the original one. Here he seems to be reiterating that the prosecution was tainted in some respect. What is he saying about “the process used in that case”? Again, he doesn’t deny that such an allegation is shameful.

It is fair to exonerate Hussain of Bush-bashing. But this version remains problematic for the reasons stated earlier. Hussain seems to that think his job is to conceal the relationship with Israel, downplay our war in Afghanistan, minimize the focus on terrorism, and be utterly silent on Iran. This is the message we are transmitting to the “Muslim World.”

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The Shocking Rashad Hussain Interview

A friend of COMMENTARY calls my attention to this interview with the controversial Rashad Hussain, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. You will recall that his nomination raised concerns when his comments alleging a “political” motivation for prosecuting Sami Al-Arian and his attendance at CAIR events came to light. (He then attempted to cover up the comments.) As our friend notes, “This must be read to be believed … it cannot be parodied.”

We start from the context — a foreign, Arabic publication. It is to this audience that he skewers — without justification or basis in fact — the Bush administration:

Q) Do you think it will be easy to overcome the hostility in the Islamic world towards certain US policies, especially in light of the actions taken under the previous US administration?

A) We are concerned about this but we are determined to move forward, without looking to the past and the negative effects of this, in order to erase the hostile feelings caused by the administration of former President George W. Bush. There is now a suitable opportunity to overcome the past, and open a new page in relations between the US and the people in the Islamic region.

This is not, to say the least, what we expect our envoys to communicate to foreign audiences. And then there is the substance of his remarks. Hostile feelings caused by the Bush administration’s policies, he says? Which were those — the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which Obama has continued? The focus on human rights, which Obama has ignored? And notice the assignment of blame to the country he pretends to represent, not to the bad actors — Syria and Iran, for example — that continue to promote terror and brutalize their people. It appears that Hussain is telling the Muslims that the real source of trouble in the Middle East was George W. Bush.

But it is obsession with the peace process as the key to ending such “hostility” and the conviction that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of our woes that are the most jarring — and perhaps revelatory of the administration he represents. He offers this:

Q) How do you intend to impose your strategy to develop relations with the Islamic world?

A) By implementing the recommendations made in the speech by US President Obama in Cairo, which represents a clear strategy to promote relations with the Islamic world, as this speech covered all political, social, and economic aspects. We have already begun work to implement what was said in the speech, whether through political action to solve the Palestinian-Israel conflict through the efforts exerted by the Obama administration’s Peace Envoy George Mitchell, and we will also promote health services such as combating polio in the Islamic world, and promoting educational programs and cultural exchange between the two sides.

And this:

Q) Many Muslims are critical of bias US policies towards Israel. How can we reconcile what Obama said in his Cairo speech and the US political approach in the Middle East?

A) The United States does not operate solely according to its own interests, and it seeks to safeguard the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, which has made it a top priority for us to engage in genuine peace negotiations between both sides. As you know, the US is committed to its role as an effective mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. We have not waited until the last minute to become involved in this; rather we did everything we could to urge the concerned parties to enter negotiations. President Obama [also] appointed George Mitchell Middle East Peace Envoy, and he appointed me as an envoy to promote US relations with the Islamic world, and we are all working to implement Obama’s strategy in the Islamic world to achieve stability in this part of the world.

Q) Do you think the Israeli settlement building in Jerusalem complicates your mission to improve US relations with the Islamic world?

A) Of course, there are fears that any action or provocation will negatively affect feelings, and as a Muslim I know full well that the Al Aqsa Mosque was the first Qibla [direction in which Muslims pray] and is the third holiest site for Muslims and it is revered by Muslims. President Obama is committed to calming the situation in the city of Jerusalem, and finding solutions that are both acceptable to the Palestinians and the Israelis. There is also a clear position by the president to reject any settlement building in east Jerusalem, and there is a statement to this effect from the US administration, which has many ways to settle the conflict in the region that has lasted for 60 years. However, it is not easy for this to be settled overnight so we must bridge the differences between the conflicting parties. Over the last few days we have heard good news to the effect that indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis have begun, so I think we are making progress in this regard, and we must not take a step backwards.

