Commentary Magazine


Topic: Special Envoy

Flotsam and Jetsam

At last — conferees have been selected for the Iran sanctions legislation.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights begins to pull back the curtain on the New Black Panther case. The hearing begins today.

Didn’t we reset our relationship? A “spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday criticized US plans to station missiles near Poland’s border with Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.” It seems that U.S. concessions beget only more Russian demands.

Nicholas Kristof learns that Obama’s a no-show on human rights. “Until he reached the White House, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that the United States apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month’s Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be ‘as free and as fair as possible.'”

Michael Steele may have finally overstayed his welcome in the RNC. After all, he says there is “no reason” for African Americans to vote Republican. Well, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which party he’s chairman of.

I think this is the point: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said the Senate is not ready to tackle immigration reform and that bringing a bill forward would be ‘CYA politics.’ … Graham also said moving ahead with immigration would scuttle the Senate’s capacity to deal with climate legislation. ‘It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate,’ he told reporters in the Capitol.” Sounds good!

Enough with the Bush-bashing: “Most American voters think it is time for the Obama administration to start taking responsibility for the way things are going in the country. A Fox News poll released Thursday finds 66 percent of voters think President Obama should start taking responsibility. That’s more than three times as many as the 21 percent who think it’s right to continue to blame the Bush administration for the way things are going today.”

At last — conferees have been selected for the Iran sanctions legislation.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights begins to pull back the curtain on the New Black Panther case. The hearing begins today.

Didn’t we reset our relationship? A “spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry on Thursday criticized US plans to station missiles near Poland’s border with Russia, the Interfax news agency reported.” It seems that U.S. concessions beget only more Russian demands.

Nicholas Kristof learns that Obama’s a no-show on human rights. “Until he reached the White House, Barack Obama repeatedly insisted that the United States apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet, as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month’s Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be ‘as free and as fair as possible.'”

Michael Steele may have finally overstayed his welcome in the RNC. After all, he says there is “no reason” for African Americans to vote Republican. Well, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which party he’s chairman of.

I think this is the point: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said the Senate is not ready to tackle immigration reform and that bringing a bill forward would be ‘CYA politics.’ … Graham also said moving ahead with immigration would scuttle the Senate’s capacity to deal with climate legislation. ‘It destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate,’ he told reporters in the Capitol.” Sounds good!

Enough with the Bush-bashing: “Most American voters think it is time for the Obama administration to start taking responsibility for the way things are going in the country. A Fox News poll released Thursday finds 66 percent of voters think President Obama should start taking responsibility. That’s more than three times as many as the 21 percent who think it’s right to continue to blame the Bush administration for the way things are going today.”

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We Could Use Some Rooftop Shouting

John Norris of the Center for American Progress is irate with Obama. Yes, yes, all that “shouting about democracy from the rooftops à la George W. Bush was not effective,” he insists. But still. He’s plainly disgusted with the latest example of Obama’s indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, specifically his handling of the fraudulent elections in Sudan. He explains that they were a joke from the start given the regime’s refusal to implement an agreement calling for free and fair elections. He continues:

For veteran Sudan watchers, none of this comes as much of a shock. Analysts looking for democratic upsides have had to console themselves with the few examples in which opposition groups have gained a toehold of political space to publicly question the regime. What is more surprising, however, has been the muddled and squeamish posture of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration toward Sudan’s election — one that underscores a larger, ongoing struggle to place democracy promotion effectively within the context of U.S. foreign policy more broadly.

His disdain for the president’s envoy is apparent:

Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, no stranger to gaffes, triggered his most recent bout of eye-rolling in both Sudan and Washington when he emerged from a meeting with the National Election Commission 11 days ago and declared that the commission’s members had given him “confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible.” The comments were unfortunate enough by themselves, but their timing also conspired against them; Gration spoke just as increasing numbers of opposition parties and candidates were either boycotting the election completely or pulling out of the presidential contest — as did the largest party in South Sudan — because the election was transparently neither free nor fair.

Why the rose-colored glasses from the special envoy? Gration is clearly eager to view this election as a necessary benchmark, a box to check, on the road to the broader issue of independence for South Sudan, which will be determined in a January 2011 referendum. Any suggestion that Sudan’s election was flawed could provoke Bashir to try to disrupt the January referendum, Gration fears, and indeed, Bashir has made threats to this effect. Still, the imperatives of his short-term diplomacy seemed to be at odds with the long-term goal of transforming Sudan into a freer and more democratic place.

Well, Norris and others on the Left are learning the hard way: the administration would simply rather not be in the business of rocking the boats of despots. He cheerily suggests, “One hopes that this administration has learned from its initial stumbles. Obama will have an important opportunity to get it right when he offers his first public comments on Sudan’s election in the days to come.” But the administration rarely thinks it has stumbled — after all, the Gray Lady tells the Obami what a swell job they are doing.

But the people of the “Muslim World,” as opposed to the thugs who rule much of the region, don’t seem to rate the president’s attention or concern. They are annoyances, distractions from the business of making deals or trying to make deals or, well, it’s not always clear what the Obami are up to. As America’s moral standing deteriorates and more people fall under the thumb of the thugocracies, which Obama is unwilling to confront, one longs for the rooftop shouting. At least the world knew which side America was on.

John Norris of the Center for American Progress is irate with Obama. Yes, yes, all that “shouting about democracy from the rooftops à la George W. Bush was not effective,” he insists. But still. He’s plainly disgusted with the latest example of Obama’s indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, specifically his handling of the fraudulent elections in Sudan. He explains that they were a joke from the start given the regime’s refusal to implement an agreement calling for free and fair elections. He continues:

For veteran Sudan watchers, none of this comes as much of a shock. Analysts looking for democratic upsides have had to console themselves with the few examples in which opposition groups have gained a toehold of political space to publicly question the regime. What is more surprising, however, has been the muddled and squeamish posture of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration toward Sudan’s election — one that underscores a larger, ongoing struggle to place democracy promotion effectively within the context of U.S. foreign policy more broadly.

His disdain for the president’s envoy is apparent:

Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, no stranger to gaffes, triggered his most recent bout of eye-rolling in both Sudan and Washington when he emerged from a meeting with the National Election Commission 11 days ago and declared that the commission’s members had given him “confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible.” The comments were unfortunate enough by themselves, but their timing also conspired against them; Gration spoke just as increasing numbers of opposition parties and candidates were either boycotting the election completely or pulling out of the presidential contest — as did the largest party in South Sudan — because the election was transparently neither free nor fair.

Why the rose-colored glasses from the special envoy? Gration is clearly eager to view this election as a necessary benchmark, a box to check, on the road to the broader issue of independence for South Sudan, which will be determined in a January 2011 referendum. Any suggestion that Sudan’s election was flawed could provoke Bashir to try to disrupt the January referendum, Gration fears, and indeed, Bashir has made threats to this effect. Still, the imperatives of his short-term diplomacy seemed to be at odds with the long-term goal of transforming Sudan into a freer and more democratic place.

