Commentary Magazine


Topic: spokesman

With Brothers Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

Following up on Alana’s post, this from the Jerusalem Post: “A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on Thursday evening repeatedly refused to commit to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, or even recognizing Israel, if the Brotherhood becomes a player in the future governance of Egypt.”

Remind me again why the Obama administration said earlier this week that a new government in Egypt should “include a whole host of important non-secular actors” — meaning the Brotherhood?

As Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute put it, “If we’re going to deal with people in the opposition, it makes the most sense for us to engage with groups that can be reasonably thought to support a liberal democratic outcome in Egypt. How are we going to persuade [the Muslim Brotherhood] to like us? They don’t, and they won’t.”

So here’s an idea: let’s stop trying to strengthen and legitimize them.

Following up on Alana’s post, this from the Jerusalem Post: “A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on Thursday evening repeatedly refused to commit to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, or even recognizing Israel, if the Brotherhood becomes a player in the future governance of Egypt.”

Remind me again why the Obama administration said earlier this week that a new government in Egypt should “include a whole host of important non-secular actors” — meaning the Brotherhood?

As Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute put it, “If we’re going to deal with people in the opposition, it makes the most sense for us to engage with groups that can be reasonably thought to support a liberal democratic outcome in Egypt. How are we going to persuade [the Muslim Brotherhood] to like us? They don’t, and they won’t.”

So here’s an idea: let’s stop trying to strengthen and legitimize them.

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Muslim Brotherhood Wants to End Israel Peace Treaty

A high-ranking member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has come out and said that any new Egyptian government must end the three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel.

As progressives continue to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually an enlightened, liberal political group, it’s important to note statements like these. While the Egyptian Brotherhood has renounced violence for the most part, it’s still a sworn enemy of Israel and would be a poor partner for the U.S. if it gained power in Egypt:

“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the outlawed movement, said on Japan’s NHTV.

The interview contrasted with earlier signals from the group. On Feb. 1, Mahmoud Ezzat, a spokesman for the brothers, told CBS News that his organization “will respect the peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel shows real progress on improving the lot of the Palestinians.”

Of course, the only reason the Brotherhood can make statements like this about Israel is because it probably won’t gain majority power in any sort of coalition government that replaces Mubarak. The group needs to maintain its Islamist street cred, and one of the ways to do this is by coming out strongly against Israel.

But the Brotherhood is also politically savvy and knows that getting rid of the treaty would result in a fight that the country simply can’t handle at the moment. And if the group wins a decent minority block of seats in a new coalition government, then it has the best of both worlds: it can continue the anti-Israel statements without having to deal the political fallout.

A high-ranking member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has come out and said that any new Egyptian government must end the three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel.

As progressives continue to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually an enlightened, liberal political group, it’s important to note statements like these. While the Egyptian Brotherhood has renounced violence for the most part, it’s still a sworn enemy of Israel and would be a poor partner for the U.S. if it gained power in Egypt:

“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the outlawed movement, said on Japan’s NHTV.

The interview contrasted with earlier signals from the group. On Feb. 1, Mahmoud Ezzat, a spokesman for the brothers, told CBS News that his organization “will respect the peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel shows real progress on improving the lot of the Palestinians.”

Of course, the only reason the Brotherhood can make statements like this about Israel is because it probably won’t gain majority power in any sort of coalition government that replaces Mubarak. The group needs to maintain its Islamist street cred, and one of the ways to do this is by coming out strongly against Israel.

But the Brotherhood is also politically savvy and knows that getting rid of the treaty would result in a fight that the country simply can’t handle at the moment. And if the group wins a decent minority block of seats in a new coalition government, then it has the best of both worlds: it can continue the anti-Israel statements without having to deal the political fallout.

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Palin Skips Out on CPAC Again

Sarah Palin is the latest in a string of prominent conservatives who have decided not to attend this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which takes place in Washington D.C. next week. While this will be the third year in a row that Palin has skipped the event, this year she turned down the coveted keynote-speaker slot, which was filled by Glenn Beck last year and by Rush Limbaugh in 2009:

CPAC leaders invited Palin to deliver the closing-night keynote speech on Saturday Feb. 12, immediately following the announcement of the results of CPAC’s annual presidential straw poll, but after several days of negotiations, she declined.

“We’re disappointed that she wasn’t able to make it this year,” American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene said through a spokesman on Thursday. He noted that Palin “expressed interest in wanting to come this year,” but said that it came down to “a scheduling issue.”

As ABC News noted, Palin “has a rocky history” with CPAC and skipped the event last year owing to some of the reportedly shady business dealings of the conference’s organizer, David Keene. But the fact that she hasn’t attended the event for three years in a row makes it seem like it could honestly be about scheduling issues, as opposed to any involvement in the social conservatives’ CPAC boycott.

Marco Rubio will also be absent, and it will be interesting to see if any other prominent politicians skip out. The Senate will be out of session next week — since Democrats will be away on a retreat — and it’s possible that some GOP senators slated to speak at CPAC will decide to head to their home states at the last minute. But at the moment, the conference apparently hasn’t been seriously impacted by the boycott, and organizers told ABC News that they expect around 10,000 attendees at the event.

Sarah Palin is the latest in a string of prominent conservatives who have decided not to attend this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which takes place in Washington D.C. next week. While this will be the third year in a row that Palin has skipped the event, this year she turned down the coveted keynote-speaker slot, which was filled by Glenn Beck last year and by Rush Limbaugh in 2009:

CPAC leaders invited Palin to deliver the closing-night keynote speech on Saturday Feb. 12, immediately following the announcement of the results of CPAC’s annual presidential straw poll, but after several days of negotiations, she declined.