Now, he does mention polio programs and educational outreach, but plainly this man is convinced that the key to ending “hostility” against the U.S. is resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What is missing? Ah, mention of the Iranian nuclear threat. Oh yes, the brutalization of women and the repression of Middle East despots. And how exactly has the arrival of Obama ended that hostility? Last time we checked, Syria was supplying Hezbollah with Scuds and Iran was moving toward acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Still seems pretty hostile. Maybe it wasn’t all Bush’s fault.

And as the crowning touch, we have this exchange:

Q) You studied law at Yale University, during which you criticized the prosecution of Sami Al-Arian, describing it as “politically motivated.” Do you think the American legal system unfairly links Islam and terrorism?

A) To be clear, I have no connection to such terror trials, and these cases are subject to the deliberations of the US courts. The US legal system is one of the best in the world and enjoys great confidence.

Where is the emphatic repudiation of his view that Al-Arian was the victim of a political show trial? Where is the simple declarative, “No, he was convicted, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute terrorists and those who facilitate terrorism”? Nowhere. This is shameful.

There is a reason that Obama appointed Hussain: he is the perfect embodiment of the mean-spirited (toward Bush, Israel, and those who doubt Obama’s sincerity), warped view of the Middle East that allows despots to go unchallenged, brutality to remain unremarked upon, and the region to inch ever closer to a deadly nuclear-arms race.

A friend of COMMENTARY calls my attention to this interview with the controversial Rashad Hussain, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. You will recall that his nomination raised concerns when his comments alleging a “political” motivation for prosecuting Sami Al-Arian and his attendance at CAIR events came to light. (He then attempted to cover up the comments.) As our friend notes, “This must be read to be believed … it cannot be parodied.”

We start from the context — a foreign, Arabic publication. It is to this audience that he skewers — without justification or basis in fact — the Bush administration:

Q) Do you think it will be easy to overcome the hostility in the Islamic world towards certain US policies, especially in light of the actions taken under the previous US administration?

A) We are concerned about this but we are determined to move forward, without looking to the past and the negative effects of this, in order to erase the hostile feelings caused by the administration of former President George W. Bush. There is now a suitable opportunity to overcome the past, and open a new page in relations between the US and the people in the Islamic region.

This is not, to say the least, what we expect our envoys to communicate to foreign audiences. And then there is the substance of his remarks. Hostile feelings caused by the Bush administration’s policies, he says? Which were those — the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which Obama has continued? The focus on human rights, which Obama has ignored? And notice the assignment of blame to the country he pretends to represent, not to the bad actors — Syria and Iran, for example — that continue to promote terror and brutalize their people. It appears that Hussain is telling the Muslims that the real source of trouble in the Middle East was George W. Bush.

But it is obsession with the peace process as the key to ending such “hostility” and the conviction that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of our woes that are the most jarring — and perhaps revelatory of the administration he represents. He offers this:

Q) How do you intend to impose your strategy to develop relations with the Islamic world?

A) By implementing the recommendations made in the speech by US President Obama in Cairo, which represents a clear strategy to promote relations with the Islamic world, as this speech covered all political, social, and economic aspects. We have already begun work to implement what was said in the speech, whether through political action to solve the Palestinian-Israel conflict through the efforts exerted by the Obama administration’s Peace Envoy George Mitchell, and we will also promote health services such as combating polio in the Islamic world, and promoting educational programs and cultural exchange between the two sides.

And this:

Q) Many Muslims are critical of bias US policies towards Israel. How can we reconcile what Obama said in his Cairo speech and the US political approach in the Middle East?

A) The United States does not operate solely according to its own interests, and it seeks to safeguard the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, which has made it a top priority for us to engage in genuine peace negotiations between both sides. As you know, the US is committed to its role as an effective mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. We have not waited until the last minute to become involved in this; rather we did everything we could to urge the concerned parties to enter negotiations. President Obama [also] appointed George Mitchell Middle East Peace Envoy, and he appointed me as an envoy to promote US relations with the Islamic world, and we are all working to implement Obama’s strategy in the Islamic world to achieve stability in this part of the world.