Well, Norris and others on the Left are learning the hard way: the administration would simply rather not be in the business of rocking the boats of despots. He cheerily suggests, “One hopes that this administration has learned from its initial stumbles. Obama will have an important opportunity to get it right when he offers his first public comments on Sudan’s election in the days to come.” But the administration rarely thinks it has stumbled — after all, the Gray Lady tells the Obami what a swell job they are doing.

But the people of the “Muslim World,” as opposed to the thugs who rule much of the region, don’t seem to rate the president’s attention or concern. They are annoyances, distractions from the business of making deals or trying to make deals or, well, it’s not always clear what the Obami are up to. As America’s moral standing deteriorates and more people fall under the thumb of the thugocracies, which Obama is unwilling to confront, one longs for the rooftop shouting. At least the world knew which side America was on.

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From Screaming to Silence

The Obama administration, acting like a wounded spouse, has now migrated from screaming at Israel to the silent treatment. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton had meetings with Bibi Netanyahu. But if the relationship was as “rock solid” as Hillary disingenuously proclaimed in her AIPAC speech, you’d never know it :

No reporters, or even photographers, were invited when Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden on Monday or when he met with Obama on Tuesday night. There was no grand Rose Garden ceremony. Official spokesmen issued only the blandest of statements.

This is petulance, if not rudeness. Can one imagine any other “ally” receiving such dismissive treatment? The Obami are, I suppose, technically abiding by the advice to move their disputes with Bibi behind closed doors. But the snippy reception that telegraphs their anger with Bibi over his continuing to allow Jews to live anywhere in Israel’s eternal capital is just more of the same Obama gambit in another guise. The message to Israel, to the Muslim World, and to the Palestinians is the same: the U.S. is in a snit over Israel’s housing policy, and a significant gap between the two countries has not been healed. The contrast between the warm greeting from members of Congress and the stony silence from the White House only highlighted the point.

The result is real and troubling: when the U.S. backs away from Israel, we send a signal to our allies that Israel deserves the cold shoulder:

The cooling in the U.S.-Israel relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel’s diplomatic isolation. Anger has grown in Europe in the wake of Israel’s suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the expulsion of a senior diplomat over the incident, an unusually drastic step for an ally. Relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim friend of Israel for decades, have hit a new low.

As the Washington Post notes, the Obami have made hash out of the Middle East from the get-go:

The Obama administration has struggled from the start to find its footing with Israel and the Palestinians. Obama took office soon after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which had ruptured peace talks nurtured by the George W. Bush administration. Obama appointed a special envoy, former senator George J. Mitchell, on his second day in office. But then the administration tried to pressure Israel to freeze all settlement expansion — and failed. The United States further lost credibility when Clinton embraced Netanyahu’s compromise proposal, which fell short of Palestinian expectations, as “unprecedented.”

U.S. pressure at the time also backfired because it appeared to let the Palestinians off the hook. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter into direct talks before a settlement freeze, even though he had done so before. The administration had to settle for indirect talks, with Mitchell shuttling back and forth. The recent disagreement has set back that effort.

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (“Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

The Obama administration, acting like a wounded spouse, has now migrated from screaming at Israel to the silent treatment. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton had meetings with Bibi Netanyahu. But if the relationship was as “rock solid” as Hillary disingenuously proclaimed in her AIPAC speech, you’d never know it :

No reporters, or even photographers, were invited when Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden on Monday or when he met with Obama on Tuesday night. There was no grand Rose Garden ceremony. Official spokesmen issued only the blandest of statements.

This is petulance, if not rudeness. Can one imagine any other “ally” receiving such dismissive treatment? The Obami are, I suppose, technically abiding by the advice to move their disputes with Bibi behind closed doors. But the snippy reception that telegraphs their anger with Bibi over his continuing to allow Jews to live anywhere in Israel’s eternal capital is just more of the same Obama gambit in another guise. The message to Israel, to the Muslim World, and to the Palestinians is the same: the U.S. is in a snit over Israel’s housing policy, and a significant gap between the two countries has not been healed. The contrast between the warm greeting from members of Congress and the stony silence from the White House only highlighted the point.

The result is real and troubling: when the U.S. backs away from Israel, we send a signal to our allies that Israel deserves the cold shoulder:

The cooling in the U.S.-Israel relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel’s diplomatic isolation. Anger has grown in Europe in the wake of Israel’s suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the expulsion of a senior diplomat over the incident, an unusually drastic step for an ally. Relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim friend of Israel for decades, have hit a new low.

As the Washington Post notes, the Obami have made hash out of the Middle East from the get-go:

The Obama administration has struggled from the start to find its footing with Israel and the Palestinians. Obama took office soon after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which had ruptured peace talks nurtured by the George W. Bush administration. Obama appointed a special envoy, former senator George J. Mitchell, on his second day in office. But then the administration tried to pressure Israel to freeze all settlement expansion — and failed. The United States further lost credibility when Clinton embraced Netanyahu’s compromise proposal, which fell short of Palestinian expectations, as “unprecedented.”

U.S. pressure at the time also backfired because it appeared to let the Palestinians off the hook. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter into direct talks before a settlement freeze, even though he had done so before. The administration had to settle for indirect talks, with Mitchell shuttling back and forth. The recent disagreement has set back that effort.

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (“Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

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Repeating Peace-Process Pablum

Two paragraphs of Joe Biden’s speech yesterday are worth examining. They perfectly encapsulate the infatuation with the “peace process” and the degree to which its premises are accepted but never examined for any passing familiarity with reality. Biden said:

These indirect talks everyone knows are just that, indirect talks, indirect negotiations. The only path, though, to finally resolving the permanent status issues, including borders, security, refugees, and Jerusalem are direct talks. But you’ve got to begin. The process has to begin. Our administration fully supports this effort led by our Special Envoy, Senator George Mitchell, a seasoned negotiator and a proven peacemaker in whom the President, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and I have complete and utter confidence.

We believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree to an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the ’67 lines with agreed swaps and Israel’s goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel’s security requirements.

Why is it that “you’ve got to begin”? For what reason must “the process begin?” Well, George Mitchell would have nothing to do with it in his time and the entire apparatus devoted to ceaseless, fruitless negotiations would need to do be redeployed. But Biden never explains why we need to begin a process when there is no remote chance of its success and, furthermore, there is no unified Palestinian government prepared to make peace. He is reduced to pablum, repeated for emphasis but utterly not compelling to anyone whose job doesn’t depend on perpetuating the kabuki theater of negotiations. And he must acknowledge that in this incarnation — indirect talks — we are really engaged in unproductive busy work for diplomats.