“We’re disappointed that she wasn’t able to make it this year,” American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene said through a spokesman on Thursday. He noted that Palin “expressed interest in wanting to come this year,” but said that it came down to “a scheduling issue.”

As ABC News noted, Palin “has a rocky history” with CPAC and skipped the event last year owing to some of the reportedly shady business dealings of the conference’s organizer, David Keene. But the fact that she hasn’t attended the event for three years in a row makes it seem like it could honestly be about scheduling issues, as opposed to any involvement in the social conservatives’ CPAC boycott.

Marco Rubio will also be absent, and it will be interesting to see if any other prominent politicians skip out. The Senate will be out of session next week — since Democrats will be away on a retreat — and it’s possible that some GOP senators slated to speak at CPAC will decide to head to their home states at the last minute. But at the moment, the conference apparently hasn’t been seriously impacted by the boycott, and organizers told ABC News that they expect around 10,000 attendees at the event.

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Lebanon: An Inflection Point for the Status Quo

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. Read More

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

But the days when the Western navies had plenty of carriers to move around from crisis to crisis are behind us. Two carriers may be in the Mediterranean shortly, but not because they were urgently dispatched. Abraham Lincoln is tethered to our requirements in Southwest Asia; USS Enterprise, on the way to relieve Lincoln on-station, is transiting through the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, has been scheduled since her deployment in October to return home in February.

NATO’s non-U.S. carrier force is razor thin. Charles de Gaulle’s departure from France last fall was marred by a breakdown that delayed this very rare deployment by several weeks. Britain, once a reliable dispatcher of aircraft carriers, is in worse shape: just this weekend, the Royal Navy sent its last fighter-jet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, to be decommissioned. Britain won’t have a carrier that can deploy fighter jets again until 2020. In this capability, Italy now outstrips Britain: the Italians have two carriers that can each transport eight Harrier jump-jets. Spain has one.

For the U.S., as for France, putting a carrier off Lebanon entails rigorously prioritizing crises: either leaving some unattended or accepting schedule gaps down the road. With enough effort, the U.S. and France could still seek to affect the outcome in Lebanon with an offshore show of force. But the regional expectation implied by the Arab press rumor — the sense that Western navies can easily bring overwhelming force to a crisis — is outdated today.

Margin and latitude in our force options are casualties of the extended post–Cold War drawdown. At a juncture evocative of previous dilemmas for U.S. presidents, Obama would do better to take his cue from Harry Truman in the late 1940s than from Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. One way or another, this crisis in Lebanon will have a disproportionate impact on the future.

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A Peek into the Plans for ‘Freedom Flotilla II’

An Israeli investigation into last year’s flotilla incident may have just ended, but pro-Palestinian activists are still gearing up their plans for the “Freedom Flotilla II.”

The new flotilla will be much larger than the previous six-boat affair, with estimates ranging from 20 to 50 boats, the activists told the Washington Times:

“We have at least 15 different groups right now at one or two boats each,” said Huwaida Arraf, chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the effort. “Every meeting we have, we get one or two new country-based networks or coalitions that want to join.”

And, of course, the participants are taking the necessary steps to ensure that this flotilla is a public-relations success. They’re even planning to send the ships out as close to the anniversary of last year’s flotilla as possible:

“May 31 would be a very good date for many reasons,” said Dror Feiler, spokesman for Ship to Gaza-Sweden. “To pay tribute to the martyrs who died for the people of Gaza and human rights. From a media perspective. And also logistics: It is not too early, and we will be very well prepared. Others want to go sooner.”

Yes, the “martyrs” — who attacked unarmed soldiers with clubs and knives.

After the first flotilla incident, Israel relaxed some of its import and export restrictions on Gaza. That move was supposed to quiet international pressure, but it looks like it was just further encouragement for flotilla activists.

One activist, Dror Feiler, told the Washington Times that their message to Israel “is that we are going to go again and again and again until the siege of Gaza ends.” Which means that Israel will probably have to contend with this annually.

The Freedom Flotilla has really become something of a franchise for these activists. In addition to the Mavi Marmara action movie set to be released later this month, Gaza flotilla T-shirts, and a “We Will Sail On” music video, they’re now apparently planning a sequel. But at least this time, Israel will be prepared.

An Israeli investigation into last year’s flotilla incident may have just ended, but pro-Palestinian activists are still gearing up their plans for the “Freedom Flotilla II.”

The new flotilla will be much larger than the previous six-boat affair, with estimates ranging from 20 to 50 boats, the activists told the Washington Times:

“We have at least 15 different groups right now at one or two boats each,” said Huwaida Arraf, chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the effort. “Every meeting we have, we get one or two new country-based networks or coalitions that want to join.”

And, of course, the participants are taking the necessary steps to ensure that this flotilla is a public-relations success. They’re even planning to send the ships out as close to the anniversary of last year’s flotilla as possible:

“May 31 would be a very good date for many reasons,” said Dror Feiler, spokesman for Ship to Gaza-Sweden. “To pay tribute to the martyrs who died for the people of Gaza and human rights. From a media perspective. And also logistics: It is not too early, and we will be very well prepared. Others want to go sooner.”

Yes, the “martyrs” — who attacked unarmed soldiers with clubs and knives.

After the first flotilla incident, Israel relaxed some of its import and export restrictions on Gaza. That move was supposed to quiet international pressure, but it looks like it was just further encouragement for flotilla activists.

One activist, Dror Feiler, told the Washington Times that their message to Israel “is that we are going to go again and again and again until the siege of Gaza ends.” Which means that Israel will probably have to contend with this annually.

The Freedom Flotilla has really become something of a franchise for these activists. In addition to the Mavi Marmara action movie set to be released later this month, Gaza flotilla T-shirts, and a “We Will Sail On” music video, they’re now apparently planning a sequel. But at least this time, Israel will be prepared.