Q) Do you think the Israeli settlement building in Jerusalem complicates your mission to improve US relations with the Islamic world?

A) Of course, there are fears that any action or provocation will negatively affect feelings, and as a Muslim I know full well that the Al Aqsa Mosque was the first Qibla [direction in which Muslims pray] and is the third holiest site for Muslims and it is revered by Muslims. President Obama is committed to calming the situation in the city of Jerusalem, and finding solutions that are both acceptable to the Palestinians and the Israelis. There is also a clear position by the president to reject any settlement building in east Jerusalem, and there is a statement to this effect from the US administration, which has many ways to settle the conflict in the region that has lasted for 60 years. However, it is not easy for this to be settled overnight so we must bridge the differences between the conflicting parties. Over the last few days we have heard good news to the effect that indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis have begun, so I think we are making progress in this regard, and we must not take a step backwards.

Now, he does mention polio programs and educational outreach, but plainly this man is convinced that the key to ending “hostility” against the U.S. is resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What is missing? Ah, mention of the Iranian nuclear threat. Oh yes, the brutalization of women and the repression of Middle East despots. And how exactly has the arrival of Obama ended that hostility? Last time we checked, Syria was supplying Hezbollah with Scuds and Iran was moving toward acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Still seems pretty hostile. Maybe it wasn’t all Bush’s fault.

And as the crowning touch, we have this exchange:

Q) You studied law at Yale University, during which you criticized the prosecution of Sami Al-Arian, describing it as “politically motivated.” Do you think the American legal system unfairly links Islam and terrorism?

A) To be clear, I have no connection to such terror trials, and these cases are subject to the deliberations of the US courts. The US legal system is one of the best in the world and enjoys great confidence.

Where is the emphatic repudiation of his view that Al-Arian was the victim of a political show trial? Where is the simple declarative, “No, he was convicted, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute terrorists and those who facilitate terrorism”? Nowhere. This is shameful.

There is a reason that Obama appointed Hussain: he is the perfect embodiment of the mean-spirited (toward Bush, Israel, and those who doubt Obama’s sincerity), warped view of the Middle East that allows despots to go unchallenged, brutality to remain unremarked upon, and the region to inch ever closer to a deadly nuclear-arms race.

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Can We Move Past Engagement?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

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Peace Process “Starts”?

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

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Obama’s Sudan Engagement

Our Sudan policy is a shanda. Activists on both sides of the aisle deplore the unctuous behavior of our special envoy, retired Major General Scott Gration. We have done nothing about its abysmal human-rights record, most recently documented by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics following the fraudulent reelection of Omar Hassan al-Bashir:

The election was widely acknowledged to be a fraud. Mr. Bashir’s principal opponents boycotted the race, and the vote was riddled with what the White House called “serious irregularities.”

Still, the reaction from the Obama administration and other Western governments was muted. Before the election, U.S. special envoy Scott Gration offered a low standard, declaring that the vote would be “as free and fair as possible.” The reasons for that temperance could be read in Mr. Bashir’s victory speech. After claiming his mandate, the strongman promptly promised to “complete the peace process in Darfur,” the western region where his regime waged a campaign of genocide; and also to “go ahead . . . on time” with a planned referendum in January that will determine whether southern Sudan becomes an independent country.

But nothing — not fraud, not documented religious atrocities — will knock the Obami off their predetermined course, the very same “engagement” strategy which has led to equally dismal results with Syria and Iran. The Obami imagine that they can do business with despots, and Bashir is no different:

The quid pro quo that Mr. Bashir is offering is clear: Accept him as a legitimate president and set aside the war crimes indictment, and he will allow southern Sudan to go peacefully and will preserve the fragile peace in Darfur. For the pragmatic Obama administration, which hasn’t hesitated to subordinate human rights principles in other parts of the world, it’s a tempting offer. After all, the alternative to a settlement in southern Sudan is another terrible war, like the one that killed 5 million in the two decades before 2005. And if Mr. Bashir can somehow strike a deal with Darfur’s myriad rebel groups — he has a preliminary pact with one — that could end the region’s humanitarian crisis.