This is followed, even for Biden, by a ludicrous declaration: “Our administration fully supports this effort led by our Special Envoy, Senator George Mitchell, a seasoned negotiator and a proven peacemaker in whom the President, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and I have complete and utter confidence.” Who cares? The question is whether the parties have faith in these people. The answer, especially after this visit, is almost certainly “no.”

Next is the boilerplate repetition that negotiations will lead to a two-state solution. This is where we came in. Why? What facts point to the conclusion that the parties can reach an agreement? There aren’t any.

If Biden’s visit proved anything, it is that diplomatic activity can be counterproductive, inflaming rather than reducing conflicts and deflecting attention from more productive activities. Consider this: is the U.S.-Israeli relationship in a worse or better shape after Biden’s visit? The answer is obvious, as should be the conclusion: sometimes it’s best if everyone stays home.

Two paragraphs of Joe Biden’s speech yesterday are worth examining. They perfectly encapsulate the infatuation with the “peace process” and the degree to which its premises are accepted but never examined for any passing familiarity with reality. Biden said:

These indirect talks everyone knows are just that, indirect talks, indirect negotiations. The only path, though, to finally resolving the permanent status issues, including borders, security, refugees, and Jerusalem are direct talks. But you’ve got to begin. The process has to begin. Our administration fully supports this effort led by our Special Envoy, Senator George Mitchell, a seasoned negotiator and a proven peacemaker in whom the President, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and I have complete and utter confidence.

We believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree to an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the ’67 lines with agreed swaps and Israel’s goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel’s security requirements.

Why is it that “you’ve got to begin”? For what reason must “the process begin?” Well, George Mitchell would have nothing to do with it in his time and the entire apparatus devoted to ceaseless, fruitless negotiations would need to do be redeployed. But Biden never explains why we need to begin a process when there is no remote chance of its success and, furthermore, there is no unified Palestinian government prepared to make peace. He is reduced to pablum, repeated for emphasis but utterly not compelling to anyone whose job doesn’t depend on perpetuating the kabuki theater of negotiations. And he must acknowledge that in this incarnation — indirect talks — we are really engaged in unproductive busy work for diplomats.

This is followed, even for Biden, by a ludicrous declaration: “Our administration fully supports this effort led by our Special Envoy, Senator George Mitchell, a seasoned negotiator and a proven peacemaker in whom the President, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and I have complete and utter confidence.” Who cares? The question is whether the parties have faith in these people. The answer, especially after this visit, is almost certainly “no.”

Next is the boilerplate repetition that negotiations will lead to a two-state solution. This is where we came in. Why? What facts point to the conclusion that the parties can reach an agreement? There aren’t any.

If Biden’s visit proved anything, it is that diplomatic activity can be counterproductive, inflaming rather than reducing conflicts and deflecting attention from more productive activities. Consider this: is the U.S.-Israeli relationship in a worse or better shape after Biden’s visit? The answer is obvious, as should be the conclusion: sometimes it’s best if everyone stays home.

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Consistently Rotten Results

You have to give the Obami credit. They have doggedly applied their engagement tactic to a variety of regimes — and gotten remarkably similar results. It so happens that the result has been to embolden our adversaries. In response to our efforts to ingratiate ourselves with the mullahs and pipe down about democracy, we have been scorned and snubbed. In response to our decision to redeploy our ambassador to Syria, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran and joined in the pummeling of the U.S. In response to our suck-uppery, the Chinese have become ever bolder, continuing their opposition to sanctions and their despotic treatment of dissidents. The same is true, we now learn, of Burma.

This report explains:

The Obama administration, concerned that Burma is expanding its military relationship with North Korea, has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Burma’s junta to stop buying North Korean military technology, U.S. officials said.

Concerns about the relationship — which encompass the sale of small arms, missile components and technology possibly related to nuclear weapons — in part prompted the Obama administration in October to end the George W. Bush-era policy of isolating the military junta, said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

But we’ve been having meetings with them and engaging them! Some now fret that this is getting us nowhere:

Congress and human rights organizations are increasingly criticizing and questioning the administration’s new policy toward the Southeast Asian nation, which is also known as Myanmar. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and generally a supporter of the administration’s foreign policy, recently called for the administration to increase the pressure on Burma, including tightening sanctions on the regime.

“Recent events have raised the profile of humanitarian issues there,” Berman said Friday. “Support is growing for more action in addition to ongoing efforts.”

There is good reason to conclude that things are moving in the wrong direction. (“On Feb. 10, a Burmese court sentenced a naturalized Burmese American political activist from Montgomery County to three years of hard labor; he was allegedly beaten, denied food and water, and placed in isolation in a tiny cell with no toilet. Burma recently snubbed the United Nations’ special envoy on human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, denying him a meeting with Suu Kyi and access to Burma’s senior leadership.”) As one expert succinctly put it, “The bad behavior has increased.”

This will no doubt disappoint Sen. Jim Webb, who has been leading the charge to lessen Burma’s “isolation.” As the report notes, “Webb’s trip to Burma in August — the first by a member of Congress in a decade — has been credited with giving the Obama administration the political cover to open up talks with the junta.” Credited, indeed.

The Obami conclude from all of this that they must redouble their efforts — engage more! They seem never to learn from experience — never to examine the motives and conduct of our foes as a means of assessing whether our policies are working. For a group that declared ideology to be “so yesterday,” they seem to be trapped in the the grips of their own. They are convinced that despotic regimes will respond to unilateral gestures and American obsequiousness. Repeated failure seems not to impact their analysis. Too bad there aren’t any realists to be found.

You have to give the Obami credit. They have doggedly applied their engagement tactic to a variety of regimes — and gotten remarkably similar results. It so happens that the result has been to embolden our adversaries. In response to our efforts to ingratiate ourselves with the mullahs and pipe down about democracy, we have been scorned and snubbed. In response to our decision to redeploy our ambassador to Syria, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran and joined in the pummeling of the U.S. In response to our suck-uppery, the Chinese have become ever bolder, continuing their opposition to sanctions and their despotic treatment of dissidents. The same is true, we now learn, of Burma.

This report explains:

The Obama administration, concerned that Burma is expanding its military relationship with North Korea, has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Burma’s junta to stop buying North Korean military technology, U.S. officials said.

Concerns about the relationship — which encompass the sale of small arms, missile components and technology possibly related to nuclear weapons — in part prompted the Obama administration in October to end the George W. Bush-era policy of isolating the military junta, said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

But we’ve been having meetings with them and engaging them! Some now fret that this is getting us nowhere:

Congress and human rights organizations are increasingly criticizing and questioning the administration’s new policy toward the Southeast Asian nation, which is also known as Myanmar. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and generally a supporter of the administration’s foreign policy, recently called for the administration to increase the pressure on Burma, including tightening sanctions on the regime.