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Jim DeMint to Boycott CPAC

The last time I wrote about social conservatives’ boycott of CPAC due to the participation of GOProud, a Republican gay-rights group, I predicted that it would have little impact on the success of the event unless major speakers or financial backers began to pull out. But now Sen. Jim DeMint, a regular speaker at the conference, has announced that he’ll be skipping it this year:

“With leading conservatives organizations not participating this year, Sen. DeMint will not be attending. He hopes to attend a unified CPAC next year,” DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said in an e-mail.

Prominent social conservatives have dropped out of the event and criticized it for its inclusion of the gay conservative group GOProud. Rep. Jim Jordan, who heads the House’s Republican Study Committee, also has joined the boycott.

This in itself isn’t a huge blow to CPAC. But it could be a sign of more problems to come. DeMint is highly influential in the conservative movement, and his decision could make it easier for other speakers to drop out of the conference as well.

And while it’s unlikely that prospective candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will drop out of the event — they wouldn’t want to risk alienating disparate segments of the conservative movement at this point — it could make it more difficult for the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, to book prominent speakers next year.

CPAC makes a good deal of its money off students, who attend the event to hear speeches from top conservative leaders. If the conference isn’t able to draw as many big names, it may start to lose out on student fees.

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel also notes that Rep. Mike Pence hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll be speaking. Pence is considered more mainstream than DeMint, and if he’s a no-show, that would be a major indicator that the conference’s influence in the movement is waning.

The last time I wrote about social conservatives’ boycott of CPAC due to the participation of GOProud, a Republican gay-rights group, I predicted that it would have little impact on the success of the event unless major speakers or financial backers began to pull out. But now Sen. Jim DeMint, a regular speaker at the conference, has announced that he’ll be skipping it this year:

“With leading conservatives organizations not participating this year, Sen. DeMint will not be attending. He hopes to attend a unified CPAC next year,” DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said in an e-mail.

Prominent social conservatives have dropped out of the event and criticized it for its inclusion of the gay conservative group GOProud. Rep. Jim Jordan, who heads the House’s Republican Study Committee, also has joined the boycott.

This in itself isn’t a huge blow to CPAC. But it could be a sign of more problems to come. DeMint is highly influential in the conservative movement, and his decision could make it easier for other speakers to drop out of the conference as well.

And while it’s unlikely that prospective candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will drop out of the event — they wouldn’t want to risk alienating disparate segments of the conservative movement at this point — it could make it more difficult for the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, to book prominent speakers next year.

CPAC makes a good deal of its money off students, who attend the event to hear speeches from top conservative leaders. If the conference isn’t able to draw as many big names, it may start to lose out on student fees.

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel also notes that Rep. Mike Pence hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll be speaking. Pence is considered more mainstream than DeMint, and if he’s a no-show, that would be a major indicator that the conference’s influence in the movement is waning.

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Bringing Change to Foreign Policy

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

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The Ninth Step

President Obama has recently taken eight steps toward the right. As Peter noted yesterday, Romesh Ponnuru listed six: (1) the tax deal; (2) selecting Bill Daley as chief of staff; (3) absolving conservatives of murder in Tucson; (4) having Joe Biden project involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014; (5) reviewing burdensome federal regulations; (6) authorizing Hillary Clinton’s new line on human rights in China. Ira Stoll identified two more: (7) appointing the Democratic Leadership Council’s Bruce Reed as Biden’s chief of staff; (8) Clinton’s pressuring Arabs on democratic reform, in a manner reminiscent of the Bush administration.

Let’s add a ninth: opposition to a UN resolution on Israeli settlements.

Ponnuru argued that Obama’s six moves are merely a “tactical and temporary” move to the center — a description that might also describe the seventh and eighth. Let’s consider whether it applies to the ninth.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley repeatedly answered questions yesterday by saying that the UN was not the place for the issues to be addressed — a position that will require a U.S. veto of any proposed resolution, even if the Palestinians continue their efforts to refine the language, since the language is irrelevant if the UN is not the proper forum to begin with:

QUESTION: …why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t — that supports existing U.S. policy?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all. Read More

President Obama has recently taken eight steps toward the right. As Peter noted yesterday, Romesh Ponnuru listed six: (1) the tax deal; (2) selecting Bill Daley as chief of staff; (3) absolving conservatives of murder in Tucson; (4) having Joe Biden project involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014; (5) reviewing burdensome federal regulations; (6) authorizing Hillary Clinton’s new line on human rights in China. Ira Stoll identified two more: (7) appointing the Democratic Leadership Council’s Bruce Reed as Biden’s chief of staff; (8) Clinton’s pressuring Arabs on democratic reform, in a manner reminiscent of the Bush administration.

Let’s add a ninth: opposition to a UN resolution on Israeli settlements.

Ponnuru argued that Obama’s six moves are merely a “tactical and temporary” move to the center — a description that might also describe the seventh and eighth. Let’s consider whether it applies to the ninth.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley repeatedly answered questions yesterday by saying that the UN was not the place for the issues to be addressed — a position that will require a U.S. veto of any proposed resolution, even if the Palestinians continue their efforts to refine the language, since the language is irrelevant if the UN is not the proper forum to begin with:

QUESTION: …why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t — that supports existing U.S. policy?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all.

QUESTION: So it’s not the contents that you’re opposed to; it’s simply the idea of a resolution.

MR. CROWLEY: We do not think that the UN Security Council is the best place to address these issues.

QUESTION: Can I ask why? Because, I mean, the UN is where Israel was created, basically. Why is the UN not the place to deal with these issues?

MR. CROWLEY: These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.