Bashir certainly knows his audience. This sort of bargain with the devil is right up Obama’s alley. But alas, by demonstrating our willingness in Sudan and around the world to avert our eyes and fork over unilateral concessions, there is little incentive for Bashir to change his stripes and to play a constructive role in averting still more mass killings in Darfur.

Our reaction to provocation — be it stolen elections in Iran or Sudan or missile deliveries to Hezbollah — is to double-down on engagement, assure our foes that military force isn’t at play, and rush forth to explain that further engagement isn’t really a sign of weakness. But of course it is. And the world’s despots have pretty much figured out how to play the Obama team. Brutalize your people, crush opposition, and respond with a mix of threats and frothy promises. It seems to be a winning formula with this American administration. And, indeed, the despots are having a field day of late. Maybe it’s time for hope and change.

Our Sudan policy is a shanda. Activists on both sides of the aisle deplore the unctuous behavior of our special envoy, retired Major General Scott Gration. We have done nothing about its abysmal human-rights record, most recently documented by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics following the fraudulent reelection of Omar Hassan al-Bashir:

The election was widely acknowledged to be a fraud. Mr. Bashir’s principal opponents boycotted the race, and the vote was riddled with what the White House called “serious irregularities.”

Still, the reaction from the Obama administration and other Western governments was muted. Before the election, U.S. special envoy Scott Gration offered a low standard, declaring that the vote would be “as free and fair as possible.” The reasons for that temperance could be read in Mr. Bashir’s victory speech. After claiming his mandate, the strongman promptly promised to “complete the peace process in Darfur,” the western region where his regime waged a campaign of genocide; and also to “go ahead . . . on time” with a planned referendum in January that will determine whether southern Sudan becomes an independent country.

But nothing — not fraud, not documented religious atrocities — will knock the Obami off their predetermined course, the very same “engagement” strategy which has led to equally dismal results with Syria and Iran. The Obami imagine that they can do business with despots, and Bashir is no different:

The quid pro quo that Mr. Bashir is offering is clear: Accept him as a legitimate president and set aside the war crimes indictment, and he will allow southern Sudan to go peacefully and will preserve the fragile peace in Darfur. For the pragmatic Obama administration, which hasn’t hesitated to subordinate human rights principles in other parts of the world, it’s a tempting offer. After all, the alternative to a settlement in southern Sudan is another terrible war, like the one that killed 5 million in the two decades before 2005. And if Mr. Bashir can somehow strike a deal with Darfur’s myriad rebel groups — he has a preliminary pact with one — that could end the region’s humanitarian crisis.

Bashir certainly knows his audience. This sort of bargain with the devil is right up Obama’s alley. But alas, by demonstrating our willingness in Sudan and around the world to avert our eyes and fork over unilateral concessions, there is little incentive for Bashir to change his stripes and to play a constructive role in averting still more mass killings in Darfur.

Our reaction to provocation — be it stolen elections in Iran or Sudan or missile deliveries to Hezbollah — is to double-down on engagement, assure our foes that military force isn’t at play, and rush forth to explain that further engagement isn’t really a sign of weakness. But of course it is. And the world’s despots have pretty much figured out how to play the Obama team. Brutalize your people, crush opposition, and respond with a mix of threats and frothy promises. It seems to be a winning formula with this American administration. And, indeed, the despots are having a field day of late. Maybe it’s time for hope and change.

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RE: Obama’s Lousy Record on Religious Freedom

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

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Hillary Speaks to the AJC

Last night Hillary Clinton spoke to the AJC gala in Washington D.C. Her speech is a hodgepodge of platitudes and reveals how sharply the Obami’s rhetoric departs from their policies — the inevitable result of a disingenuous “charm” offensive that seeks to soothe domestic critics of their assault on Israel while continuing their disastrous approach to the Middle East.