“Recent events have raised the profile of humanitarian issues there,” Berman said Friday. “Support is growing for more action in addition to ongoing efforts.”

There is good reason to conclude that things are moving in the wrong direction. (“On Feb. 10, a Burmese court sentenced a naturalized Burmese American political activist from Montgomery County to three years of hard labor; he was allegedly beaten, denied food and water, and placed in isolation in a tiny cell with no toilet. Burma recently snubbed the United Nations’ special envoy on human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, denying him a meeting with Suu Kyi and access to Burma’s senior leadership.”) As one expert succinctly put it, “The bad behavior has increased.”

This will no doubt disappoint Sen. Jim Webb, who has been leading the charge to lessen Burma’s “isolation.” As the report notes, “Webb’s trip to Burma in August — the first by a member of Congress in a decade — has been credited with giving the Obama administration the political cover to open up talks with the junta.” Credited, indeed.

The Obami conclude from all of this that they must redouble their efforts — engage more! They seem never to learn from experience — never to examine the motives and conduct of our foes as a means of assessing whether our policies are working. For a group that declared ideology to be “so yesterday,” they seem to be trapped in the the grips of their own. They are convinced that despotic regimes will respond to unilateral gestures and American obsequiousness. Repeated failure seems not to impact their analysis. Too bad there aren’t any realists to be found.

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Muslim Envoy Lied: He Did Vouch for Terrorist

When last we left the tale of Rashad Hussain, Obama’s envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, he had denied vouching for a convicted terrorist. Yesterday was Friday, the official news dump day, so of course that’s when the confession came. He really did. Jake Tapper reports:

Presented with a transcript of his remarks at a 2004 conference, Rashad Hussain, President Obama’s nominee to be special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, issued a statement Friday evening acknowledging having criticized the U.S. government’s case against Sami Al-Arian, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to aid Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Originally, the White House claimed that Hussain denied having made the comments, attributing them instead to Al-Arian’s daughter, Laila. But Politico’s Josh Gerstein obtained an audiotape of the remarks, in which Hussain said that Al-Arian’s case was one of many “politically motivated persecutions.”

But it gets worse. You see, he tried to cover his tracks:

Hussain, currently in the White House counsel’s office, said, “I made statements on that panel that I now recognize were ill-conceived or not well-formulated.” The controversy was all the more confusing because the remarks were reported in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in 2004, but the editor, Delinda Hanley,  later removed the comments from the Web site, though she didn’t recall why. The then-intern who reported Hussain’s comments, Shereen Kandil, who currently also works for the Obama administration, stood by the remarks. Now we know at least part of the story as to why the comments were removed: Hussain called the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs to protest.

So let’s get this straight. The president’s choice to represent us to the OIC complained that a convicted terrorist was the victim of political persecution. That sounds a lot like what you’d hear from CAIR. But that makes sense because Hussain goes to CAIR training events. Then he lies about his comment and tries to conceal the evidence. Is he still the president’s choice? Hmm. It’s not an auspicious debut, to put it mildly.

But it is revealing of the sort of characters whom Obama thinks fit to conduct “outreach” to the “Muslim World” — those that will confirm the victimization mindset, which is at the root of much of what prevents peace from being processed as well as real economic and political reform from being advanced in many of the member nations of the OIC.

Perhaps we instead should find someone who can deliver this sort of message to the “Muslim World”:

“When the Palestinian leadership visits and honors families of those who have murdered innocent Israeli civilians, or when produce is destroyed rather than used only because it originates from the West Bank, that sets back our confidence of peace. . . . The Israeli prime minister is clear about Israel’s needs to be recognized as a Jewish state. Yet, not only do the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge Israel’s Jewish nature, but clearly state, in Article 19 of the Fatah constitution, that there must be an armed struggle with the Zionist entity.”

No, I don’t think Alan Solow wants the job. But that message, as opposed to the suck-uppery of a dishonest envoy, is precisely what we — and the “Muslim World” — need. And in the meantime, unless the Obami want to once again be on the side of an indefensible appointee, they should dump the candor-challenged Hussain.

When last we left the tale of Rashad Hussain, Obama’s envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, he had denied vouching for a convicted terrorist. Yesterday was Friday, the official news dump day, so of course that’s when the confession came. He really did. Jake Tapper reports:

Presented with a transcript of his remarks at a 2004 conference, Rashad Hussain, President Obama’s nominee to be special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, issued a statement Friday evening acknowledging having criticized the U.S. government’s case against Sami Al-Arian, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to aid Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Originally, the White House claimed that Hussain denied having made the comments, attributing them instead to Al-Arian’s daughter, Laila. But Politico’s Josh Gerstein obtained an audiotape of the remarks, in which Hussain said that Al-Arian’s case was one of many “politically motivated persecutions.”

But it gets worse. You see, he tried to cover his tracks:

Hussain, currently in the White House counsel’s office, said, “I made statements on that panel that I now recognize were ill-conceived or not well-formulated.” The controversy was all the more confusing because the remarks were reported in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in 2004, but the editor, Delinda Hanley,  later removed the comments from the Web site, though she didn’t recall why. The then-intern who reported Hussain’s comments, Shereen Kandil, who currently also works for the Obama administration, stood by the remarks. Now we know at least part of the story as to why the comments were removed: Hussain called the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs to protest.

So let’s get this straight. The president’s choice to represent us to the OIC complained that a convicted terrorist was the victim of political persecution. That sounds a lot like what you’d hear from CAIR. But that makes sense because Hussain goes to CAIR training events. Then he lies about his comment and tries to conceal the evidence. Is he still the president’s choice? Hmm. It’s not an auspicious debut, to put it mildly.

But it is revealing of the sort of characters whom Obama thinks fit to conduct “outreach” to the “Muslim World” — those that will confirm the victimization mindset, which is at the root of much of what prevents peace from being processed as well as real economic and political reform from being advanced in many of the member nations of the OIC.

Perhaps we instead should find someone who can deliver this sort of message to the “Muslim World”:

“When the Palestinian leadership visits and honors families of those who have murdered innocent Israeli civilians, or when produce is destroyed rather than used only because it originates from the West Bank, that sets back our confidence of peace. . . . The Israeli prime minister is clear about Israel’s needs to be recognized as a Jewish state. Yet, not only do the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge Israel’s Jewish nature, but clearly state, in Article 19 of the Fatah constitution, that there must be an armed struggle with the Zionist entity.”

No, I don’t think Alan Solow wants the job. But that message, as opposed to the suck-uppery of a dishonest envoy, is precisely what we — and the “Muslim World” — need. And in the meantime, unless the Obami want to once again be on the side of an indefensible appointee, they should dump the candor-challenged Hussain.