Asked to specify a productive step forward, Crowley repeated the goal of a framework agreement produced by direct negotiations and said the administration was working on it:

QUESTION: But that’s been going on for the past two years.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: And if you’re talking about productive steps —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s been going on for longer than that if — (laughter)

QUESTION: Well, this Administration, it’s been going on for the last two years. And if you’re talking about productive steps, certainly that process hasn’t produced anything.

MR. CROWLEY: You’re leading to a kind of a glass half full, glass half empty kind of discussion.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, except that the glass doesn’t have any water in it at all. (Laughter)

There are two possible explanations for the administration’s position: (1) a tactical and temporary move to the center, by a shellacked president anxious to avoid a confrontation with Israel before the 2012 presidential election; (2) a realization that focusing on Israeli settlements, without comparable concessions from either Palestinians or Arab states, is a failed strategy — and a UN resolution is not going to put any water in the glass.

The Palestinians, with their two-year strategy of avoiding negotiations (even after Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech; even after the settlement moratorium; even after repeated U.S. attempts to drag them to the table), have driven the peace process into a ditch. Unwilling to recognize a Jewish state or make the concessions necessary to get a Palestinian one, they want others to act while they stand by drinking slurpees.

Whether because of politics or policy, or both, the administration seems to realize this.

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Morning Commentary

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

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RE: Palestinians’ UN Gambit Puts Both Israel and Obama on the Spot

The Associated Press has published excerpts from the Palestinians’ draft resolution; it seeks a declaration that Israeli settlements are “illegal” and a “major obstacle” to peace, and demands that settlement activities cease “immediately and completely.” The gambit should put the Palestinians on the spot.

As Jonathan noted, the asserted illegality has no foundation in international law. Nor have settlements been a “major obstacle” to peace, since notwithstanding them, Israel has made repeated offers of a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank. In 2005, Israel removed every settlement from Gaza, only to have the Palestinian Authority turn it into Hamastan in one week. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month West Bank construction moratorium (more than enough time to negotiate still another offer of a state, since Abbas asserted it would take only six months); George Mitchell repeatedly warned the Palestinians that the moratorium would not be extended, yet they had to be dragged to the table in the ninth month, and then left it at the end of the tenth.

The Gaza experience in 2005, the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) in 2008, the Palestinian refusal to negotiate during the 2009-10 moratorium, and now the attempted UN diversion all demonstrate that the problem is not the settlements but the Palestinians.

Settlements are a final-status issue under the Roadmap, to be negotiated in good faith. Asked yesterday about the potential Palestinian push for a UN resolution, the State Department spokesman said:

We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council. [emphasis added]

Asked yesterday if the U.S. would exercise its veto, the State Department spokesman said that “it’s a hypothetical at this point … but I think I made our position pretty clear.” If the Palestinians proceed with their end-run resolution, they will force the U.S. to make that position even clearer, assuming the italicized words matter.

The Associated Press has published excerpts from the Palestinians’ draft resolution; it seeks a declaration that Israeli settlements are “illegal” and a “major obstacle” to peace, and demands that settlement activities cease “immediately and completely.” The gambit should put the Palestinians on the spot.

As Jonathan noted, the asserted illegality has no foundation in international law. Nor have settlements been a “major obstacle” to peace, since notwithstanding them, Israel has made repeated offers of a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank. In 2005, Israel removed every settlement from Gaza, only to have the Palestinian Authority turn it into Hamastan in one week. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month West Bank construction moratorium (more than enough time to negotiate still another offer of a state, since Abbas asserted it would take only six months); George Mitchell repeatedly warned the Palestinians that the moratorium would not be extended, yet they had to be dragged to the table in the ninth month, and then left it at the end of the tenth.

The Gaza experience in 2005, the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) in 2008, the Palestinian refusal to negotiate during the 2009-10 moratorium, and now the attempted UN diversion all demonstrate that the problem is not the settlements but the Palestinians.

Settlements are a final-status issue under the Roadmap, to be negotiated in good faith. Asked yesterday about the potential Palestinian push for a UN resolution, the State Department spokesman said:

We believe, fundamentally, that direct negotiations are the only path through which the parties will ultimately reach the framework agreement that is our goal, our mutual goal. And final status issues can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties and not by recourse to the UN Security Council, so we’ve consistently opposed any attempt to take these kinds of issues to the Council. [emphasis added]

Asked yesterday if the U.S. would exercise its veto, the State Department spokesman said that “it’s a hypothetical at this point … but I think I made our position pretty clear.” If the Palestinians proceed with their end-run resolution, they will force the U.S. to make that position even clearer, assuming the italicized words matter.

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Bush’s Book Triumph

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, President George W. Bush’s book, Decision Points, has sold 2 million copies since it was released early last month. By way of comparison, President Clinton’s memoir, My Life, has sold 2.2 million since it was published in 2004. A spokesman for Crown, which published Decision Points, called the performance “remarkable” and said that he could not think of any other non-fiction hardback book that has sold even a million copies in 2010.

At the end of the Bush presidency, some people argued that no publisher worth its salt would publish Bush’s memoir — and if it did, Bush should be paid much less than Clinton. The argument was that Bush was terribly unpopular and no one would have any interest in revisiting the Bush years. There was even speculation by a few that if Decision Points leaked out prior to the 2010 mid-term election, it would damage GOP prospects of taking back the House. And there were even a few who believed that Democrats who ran against Mr. Bush after his presidency would triumph (for example, the New York Times‘s Paul Krugman thought running against Bush would be the path to victory for Jon Corzine against Chris Christie).

All of this turned out to be complete nonsense. President Bush’s memoir is extremely well done, particularly for a presidential memoir (they tend to be poorly written and not terribly revealing). It provides readers with keen insights into the decision-making process that defined the Bush presidency, from stem cells to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Freedom Agenda to AIDS and malaria initiatives and much more.