She began, as she did with AIPAC, with a series of fluffy assurances, which bear no relationship to the Obami’s actions:

We Americans may never fully understand the implications of this history on the daily lives of Israelis – the worry that a mother feels watching a child board a school bus or a child watching a parent go off to work. But we know deep in our souls that we have an unshakable bond and we will always stand not just with the Government of Israel but with the people of Israel. (Applause.)

Lovely sentiments but disconnected from their recent conduct. Was she feeling that unshakable bond deep in her soul when she chewed out Bibi for 43 minutes and instructed her State Department flack to relate the tongue-lashing to the entire world? Did Obama think he was standing with the government of Israel when he treated its prime minister with appalling rudeness?

Next, Hillary defends the administration’s defense of Israel in international institutions:

That is why the United States is fighting against anti-Semitism in international institutions — our special envoy for anti-Semitism is traveling the world as we speak, raising the issue at the highest levels of countries from one end of the world to the next. It is why we led the boycott of the Durban Conference. (Applause.) It is why we repeatedly and vigorously voted against and spoke out against the Goldstone Report. (Applause.) And it is why we have worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge, providing nearly $3 billion in annual military assistance. When I became Secretary of State, I asked my longtime defense and foreign policy advisor from my years in the Senate, Andrew Shapiro, to personally manage our defense consultations with Israel. And today, I am proud to say our partnership is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before. (Applause.)

That envoy would be the one who slapped down Michael Oren, not exactly the sort of defender Israel needs. And as for the UN, she doesn’t of course bring up the anti-Israel resolution we failed to block or explain how our presence on the UN Human Rights Council or our muteness on the admission of Iran to the Commission on the Status of Women helps Israel’s cause.

She defensively repeats Obama’s retort that there is “‘noise and distortion’ about this Administration’s approach in the Middle East.” It’s all a grand misunderstanding, you see. Weren’t we listening, she says, when she went to AIPAC and told us how devoted she was to the Jewish state? Weren’t we listening when she made another speech at the Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace? It is quite telling that her “defense” in the face of criticism is to cite her own pablum-filled speeches. This, she imagines, should put the whole matter to rest.

She then repeats the flawed premise of the Obami’s Middle East policy, namely:

Well, tonight I want to focus on the regional threats to Israel’s security and the imperative of reaching a comprehensive regional peace that will help defuse those threats. Because without a comprehensive regional peace, the Middle East will never unlock its full potential, and Israel will never be truly secure. Pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its neighbors can be a mutually reinforcing process, and today it is more essential than ever to make progress on all tracks.

This falsely assumes that Iran’s nuclear threat will melt when peace breaks out with the Palestinians. It assumes that Assad and his Hezbollah surrogates will no longer threaten Israel once the peace deal is inked. In short, it ignores reality — both the impossibility of a peace deal in the near future and the lack of relevance such a deal has to Israel’s most pressing challenge: the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.

Remarkably, she then undermines her own case by pointing to Syria (Assad is going to be impressed with proximity talks? He’ll rein in Hezbollah as soon as Israel gives up the Old City?) and offering only words, again disconnected from reality and the Obami’s actions:

We have spoken out forcefully about the grave dangers of Syria’s transfer of weapons to Hezbollah. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms and have expressed our concerns directly to the Syrian Government. Transferring weapons to these terrorists — especially longer-range missiles – would pose a serious threat to the security of Israel. It would have a profoundly destabilizing effect on the region. And it would absolutely violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans the unauthorized importation of any weapons into Lebanon.

We do not accept such provocative and destabilizing behavior — nor should the international community. President Assad is making decisions that could mean war or peace for the region. We know he’s hearing from Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. It is crucial that he also hear directly from us, so that the potential consequences of his actions are clear. That’s why we are sending an ambassador back to Syria. There should be no mistake, either in Damascus or anywhere else: The United States is not reengaging with Syria as a reward or a concession. Engagement is a tool that can give us added leverage and insight, and a greater ability to convey strong and unmistakably clear messages aimed at Syria’s leadership. (Applause.)

Here we go again with “accept” (the Obami’s favorite word when they are doing nothing about a disagreeable situation) – we don’t accept it, but what are we doing about it? How does “engagement” not appear as a reward or a concession? And wouldn’t a military strike on those rockets be a superior method of conveying a strong and unmistakably clear message to Syria’s leadership, rather than dispatch an ambassador to glad-hand with Assad?