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Another Approach to Iran

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

While the Obami fritter away time, dreaming up new excuses to do nothing on Iran, more responsible officials are moving forward. Today Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Durbin, Jon Kyl, Evan Bayh, Susan Collins, Robert Casey. Lindsey Graham, Kristen Gillibrand, Sam Brownback, Ted Kaufman, and David Vitter announced legislation to support the Iranian opposition’s efforts to take down the regime of Ali Hoseyni Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In a statement, Cornyn and Brownback explained that the bill will “establish a program of direct assistance for the Iranian people and would help pave the way for a freely elected, open and democratic government in Iran. The Iran Democratic Transition Act would not only send a strong message of support to the Iranian people during this difficult time, it would also provide tangible resources needed to establish a democratic system in Iran in the near future.”

For starters, the bill will delineate the “Iranian regime’s human rights abuses, clear support of terrorism, pursuit of nuclear weapons, and belligerent rhetoric regarding attacks on both Israel and the United States.” Instead of mutely bearing witness, the U.S. government would help publicize the regime’s atrocities.

The bill would also stipulate full and public U.S. support of the Iranian people’s efforts to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government. Furthermore, the bill would announce it is  U.S. policy to deny the current Iranian regime the ability to: oppress the people of Iran; finance and support terrorists; interfere with the internal affairs of neighbors (including Iraq and Afghanistan); and develop weapons of mass destruction.

The bill also authorizes the president to provide non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations and to victims of the current regime. It would create an ambassador-level position of “Special Envoy for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran” to promote and support Iranian democracy and human rights. And the bill would suggest the “possibility of a multilateral and regional initiative to protect human rights, modeled after the Helsinki process established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

It will be interesting to see the Obami’s reaction to this piece of legislation. Are they interested in aiding democratic activists, or are they committed to not rocking the boat? Do they have the nerve to document the specific Iranian human-rights atrocities, or would they prefer to say as little as possible? This will also test private groups. I’ll take a wild guess that J Street will not be thrilled by this approach.

There is reason to question whether anything short of military action can stop the Iranian regime at this point, but getting on the right side of history, re-establishing our moral leadership, and giving regime change a chance is a very good place to start.

UPDATE: I have updated the above to include the full list of co-sponsors. Sen. Joseph Lieberman made this noteworthy comment: “Just as the Iranian government is violating its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is likewise in flagrant breach of multiple international agreements it has signed that require it to respect the human rights of its own citizens. As the Iranian people risk their lives to demand the justice and freedom they deserve in the face of this lawless and oppressive regime, they should know that America is on their side.”

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Obama’s Multilateral Infatuation

As aptly described by George Will, the upside of the Copenhagen “agreement” is that it is no agreement at all. It’s yet another example of the utter unworkability of “multilateralism” as an operating principle in international affairs — and the silliness that Obama displays in attempting to pretend otherwise. As Will observes:

The 1992 Rio climate summit begat Kyoto. It, like Copenhagen, which Kyoto begat, was “saved,” as Copenhagen was, by a last-minute American intervention (Vice President Al Gore’s) that midwifed an agreement that most signatories evaded for 12 years. The Clinton-Gore administration never submitted Kyoto’s accomplishment for ratification, the Senate having denounced its terms 95 to 0.

Copenhagen will beget Mexico City next November. Before then, Congress will give “the international community” other reasons to pout. Congress will refuse to burden the economy with cap-and-trade carbon-reduction requirements and will spurn calls for sending billions in “climate reparations” to China and other countries. Representatives of those nations, when they did not have their hands out in Copenhagen grasping for America’s wealth, clapped their hands in ovations for Hugo Chávez and other kleptocrats who denounced capitalism while clamoring for its fruits.

Obama’s motives for perpetuating this charade are unclear. He didn’t want to be humiliated in Copenhagen a second time, of course, so it was essential to mask the entire affair’s uselessness and Obama’s inability to bend others to his will. But that, I think, is not all that’s going on here. It was also essential for him to preserve some sense that this sort of confab is credible and important.

Obama seems actually to believe the we-are-the-world hooey, which assumes common values and goals among nations that share neither. And even the supposedly “better Obama” at Oslo evinced an ongoing aversion to unilateral action by the U.S. and a preference for acting in concert — or avoiding acting in concert — with the “international community.” (“America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace.”) So it wouldn’t do to have Copenhagen collapse spectacularly, thus demonstrating once again that getting China, India, and Zimbabwe on the same page with the U.S. is no easy feat.

But Obama clearly had another motive in Copenhagen — to use an international agreement to bludgeon Congress into doing what it had already indicated it was unwilling to do. Even Democrats spotted what he was up to and at least temporarily remembered their constitutional roles. James Webb wrote to Obama in early December:

I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming [conference]. … Although details have not been made available, recent statements by Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern indicate that negotiators may be intending to commit the United States to a nationwide emission reduction program. … you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country.

And had China, India, and all the rest been just a bit more amenable, that is what, one suspects, Obama was more than willing to do — box in the Congress with a unilateral commitment.

While we might breathe a sigh of relief that Copenhagen ended as it did, it is yet another unpleasant reminder that Obama’s reverence for the “international community” is virtually without limit. The constant failure of the “international community” to produce any agreement of consequence (whether it’s enforceable sanctions on rogue wannabe-nuclear states or anything else) and its unseemly habit of money-grubbing from developed nations have, at least so far, not cooled Obama’s ardor for multilateral confabs. But stay tuned: it’s less than a year before the next three-ring circus in Mexico City.

As aptly described by George Will, the upside of the Copenhagen “agreement” is that it is no agreement at all. It’s yet another example of the utter unworkability of “multilateralism” as an operating principle in international affairs — and the silliness that Obama displays in attempting to pretend otherwise. As Will observes:

The 1992 Rio climate summit begat Kyoto. It, like Copenhagen, which Kyoto begat, was “saved,” as Copenhagen was, by a last-minute American intervention (Vice President Al Gore’s) that midwifed an agreement that most signatories evaded for 12 years. The Clinton-Gore administration never submitted Kyoto’s accomplishment for ratification, the Senate having denounced its terms 95 to 0.

Copenhagen will beget Mexico City next November. Before then, Congress will give “the international community” other reasons to pout. Congress will refuse to burden the economy with cap-and-trade carbon-reduction requirements and will spurn calls for sending billions in “climate reparations” to China and other countries. Representatives of those nations, when they did not have their hands out in Copenhagen grasping for America’s wealth, clapped their hands in ovations for Hugo Chávez and other kleptocrats who denounced capitalism while clamoring for its fruits.

Obama’s motives for perpetuating this charade are unclear. He didn’t want to be humiliated in Copenhagen a second time, of course, so it was essential to mask the entire affair’s uselessness and Obama’s inability to bend others to his will. But that, I think, is not all that’s going on here. It was also essential for him to preserve some sense that this sort of confab is credible and important.