As has often been the case with this two-term president, Mr. Bush’s critics misunderestimated him. His presidency is in the process of undergoing a significant reevaluation; the success of Decision Points is simply more testimony to this.

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, President George W. Bush’s book, Decision Points, has sold 2 million copies since it was released early last month. By way of comparison, President Clinton’s memoir, My Life, has sold 2.2 million since it was published in 2004. A spokesman for Crown, which published Decision Points, called the performance “remarkable” and said that he could not think of any other non-fiction hardback book that has sold even a million copies in 2010.

At the end of the Bush presidency, some people argued that no publisher worth its salt would publish Bush’s memoir — and if it did, Bush should be paid much less than Clinton. The argument was that Bush was terribly unpopular and no one would have any interest in revisiting the Bush years. There was even speculation by a few that if Decision Points leaked out prior to the 2010 mid-term election, it would damage GOP prospects of taking back the House. And there were even a few who believed that Democrats who ran against Mr. Bush after his presidency would triumph (for example, the New York Times‘s Paul Krugman thought running against Bush would be the path to victory for Jon Corzine against Chris Christie).

All of this turned out to be complete nonsense. President Bush’s memoir is extremely well done, particularly for a presidential memoir (they tend to be poorly written and not terribly revealing). It provides readers with keen insights into the decision-making process that defined the Bush presidency, from stem cells to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Freedom Agenda to AIDS and malaria initiatives and much more.

As has often been the case with this two-term president, Mr. Bush’s critics misunderestimated him. His presidency is in the process of undergoing a significant reevaluation; the success of Decision Points is simply more testimony to this.

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Honduras, Obama, and Occam’s Razor

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

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Radical Islam to Be Investigated: CAIR Cries Foul

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said yesterday that the House Committee on Homeland Security that he will chair in the next Congress will hold hearings on the radicalization of American Islam.

Given the string of terrorist plots in the past few years that can be directly linked to radical Islam, it’s reasonable for the U.S. Congress to devote some time to studying what’s been going on. But, predictably, the group the mainstream media treat as the mouthpiece of American Muslims is screaming bloody murder about the prospect of such hearings. In fact, Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said such hearings will be an “anti-Muslim witch hunt.”

It is true that any congressional hearing, no matter how important the topic or germane the line of questioning might be to public policy, can be an excuse for shameless grandstanding by politicians who know little about the subject matter but are hungry for a good sound bite. But Hooper and CAIR have their own agenda here, and it is far more sinister than that of any of the publicity-hungry members of Congress who participate in such forums.

Founded as a political front for a group that funneled money to the Hamas terrorist group (the Holy Land Foundation, which has since been closed down by the Treasury Department) back in the early 1990s, CAIR poses as a civil-rights group for Arabs and Muslims, but its true purpose is to put a reasonable face on a radical ideology. It rationalizes anti-American and anti-Jewish acts of terror and seeks to demonize Israel and its supporters while falsely portraying American Muslims as the victims of a mythical reign of terror since 9/11. Most insidious is its attempt to deny the very existence of radical Islamism, either here or abroad. Indeed, during a debate in which I participated at Baruch College in New York City last month, a spokesman for CAIR claimed it was racist to even use the word “Islamist” or to dare point out the danger from radical Islam to highlight the way foreign interests in this country have funded mosques in which such radicals have found a platform. Though there has been no backlash against Muslims, CAIR has been successful in manipulating the mainstream media into claims of victimization. Indeed, rather than listen to the evidence of the threat from Muslim radicals, we can expect many in the media to hew to CAIR’s talking points about “witch hunts” in their coverage of King’s hearings.

While Rep. King will have to carefully manage such hearings to prevent his colleagues from hijacking their serious purpose, his main problem will be in combating the successful efforts of CAIR to label any such inquiry as beyond the pale. It will be up to the committee’s staff to assemble the compelling evidence already largely on the public record and focus the public’s attention on the real danger. Otherwise, this initiative will become yet another opportunity for CAIR to stifle discussion on the source of motivation for home-grown Islamist terror.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said yesterday that the House Committee on Homeland Security that he will chair in the next Congress will hold hearings on the radicalization of American Islam.

Given the string of terrorist plots in the past few years that can be directly linked to radical Islam, it’s reasonable for the U.S. Congress to devote some time to studying what’s been going on. But, predictably, the group the mainstream media treat as the mouthpiece of American Muslims is screaming bloody murder about the prospect of such hearings. In fact, Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said such hearings will be an “anti-Muslim witch hunt.”

It is true that any congressional hearing, no matter how important the topic or germane the line of questioning might be to public policy, can be an excuse for shameless grandstanding by politicians who know little about the subject matter but are hungry for a good sound bite. But Hooper and CAIR have their own agenda here, and it is far more sinister than that of any of the publicity-hungry members of Congress who participate in such forums.

Founded as a political front for a group that funneled money to the Hamas terrorist group (the Holy Land Foundation, which has since been closed down by the Treasury Department) back in the early 1990s, CAIR poses as a civil-rights group for Arabs and Muslims, but its true purpose is to put a reasonable face on a radical ideology. It rationalizes anti-American and anti-Jewish acts of terror and seeks to demonize Israel and its supporters while falsely portraying American Muslims as the victims of a mythical reign of terror since 9/11. Most insidious is its attempt to deny the very existence of radical Islamism, either here or abroad. Indeed, during a debate in which I participated at Baruch College in New York City last month, a spokesman for CAIR claimed it was racist to even use the word “Islamist” or to dare point out the danger from radical Islam to highlight the way foreign interests in this country have funded mosques in which such radicals have found a platform. Though there has been no backlash against Muslims, CAIR has been successful in manipulating the mainstream media into claims of victimization. Indeed, rather than listen to the evidence of the threat from Muslim radicals, we can expect many in the media to hew to CAIR’s talking points about “witch hunts” in their coverage of King’s hearings.