Her discussion of Iran consists of a single, terse paragraph in which she admits we’ve accomplished nothing by engagement but aren’t doing much else. And there is again no mention of “all options” remaining at our disposal to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Iran, with its anti-Semitic president and hostile nuclear ambitions, also continues to threaten Israel, but it also threatens the region and it sponsors terrorism against many. The United States has worked with the international community to present the leaders in Tehran with a clear choice: Uphold your international obligations and reap the benefits of normal relations, or face increased isolation and painful consequences. At every turn, Iran has met our outstretched hand with a clenched fist. But our engagement has helped build a growing global consensus on the need to pressure Iran’s leaders to change course. We are now working with our partners at the United Nations to craft tough new sanctions. The United States is committed to pursuing this diplomatic path. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

She then prattles on, paragraph after paragraph, describing the wonders of the peace process. On Jerusalem she sidesteps all the condemning and the administration’s reneging on prior agreements with another bit of sly puffery. (“The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply, profoundly, important issue for Israelis and Palestinians, for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. And we believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world.”) So why demand a unilateral concession from Israel now, in advance of any negotiations?

All in all, the speech is a vivid example of the degree to which the Obami are willing and able to divorce rhetoric from action, and policy from reality. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if the “applause” reflects genuine enthusiasm for her display of hypocrisy. If so, it’s confirmation that American Jewry — at least those represented by organizations like the AJC — is eager to be sold a bill of goods. Meanwhile, the administration undermines sanctions, threatens an imposed peace deal, and dawdles on the Scud missiles. But they’ve got a heck of a PR plan.

Last night Hillary Clinton spoke to the AJC gala in Washington D.C. Her speech is a hodgepodge of platitudes and reveals how sharply the Obami’s rhetoric departs from their policies — the inevitable result of a disingenuous “charm” offensive that seeks to soothe domestic critics of their assault on Israel while continuing their disastrous approach to the Middle East.

She began, as she did with AIPAC, with a series of fluffy assurances, which bear no relationship to the Obami’s actions:

We Americans may never fully understand the implications of this history on the daily lives of Israelis – the worry that a mother feels watching a child board a school bus or a child watching a parent go off to work. But we know deep in our souls that we have an unshakable bond and we will always stand not just with the Government of Israel but with the people of Israel. (Applause.)

Lovely sentiments but disconnected from their recent conduct. Was she feeling that unshakable bond deep in her soul when she chewed out Bibi for 43 minutes and instructed her State Department flack to relate the tongue-lashing to the entire world? Did Obama think he was standing with the government of Israel when he treated its prime minister with appalling rudeness?

Next, Hillary defends the administration’s defense of Israel in international institutions:

That is why the United States is fighting against anti-Semitism in international institutions — our special envoy for anti-Semitism is traveling the world as we speak, raising the issue at the highest levels of countries from one end of the world to the next. It is why we led the boycott of the Durban Conference. (Applause.) It is why we repeatedly and vigorously voted against and spoke out against the Goldstone Report. (Applause.) And it is why we have worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge, providing nearly $3 billion in annual military assistance. When I became Secretary of State, I asked my longtime defense and foreign policy advisor from my years in the Senate, Andrew Shapiro, to personally manage our defense consultations with Israel. And today, I am proud to say our partnership is broader, deeper, and more intense than ever before. (Applause.)

That envoy would be the one who slapped down Michael Oren, not exactly the sort of defender Israel needs. And as for the UN, she doesn’t of course bring up the anti-Israel resolution we failed to block or explain how our presence on the UN Human Rights Council or our muteness on the admission of Iran to the Commission on the Status of Women helps Israel’s cause.

She defensively repeats Obama’s retort that there is “‘noise and distortion’ about this Administration’s approach in the Middle East.” It’s all a grand misunderstanding, you see. Weren’t we listening, she says, when she went to AIPAC and told us how devoted she was to the Jewish state? Weren’t we listening when she made another speech at the Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace? It is quite telling that her “defense” in the face of criticism is to cite her own pablum-filled speeches. This, she imagines, should put the whole matter to rest.