Obama seems actually to believe the we-are-the-world hooey, which assumes common values and goals among nations that share neither. And even the supposedly “better Obama” at Oslo evinced an ongoing aversion to unilateral action by the U.S. and a preference for acting in concert — or avoiding acting in concert — with the “international community.” (“America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace.”) So it wouldn’t do to have Copenhagen collapse spectacularly, thus demonstrating once again that getting China, India, and Zimbabwe on the same page with the U.S. is no easy feat.

But Obama clearly had another motive in Copenhagen — to use an international agreement to bludgeon Congress into doing what it had already indicated it was unwilling to do. Even Democrats spotted what he was up to and at least temporarily remembered their constitutional roles. James Webb wrote to Obama in early December:

I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming [conference]. … Although details have not been made available, recent statements by Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern indicate that negotiators may be intending to commit the United States to a nationwide emission reduction program. … you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country.

And had China, India, and all the rest been just a bit more amenable, that is what, one suspects, Obama was more than willing to do — box in the Congress with a unilateral commitment.

While we might breathe a sigh of relief that Copenhagen ended as it did, it is yet another unpleasant reminder that Obama’s reverence for the “international community” is virtually without limit. The constant failure of the “international community” to produce any agreement of consequence (whether it’s enforceable sanctions on rogue wannabe-nuclear states or anything else) and its unseemly habit of money-grubbing from developed nations have, at least so far, not cooled Obama’s ardor for multilateral confabs. But stay tuned: it’s less than a year before the next three-ring circus in Mexico City.

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China Says Bush Supports Beijing against Activists

On Friday, Liu Guijin, Beijing’s special envoy for Sudan, argued that the attendance of Western leaders at this year’s Summer Olympics means they support China in its ongoing campaign against activist groups. “More and more spokesmen and public figures have decided that politicization of the Olympic Games is not compatible with the Olympic spirit,” he explained.

Are the Olympics a political event? Whether or not they were before, they are now. Beijing and its detractors are engaged in highly public struggles over Darfur, Tibet, human rights, democracy, and a dozen other topics in connection with the Olympic extravaganza. And Liu, in presenting Beijing’s case, has just explicitly politicized the attendance of foreign leaders. President Bush can no longer claim that he is going to the Games merely for the sport. Unfortunately, his host has contradicted him and is using him against the activists.

So the American leader must make a decision: Will he side with Beijing’s autocrats, who, among other things, repress the Chinese people and enable the mass slaughter in Darfur? The world awaits his answer.

On Friday, Liu Guijin, Beijing’s special envoy for Sudan, argued that the attendance of Western leaders at this year’s Summer Olympics means they support China in its ongoing campaign against activist groups. “More and more spokesmen and public figures have decided that politicization of the Olympic Games is not compatible with the Olympic spirit,” he explained.

Are the Olympics a political event? Whether or not they were before, they are now. Beijing and its detractors are engaged in highly public struggles over Darfur, Tibet, human rights, democracy, and a dozen other topics in connection with the Olympic extravaganza. And Liu, in presenting Beijing’s case, has just explicitly politicized the attendance of foreign leaders. President Bush can no longer claim that he is going to the Games merely for the sport. Unfortunately, his host has contradicted him and is using him against the activists.

So the American leader must make a decision: Will he side with Beijing’s autocrats, who, among other things, repress the Chinese people and enable the mass slaughter in Darfur? The world awaits his answer.

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Hitchens on Lefkowitz

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon G. Chang wrote about the State Department’s shameful disavowal of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. (Lefkowitz, a COMMENTARY contributor, published “Stem Cells and the President” in our January issue.) Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz had registered some blunt complaints about the ineffectiveness of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, and emphasized the failings of South Korea and China in particular. Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes up Lefkowitz’s cause.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had distanced the Bush administration from Lefkowitz’s comments by telling him to stick to human rights and leave the disarmament business to the big shots—in almost those words. Hitchens argues that in the case of North Korea the challenges of human rights and nuclear disarmament are necessarily linked:

The specific method of enslavement north of the border is to consider all citizens to be conscripts as well as serfs, an unprecedented mobilization that in the last resort has every North Korean a robotized soldier. This, in turn, especially given the proximity of the South Korean capital, Seoul, to the so-called “demilitarized zone,” compels South Korea to maintain a disproportionate armed force and the United States to commit an extraordinary number of its own troops, ships, and airplanes…Because of famine and exploitation, the average North Korean soldier is now as much as 6 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart. The struggle—ideological, political, and military—would be more or less over if Pyongyang did not have a thermonuclear capacity and a well-earned reputation for being governed by an unpredictable psychopath who may not understand the concept of self-preservation.

Hitchens goes on to point out the undesirability of a policy that managed to denuclearize North Korea incrementally, through bribes, at the expense of the human rights cause.

Now, this might not matter so much if it were only as irritating and humiliating as the long-drawn-out charade that we played with Saddam Hussein and are still playing with the Iranian mullahs. But meanwhile, we are authorizing and expediting the delivery of essential fuel and food to the regime, and thus becoming co-administrators and physical guarantors of the most cruel and oppressive system of tyranny on the planet.

Not only has the Bush administration gone mum about the evil of the axis-of-evil’s only non-deterrable member, but the issue of North Korean human rights hasn’t earned so much as a soundbite from any presidential candidate. Silence on this issue is not only an ideological failure, but a strategic one. As Hitchens says, “That’s why Lefkowitz was right to speak up and right to imply that it is within the terms of his brief to do so.”

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon G. Chang wrote about the State Department’s shameful disavowal of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. (Lefkowitz, a COMMENTARY contributor, published “Stem Cells and the President” in our January issue.) Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz had registered some blunt complaints about the ineffectiveness of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, and emphasized the failings of South Korea and China in particular. Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes up Lefkowitz’s cause.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had distanced the Bush administration from Lefkowitz’s comments by telling him to stick to human rights and leave the disarmament business to the big shots—in almost those words. Hitchens argues that in the case of North Korea the challenges of human rights and nuclear disarmament are necessarily linked:

The specific method of enslavement north of the border is to consider all citizens to be conscripts as well as serfs, an unprecedented mobilization that in the last resort has every North Korean a robotized soldier. This, in turn, especially given the proximity of the South Korean capital, Seoul, to the so-called “demilitarized zone,” compels South Korea to maintain a disproportionate armed force and the United States to commit an extraordinary number of its own troops, ships, and airplanes…Because of famine and exploitation, the average North Korean soldier is now as much as 6 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart. The struggle—ideological, political, and military—would be more or less over if Pyongyang did not have a thermonuclear capacity and a well-earned reputation for being governed by an unpredictable psychopath who may not understand the concept of self-preservation.

Hitchens goes on to point out the undesirability of a policy that managed to denuclearize North Korea incrementally, through bribes, at the expense of the human rights cause.