While Rep. King will have to carefully manage such hearings to prevent his colleagues from hijacking their serious purpose, his main problem will be in combating the successful efforts of CAIR to label any such inquiry as beyond the pale. It will be up to the committee’s staff to assemble the compelling evidence already largely on the public record and focus the public’s attention on the real danger. Otherwise, this initiative will become yet another opportunity for CAIR to stifle discussion on the source of motivation for home-grown Islamist terror.

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A Plan in Search of an Avenue

Yesterday’s State Department press conference featured a lengthy discussion about next steps in the administration’s hapless peace process, now that the administration has dropped its attempt to renew for three months an Israeli moratorium that didn’t work when it was tried for 10, and which the administration concluded would not work now even if Israel agreed to it, which Israel wouldn’t do if the U.S. did not put its promises about it in writing, which the U.S. concluded wouldn’t be prudent, and which anyway were a little different than the oral ones, which — are you still with me?

Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that George Mitchell will be traveling to the region again next week (second prize was two trips) and that the U.S. will “engage with both sides on the core substantive issues.” In other words, unable to get the Palestinians to engage in direct negotiations without preconditions on core issues, the administration will nevertheless, in Crowley’s words, “begin to focus intensively on the core issues and see if we can make progress on the substance itself.” Someone has not completely thought this through.

Crowley himself was a little vague about where this is headed:

QUESTION: … you didn’t really say the direction you’re going.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. There’s a clear plan for this direction, Lach.

QUESTION: You have a plan?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean we think we have the right plan. We think we have the right strategy. We are just adapting the tactics in support of that strategy.

QUESTION: Sorry. What’s the plan again?

Crowley explained that the “moratorium avenue” had not borne fruit, so the administration was now “pursuing a different avenue, but the destination is still the same”:

QUESTION: Okay. What’s the avenue then? If we don’t ask about the plan, what about the avenue. What’s — I mean you seem to be leaving a gap here as to how you get from here to there.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

This seems a particularly inauspicious time to double down on a process that, after two years, is still at square one. Everyone knows the process is not going anywhere until the question of Iran, with its twin proxies on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is resolved. Until then, the idea of another withdrawal, exposing strategic land on Israel’s east to still another jihadist takeover — all in the hope of “peace” — borders on the ludicrous.

But that appears to be the administration’s “plan.” If only it had one for Iran — for when the sanctions-avenue has proved a dead end.

Yesterday’s State Department press conference featured a lengthy discussion about next steps in the administration’s hapless peace process, now that the administration has dropped its attempt to renew for three months an Israeli moratorium that didn’t work when it was tried for 10, and which the administration concluded would not work now even if Israel agreed to it, which Israel wouldn’t do if the U.S. did not put its promises about it in writing, which the U.S. concluded wouldn’t be prudent, and which anyway were a little different than the oral ones, which — are you still with me?

Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that George Mitchell will be traveling to the region again next week (second prize was two trips) and that the U.S. will “engage with both sides on the core substantive issues.” In other words, unable to get the Palestinians to engage in direct negotiations without preconditions on core issues, the administration will nevertheless, in Crowley’s words, “begin to focus intensively on the core issues and see if we can make progress on the substance itself.” Someone has not completely thought this through.

Crowley himself was a little vague about where this is headed:

QUESTION: … you didn’t really say the direction you’re going.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. There’s a clear plan for this direction, Lach.

QUESTION: You have a plan?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean we think we have the right plan. We think we have the right strategy. We are just adapting the tactics in support of that strategy.

QUESTION: Sorry. What’s the plan again?

Crowley explained that the “moratorium avenue” had not borne fruit, so the administration was now “pursuing a different avenue, but the destination is still the same”:

QUESTION: Okay. What’s the avenue then? If we don’t ask about the plan, what about the avenue. What’s — I mean you seem to be leaving a gap here as to how you get from here to there.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

This seems a particularly inauspicious time to double down on a process that, after two years, is still at square one. Everyone knows the process is not going anywhere until the question of Iran, with its twin proxies on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is resolved. Until then, the idea of another withdrawal, exposing strategic land on Israel’s east to still another jihadist takeover — all in the hope of “peace” — borders on the ludicrous.

But that appears to be the administration’s “plan.” If only it had one for Iran — for when the sanctions-avenue has proved a dead end.

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Can’t Anybody in the Obama Administration Talk Without Saying Embarrassing and Revealing Things This Week?

This morning, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to a question on Fox News about the new administration report on how, to quote Tom Joscelyn on the Weekly Standard website, “150 former Guantanamo detainees are either “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities,” according to a new intelligence assessment released by the Director of National Intelligence’s office on Tuesday.” That’s one of every 4 detainees at the base. Quoth Crowley: “We actually expected this would happen.”

Crowley is not making an unsophisticated or illogical case here. What’s interesting is how he slips into the standard spokesman trick of downplaying the significance of something by saying it had been foreseen, anticipated. In fact, such foresight and anticipation only make the fact that more than 80 Gitmo detainees have disappeared back into jihad (with another 13 killed and 34 recaptured) seem all that much more horrifying.

This morning, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to a question on Fox News about the new administration report on how, to quote Tom Joscelyn on the Weekly Standard website, “150 former Guantanamo detainees are either “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities,” according to a new intelligence assessment released by the Director of National Intelligence’s office on Tuesday.” That’s one of every 4 detainees at the base. Quoth Crowley: “We actually expected this would happen.”

Crowley is not making an unsophisticated or illogical case here. What’s interesting is how he slips into the standard spokesman trick of downplaying the significance of something by saying it had been foreseen, anticipated. In fact, such foresight and anticipation only make the fact that more than 80 Gitmo detainees have disappeared back into jihad (with another 13 killed and 34 recaptured) seem all that much more horrifying.