She then repeats the flawed premise of the Obami’s Middle East policy, namely:

Well, tonight I want to focus on the regional threats to Israel’s security and the imperative of reaching a comprehensive regional peace that will help defuse those threats. Because without a comprehensive regional peace, the Middle East will never unlock its full potential, and Israel will never be truly secure. Pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its neighbors can be a mutually reinforcing process, and today it is more essential than ever to make progress on all tracks.

This falsely assumes that Iran’s nuclear threat will melt when peace breaks out with the Palestinians. It assumes that Assad and his Hezbollah surrogates will no longer threaten Israel once the peace deal is inked. In short, it ignores reality — both the impossibility of a peace deal in the near future and the lack of relevance such a deal has to Israel’s most pressing challenge: the existential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.

Remarkably, she then undermines her own case by pointing to Syria (Assad is going to be impressed with proximity talks? He’ll rein in Hezbollah as soon as Israel gives up the Old City?) and offering only words, again disconnected from reality and the Obami’s actions:

We have spoken out forcefully about the grave dangers of Syria’s transfer of weapons to Hezbollah. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms and have expressed our concerns directly to the Syrian Government. Transferring weapons to these terrorists — especially longer-range missiles – would pose a serious threat to the security of Israel. It would have a profoundly destabilizing effect on the region. And it would absolutely violate UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans the unauthorized importation of any weapons into Lebanon.

We do not accept such provocative and destabilizing behavior — nor should the international community. President Assad is making decisions that could mean war or peace for the region. We know he’s hearing from Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. It is crucial that he also hear directly from us, so that the potential consequences of his actions are clear. That’s why we are sending an ambassador back to Syria. There should be no mistake, either in Damascus or anywhere else: The United States is not reengaging with Syria as a reward or a concession. Engagement is a tool that can give us added leverage and insight, and a greater ability to convey strong and unmistakably clear messages aimed at Syria’s leadership. (Applause.)

Here we go again with “accept” (the Obami’s favorite word when they are doing nothing about a disagreeable situation) – we don’t accept it, but what are we doing about it? How does “engagement” not appear as a reward or a concession? And wouldn’t a military strike on those rockets be a superior method of conveying a strong and unmistakably clear message to Syria’s leadership, rather than dispatch an ambassador to glad-hand with Assad?

Her discussion of Iran consists of a single, terse paragraph in which she admits we’ve accomplished nothing by engagement but aren’t doing much else. And there is again no mention of “all options” remaining at our disposal to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Iran, with its anti-Semitic president and hostile nuclear ambitions, also continues to threaten Israel, but it also threatens the region and it sponsors terrorism against many. The United States has worked with the international community to present the leaders in Tehran with a clear choice: Uphold your international obligations and reap the benefits of normal relations, or face increased isolation and painful consequences. At every turn, Iran has met our outstretched hand with a clenched fist. But our engagement has helped build a growing global consensus on the need to pressure Iran’s leaders to change course. We are now working with our partners at the United Nations to craft tough new sanctions. The United States is committed to pursuing this diplomatic path. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

She then prattles on, paragraph after paragraph, describing the wonders of the peace process. On Jerusalem she sidesteps all the condemning and the administration’s reneging on prior agreements with another bit of sly puffery. (“The United States recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply, profoundly, important issue for Israelis and Palestinians, for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. And we believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for people around the world.”) So why demand a unilateral concession from Israel now, in advance of any negotiations?

All in all, the speech is a vivid example of the degree to which the Obami are willing and able to divorce rhetoric from action, and policy from reality. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if the “applause” reflects genuine enthusiasm for her display of hypocrisy. If so, it’s confirmation that American Jewry — at least those represented by organizations like the AJC — is eager to be sold a bill of goods. Meanwhile, the administration undermines sanctions, threatens an imposed peace deal, and dawdles on the Scud missiles. But they’ve got a heck of a PR plan.

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