Now, this might not matter so much if it were only as irritating and humiliating as the long-drawn-out charade that we played with Saddam Hussein and are still playing with the Iranian mullahs. But meanwhile, we are authorizing and expediting the delivery of essential fuel and food to the regime, and thus becoming co-administrators and physical guarantors of the most cruel and oppressive system of tyranny on the planet.

Not only has the Bush administration gone mum about the evil of the axis-of-evil’s only non-deterrable member, but the issue of North Korean human rights hasn’t earned so much as a soundbite from any presidential candidate. Silence on this issue is not only an ideological failure, but a strategic one. As Hitchens says, “That’s why Lefkowitz was right to speak up and right to imply that it is within the terms of his brief to do so.”

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Re: State Eats One Of Its Own

Gordon, we should note that Jay Lefkowitz, this country’s special envoy on human rights in North Korea and the subject of your shocking post this morning, is a COMMENTARY author whose eye-opening article in the January issue, “Stem Cells and the President,” has been much remarked-upon.

Gordon, we should note that Jay Lefkowitz, this country’s special envoy on human rights in North Korea and the subject of your shocking post this morning, is a COMMENTARY author whose eye-opening article in the January issue, “Stem Cells and the President,” has been much remarked-upon.

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State Eats One of Its Own

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

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More UN Fumbling

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Burma yesterday. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said his diplomat would try to further “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators.” This is Gambari’s second trip to the nation since countrywide protests in September, and it follows his Asia shuttle diplomacy that the Washington Post characterized yesterday as “time-wasting busywork.”

Specifically, Gambari will continue his efforts to initiate a dialogue between the junta that has misruled Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the opposition. After crushing the recent demonstrations, it’s hard to see why the generals, led by the notorious Than Shwe, would concede any ground. In fact, they just ordered the expulsion of the chief UN diplomat in the country, Charles Petrie, for his mild comments last month about the odious regime. In response to the government’s harsh response, the best that Ban could manage is to issue a statement saying that he is “disappointed.”

Well, the rest of us may be more than just a little peeved. We have moved beyond the point of wanting to talk to the junta and no longer wish to see Burma’s leaders trifle with the UN (even if Ban is perfectly content to let his organization be humiliated). In short, it’s time to call for a sanctions vote in the Security Council. Economic isolation is the one thing that can end this particular blot on humanity in fairly short order. After all, Petrie is being turfed out for linking the recent protests to deteriorating economic conditions. It was unhappiness over the doubling of gas prices that triggered the last round of Burmese protests.

It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions. And if tougher measures fail in the U.N. because Beijing, the regime’s main benefactor, exercises another veto, President Bush can try to rally the rest of the international community. If he’s looking for a legacy, then this is the moment to exercise the leadership of which he is still capable.

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived in Burma yesterday. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said his diplomat would try to further “democratic measures by the Myanmar government, including the release of all detained students and demonstrators.” This is Gambari’s second trip to the nation since countrywide protests in September, and it follows his Asia shuttle diplomacy that the Washington Post characterized yesterday as “time-wasting busywork.”

Specifically, Gambari will continue his efforts to initiate a dialogue between the junta that has misruled Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the opposition. After crushing the recent demonstrations, it’s hard to see why the generals, led by the notorious Than Shwe, would concede any ground. In fact, they just ordered the expulsion of the chief UN diplomat in the country, Charles Petrie, for his mild comments last month about the odious regime. In response to the government’s harsh response, the best that Ban could manage is to issue a statement saying that he is “disappointed.”

Well, the rest of us may be more than just a little peeved. We have moved beyond the point of wanting to talk to the junta and no longer wish to see Burma’s leaders trifle with the UN (even if Ban is perfectly content to let his organization be humiliated). In short, it’s time to call for a sanctions vote in the Security Council. Economic isolation is the one thing that can end this particular blot on humanity in fairly short order. After all, Petrie is being turfed out for linking the recent protests to deteriorating economic conditions. It was unhappiness over the doubling of gas prices that triggered the last round of Burmese protests.

It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions. And if tougher measures fail in the U.N. because Beijing, the regime’s main benefactor, exercises another veto, President Bush can try to rally the rest of the international community. If he’s looking for a legacy, then this is the moment to exercise the leadership of which he is still capable.

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Daniel Levy

Interviewed in the Sunday Telegraph, Daniel Levy—a former Israeli government staffer and policy analyst—was quoted as saying that Tony Blair, in his new capacity as special envoy to the Middle East, should negotiate with Hamas. Otherwise, Levy bluntly claimed, “he’ll fail.” Levy has now rectified the quote on his blog, claiming he meant something else:

My argument is that the policy of isolating and excluding Hamas cannot work. The important thing is to open meaningful channels of dialogue to Hamas. Whether that is initiated by Blair or others is secondary. In fact, it would be unlikely (and understandably so) for Blair to take the lead role in this respect.

While you’re busy parsing his equivocation, one thing should be said about Daniel Levy: his career as a peacemaker uniquely qualifies him to know what failure is. He served in the Barak government as head of Jerusalem affairs when Barak proposed to divide Jerusalem. He served with Yossi Beilin at the Ministry of Justice, and was part of the Israeli delegation at the Taba talks in 2001, when the most dovish delegation Israel could produce failed to charm its Palestinian counterparts. He’s been an analyst at the International Crisis Group and was a party to the Geneva accords. Given his past accomplishments and his recipe for peacemaking, it would be arrogant to doubt his wisdom. Then again, given what Levy views as success, Blair’s “failure”, in this case, might not be so bad.

Interviewed in the Sunday Telegraph, Daniel Levy—a former Israeli government staffer and policy analyst—was quoted as saying that Tony Blair, in his new capacity as special envoy to the Middle East, should negotiate with Hamas. Otherwise, Levy bluntly claimed, “he’ll fail.” Levy has now rectified the quote on his blog, claiming he meant something else:

My argument is that the policy of isolating and excluding Hamas cannot work. The important thing is to open meaningful channels of dialogue to Hamas. Whether that is initiated by Blair or others is secondary. In fact, it would be unlikely (and understandably so) for Blair to take the lead role in this respect.

While you’re busy parsing his equivocation, one thing should be said about Daniel Levy: his career as a peacemaker uniquely qualifies him to know what failure is. He served in the Barak government as head of Jerusalem affairs when Barak proposed to divide Jerusalem. He served with Yossi Beilin at the Ministry of Justice, and was part of the Israeli delegation at the Taba talks in 2001, when the most dovish delegation Israel could produce failed to charm its Palestinian counterparts. He’s been an analyst at the International Crisis Group and was a party to the Geneva accords. Given his past accomplishments and his recipe for peacemaking, it would be arrogant to doubt his wisdom. Then again, given what Levy views as success, Blair’s “failure”, in this case, might not be so bad.