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So Much for Civility: Dem Senator Likens Tax Cutters to “Terrorists”

When establishment kibitzers talk about the need to restore for civility, there isn’t much doubt whom they are complaining about. In the last year and a half, Tea Party insurgents helped change the nature of the political conversation in this country from one that assumed that President Obama’s election meant a return to orthodox liberal big-government solutions to one where even Democrats are talking about lowering taxes. So it’s clear that the lack of civility being deplored is the rudeness liberals encountered from angry independents and conservatives on the hustings and at the ballot box, not the liberal backlash at the temerity of the unwashed masses.

But the pious bleating we’ve been hearing from the chattering classes in recent months about how political speakers needed to behave was always delivered via a double standard. Angry taxpayers who gave politicians hell at town meetings were portrayed as little better than terrorists, while liberal politicians who regularly demonized their opponents were either ignored or praised as truth tellers.

But just as the carrying-on about civility was reaching its peak, we can thank an influential member of the Senate Democratic caucus for reminding us just how hypocritical much of this discussion has been. At a press conference with other Democratic leaders yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) likened Senate Republicans who disagree with him about tax cuts to “terrorists.”

Menendez expressed his frustration with Republicans who believe all and not just some of the Bush tax cuts should be preserved, thereby avoiding a major tax increase next year, with the following statement: “Do you allow yourself to be held hostage and get something done for the sake of getting something done, when in fact it might be perverse in its ultimate results? It’s almost like the question of do you negotiate with terrorists.”

A Menendez spokesman later dismissed those who questioned the statement by saying it was taken out of context. But the implication of his remarks was clear. Republican ideas about tax cuts aren’t just wrong; they’re “perverse.” His opponents aren’t just standing firm on their principles; they’re like “terrorists.” Again, it’s a case of a liberal stooping not just to class warfare but also to the demonization and delegitimization of those who disagree with him.

As for the merits of the issue in question, Menendez undermined his own argument about taxes by falsely claiming that tax cuts for wealthier citizens would mean “taking money out of your [the middle classes’] pockets.” The point is, raising taxes on anyone, especially the richest Americans, who are the likeliest source of investment in the private sector, at a time of layoffs and recession isn’t an economic plan; it’s an exercise in politically inspired rabble-rousing, albeit not one that has shown much sign of attracting a lot of support for all the Democrats’ confidence in the idea that the word “millionaire” will give the willies to the Republicans. It also reflects the liberal mentality that sees everyone’s private income as somehow really belonging to the government. To people like Menendez, every dollar you have that the government doesn’t take from you via taxes is to be viewed as stolen from the government or from other citizens who would like it to be redistributed to them.

If anything, Menendez’s absurd rant — which was uttered while Democrat Chuck Schumer chuckled and leered behind him — reflects his party’s inability to cope with the political realities of life in the Tea Party era. It knows that the public wants to hear less hyper-liberal talk about the expansion of government power and more about tax-cutting. But it can’t seem to manage it without resorting to its familiar rhetoric, which attempts to label all opposition as being beyond the pale. So much for liberal civility.

When establishment kibitzers talk about the need to restore for civility, there isn’t much doubt whom they are complaining about. In the last year and a half, Tea Party insurgents helped change the nature of the political conversation in this country from one that assumed that President Obama’s election meant a return to orthodox liberal big-government solutions to one where even Democrats are talking about lowering taxes. So it’s clear that the lack of civility being deplored is the rudeness liberals encountered from angry independents and conservatives on the hustings and at the ballot box, not the liberal backlash at the temerity of the unwashed masses.

But the pious bleating we’ve been hearing from the chattering classes in recent months about how political speakers needed to behave was always delivered via a double standard. Angry taxpayers who gave politicians hell at town meetings were portrayed as little better than terrorists, while liberal politicians who regularly demonized their opponents were either ignored or praised as truth tellers.

But just as the carrying-on about civility was reaching its peak, we can thank an influential member of the Senate Democratic caucus for reminding us just how hypocritical much of this discussion has been. At a press conference with other Democratic leaders yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) likened Senate Republicans who disagree with him about tax cuts to “terrorists.”

Menendez expressed his frustration with Republicans who believe all and not just some of the Bush tax cuts should be preserved, thereby avoiding a major tax increase next year, with the following statement: “Do you allow yourself to be held hostage and get something done for the sake of getting something done, when in fact it might be perverse in its ultimate results? It’s almost like the question of do you negotiate with terrorists.”

A Menendez spokesman later dismissed those who questioned the statement by saying it was taken out of context. But the implication of his remarks was clear. Republican ideas about tax cuts aren’t just wrong; they’re “perverse.” His opponents aren’t just standing firm on their principles; they’re like “terrorists.” Again, it’s a case of a liberal stooping not just to class warfare but also to the demonization and delegitimization of those who disagree with him.

As for the merits of the issue in question, Menendez undermined his own argument about taxes by falsely claiming that tax cuts for wealthier citizens would mean “taking money out of your [the middle classes’] pockets.” The point is, raising taxes on anyone, especially the richest Americans, who are the likeliest source of investment in the private sector, at a time of layoffs and recession isn’t an economic plan; it’s an exercise in politically inspired rabble-rousing, albeit not one that has shown much sign of attracting a lot of support for all the Democrats’ confidence in the idea that the word “millionaire” will give the willies to the Republicans. It also reflects the liberal mentality that sees everyone’s private income as somehow really belonging to the government. To people like Menendez, every dollar you have that the government doesn’t take from you via taxes is to be viewed as stolen from the government or from other citizens who would like it to be redistributed to them.