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(Un)Fair Trade

Speaking at the UN Security Council on Wednesday, UN Special Envoy to the Middle East Michael Williams noted that “Unless the crossings [into Gaza] are open for imports and exports, the downward economic spiral will lead to extensive hardship for an already impoverished Gaza Strip.” He also highlighted the plight of 6,000 Palestinians, currently stranded in Egypt, who cannot re-enter the Strip because Hamas will only let them in through the Rafah crossing (which Israel has relinquished), while Egypt and Israel are ready to let them in only through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Why anyone would wish to re-enter Gaza may be a mystery. But that question is beside the point. Israel is not the only country sharing a border with Gaza, though it is the only country bordering Gaza that Gaza’s rulers wish and work to destroy. That the UN wants Israel to conduct trade negotiations with them boggles the mind.

Speaking at the UN Security Council on Wednesday, UN Special Envoy to the Middle East Michael Williams noted that “Unless the crossings [into Gaza] are open for imports and exports, the downward economic spiral will lead to extensive hardship for an already impoverished Gaza Strip.” He also highlighted the plight of 6,000 Palestinians, currently stranded in Egypt, who cannot re-enter the Strip because Hamas will only let them in through the Rafah crossing (which Israel has relinquished), while Egypt and Israel are ready to let them in only through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Why anyone would wish to re-enter Gaza may be a mystery. But that question is beside the point. Israel is not the only country sharing a border with Gaza, though it is the only country bordering Gaza that Gaza’s rulers wish and work to destroy. That the UN wants Israel to conduct trade negotiations with them boggles the mind.

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Blair in the West Bank

“If Tony Blair thinks we’re going to roll out a red carpet for him, he’s in for a surprise.”

This is what a senior Palestinian official in the office of Mahmoud Abbas told me when I asked him over the weekend about the visit to the region by the former British prime minister, now a special envoy of the Middle East Quartet.

“The president is not going to welcome him at the entrance to his office and we will send only one police car to accompany his motorcade when it enters Ramallah.”

The Palestinians have never liked Blair, largely because of his close alliance with George W. Bush, and his role in the Iraq war. That’s why it was hard this week to find one Palestinian who was pinning high hopes on Blair’s new mission as the top representative of the Quartet.

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“If Tony Blair thinks we’re going to roll out a red carpet for him, he’s in for a surprise.”

This is what a senior Palestinian official in the office of Mahmoud Abbas told me when I asked him over the weekend about the visit to the region by the former British prime minister, now a special envoy of the Middle East Quartet.

“The president is not going to welcome him at the entrance to his office and we will send only one police car to accompany his motorcade when it enters Ramallah.”

The Palestinians have never liked Blair, largely because of his close alliance with George W. Bush, and his role in the Iraq war. That’s why it was hard this week to find one Palestinian who was pinning high hopes on Blair’s new mission as the top representative of the Quartet.

As far as most Palestinians and Arabs are concerned, Blair is nothing but a puppet in the hands of Bush. “He’s coming here to help Bush and the Jews,” another Palestinian official in Ramallah told me. “For us, Blair is not an honest broker because he’s biased in favor of Israel.

So if the Palestinians don’t trust Blair and don’t believe that he can make a contribution to the peace process, why are they still willing to deal with him?

The answer is simple: Mahmoud Abbas and his corruption-riddled Fatah faction, beaten harshly by Hamas, need money and cash, even from “infidels and Crusaders” like Bush and Blair. Abbas and his Fatah lieutenants have only one thing in mind: avenging their humiliating defeat in the Gaza Strip at the hands of Hamas.

To this end, they are prepared to ally themselves with anyone who is willing to provide them with millions of dollars and thousands of rifles so that they can fight Hamas. But Abbas is not going to fight Hamas—he never has, which is why Hamas managed to overrun the Gaza Strip so easily.

The name of the game in Middle East diplomacy these days is: “Let’s support the moderate Palestinians against the radicals.” Over the past two years, millions of dollars have been poured on Abbas and Fatah to help them undermine the growing power of Hamas. This tactic has not worked.

On Tuesday, Blair will hear from Abbas and his aides that only if the international community gives them more money and weapons will they be able to wipe out Hamas. Blair, of course, is most likely to buy this plea. He will go back to his partners in the Quartet and urge them to channel more funds to Abbas. And for his part, Abbas will fail to combat Hamas.

Blair is welcome in the Fatah-controlled West Bank only as long as he can promise financial aid and weapons. But it’s only a matter of time before Blair and Bush wake up to find that Hamas has devoured the West Bank. If Bush and Blair want to help Abbas, they must pressure him to establish good governance and to end rampant corruption. That’s the best way to undermine Hamas.

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Hamas and the Europeans

Noting that the EU had been accused of being too pro-Israel by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, I recently wrote that

it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Despite shows of unity with their U.S. partners, the Europeans are doing just that, now that the Palestinian “national unity” government is in place. The foreign minister of Norway traveled to Gaza to confer with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, after Norway’s government recognized the new executive.
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Noting that the EU had been accused of being too pro-Israel by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, I recently wrote that

it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Despite shows of unity with their U.S. partners, the Europeans are doing just that, now that the Palestinian “national unity” government is in place. The foreign minister of Norway traveled to Gaza to confer with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, after Norway’s government recognized the new executive.

Rumor has it that the next Norwegian diplomatic move was a phone call to the EU’s foreign policy czar, Javier Solana, asking EU states to emulate Norway (which is not a member). The EU chose caution instead: it would judge the new government by its deeds, a spokesman said, not only by its words. Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, visiting Ramallah last Friday, reiterated this message. But he did so at a joint press conference with the new Palestinian foreign minister, Ziad Abu Amr. And Italy’s undersecretary for foreign affairs, Vittorio Craxi, called Haniyeh “in his personal capacity,” but did not pay an official visit.

Next, it was the turn of Marc Otte, the EU special envoy to the Middle East, who met the new PA finance minister, Salam Fayyad (as did the U.S. consul in Jerusalem). As the International Herald Tribune reports, the Swedish foreign minister is next; the Swiss and Russian ambassadors will also meet Fayyad. Switzerland and France have invited him to visit; the UK announced that it, too, will speak to non-Hamas ministers.

Unlike Norway, the EU still has a few problems talking to the PA while Hamas is part of the government: Hamas, after all, is on the EU terror list. And the Quartet, at least officially, still stands by the Roadmap and the three preconditions that any PA government must meet for the international embargo on aid and dialogue to be ended.

But even Europe’s modest overtures are quite astonishing when one considers how Hamas itself views the new “unity” government: as the group’s leaders have repeatedly emphasized, “resistance” in all its forms will continue. True to form, Hamas followed words with deeds, and proceeded to claim responsibility for the shooting of an Israeli worker only two days after the government was sworn in.

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