If anything, Menendez’s absurd rant — which was uttered while Democrat Chuck Schumer chuckled and leered behind him — reflects his party’s inability to cope with the political realities of life in the Tea Party era. It knows that the public wants to hear less hyper-liberal talk about the expansion of government power and more about tax-cutting. But it can’t seem to manage it without resorting to its familiar rhetoric, which attempts to label all opposition as being beyond the pale. So much for liberal civility.

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NOW, We’re (Not) Talking

Perhaps the Obama administration has finally lost its infatuation with engagement. This marks a step in the right direction and a departure from the Bush administration and the first two years of this one:

The United States, South Korea and Japan are all balking at China’s request for emergency talks with North Korea over the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, as high-profile military exercises between South Korea and the United States in the Yellow Sea continued on Monday in a show of force.

Obama administration officials said that a return to the table with North Korea, as China sought this weekend, would be rewarding the North for provocative behavior over the past week, including its deadly artillery attack on a South Korean island and its disclosure of a uranium enrichment plant. Beijing called for emergency talks with North Korea, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia, participants in the six-party nuclear talks, which have been suspended indefinitely.

Finally. Now — what’s the rationale for talks with the mullahs? I substitute “Iran” for “North Korea” and you see the point:

“The United States and a host of others, I don’t think, are not interested in stabilizing the region through a series of P.R. activities,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman.

He said that the talks “without an understanding and agreement from the [Iranians] to both end their behavior … but also to come to the table with a seriousness of purpose on the denuclearization issue — without that seriousness of purpose, they’re just a P.R. activity.”

But back to North Korea. Step one is to stop doing unhelpful things — rewarding bad behavior by the North Koreans and indulging in the fantasy that if we are polite enough (and reticent enough when it comes to human rights), China will come to our aid. The good news is that there is, albeit quite belatedly, a recognition that China is of no help here. (“Rejecting the emergency talks amounts to a pointed rebuke to China. The United States wanted China to signal clearly that North Korea’s aggressive behavior would not be tolerated. Instead, Beijing remained neutral about who was responsible for the recent flare-up, and offered only to provide a venue for all sides to air their differences.”) The bad news is that the administration has yet to come up with an alternative.

It’s not only the WikiLeaks documents that are revealing the flawed assumptions of the Obama foreign policy approach. Every day, reality intrudes and tells us that the world is not as the administration imagines it to be.

Perhaps the Obama administration has finally lost its infatuation with engagement. This marks a step in the right direction and a departure from the Bush administration and the first two years of this one:

The United States, South Korea and Japan are all balking at China’s request for emergency talks with North Korea over the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, as high-profile military exercises between South Korea and the United States in the Yellow Sea continued on Monday in a show of force.

Obama administration officials said that a return to the table with North Korea, as China sought this weekend, would be rewarding the North for provocative behavior over the past week, including its deadly artillery attack on a South Korean island and its disclosure of a uranium enrichment plant. Beijing called for emergency talks with North Korea, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia, participants in the six-party nuclear talks, which have been suspended indefinitely.

Finally. Now — what’s the rationale for talks with the mullahs? I substitute “Iran” for “North Korea” and you see the point:

“The United States and a host of others, I don’t think, are not interested in stabilizing the region through a series of P.R. activities,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman.

He said that the talks “without an understanding and agreement from the [Iranians] to both end their behavior … but also to come to the table with a seriousness of purpose on the denuclearization issue — without that seriousness of purpose, they’re just a P.R. activity.”

But back to North Korea. Step one is to stop doing unhelpful things — rewarding bad behavior by the North Koreans and indulging in the fantasy that if we are polite enough (and reticent enough when it comes to human rights), China will come to our aid. The good news is that there is, albeit quite belatedly, a recognition that China is of no help here. (“Rejecting the emergency talks amounts to a pointed rebuke to China. The United States wanted China to signal clearly that North Korea’s aggressive behavior would not be tolerated. Instead, Beijing remained neutral about who was responsible for the recent flare-up, and offered only to provide a venue for all sides to air their differences.”) The bad news is that the administration has yet to come up with an alternative.

It’s not only the WikiLeaks documents that are revealing the flawed assumptions of the Obama foreign policy approach. Every day, reality intrudes and tells us that the world is not as the administration imagines it to be.

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RE: So How’s the Bribe-a-thon Going?

Not all that well. For starters George Mitchell isn’t even in the region. I wondered why and e-mailed State Department spokesman PJ Crowley. He replied: “His deputy, David Hale, was in the region last week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. We maintain continual contact with the parties and are prepared to send George or others to the region if and when needed. We have no announcements to make about travel at this moment.”

An experienced Israel hand translates: “He isn’t there this week because nothing’s happening, we’re stuck, there’s an impasse, and he doesn’t want yet again to travel and achieve nothing. So until there’s some breakthrough, he’s sitting it out.” You’d think this would be simple, no? Write up the bribe list settlement-freeze deal and hand it to Bibi to present to the cabinet. But wait, maybe asking for it in writing was the single most effective bit of diplomacy Bibi could muster. If the deal for the planes, for example, is conditioned or the administration really won’t exclude East Jerusalem from the freeze deal, then there is little chance the cabinet would approve it. And once again, the administration would be trapped by the gap between its private actions and its public comments. The administration is hemorrhaging credibility on multiple fronts. This won’t help. And as long as Mitchell stays home, you know the Obama team is “stuck.”

Not all that well. For starters George Mitchell isn’t even in the region. I wondered why and e-mailed State Department spokesman PJ Crowley. He replied: “His deputy, David Hale, was in the region last week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. We maintain continual contact with the parties and are prepared to send George or others to the region if and when needed. We have no announcements to make about travel at this moment.”

An experienced Israel hand translates: “He isn’t there this week because nothing’s happening, we’re stuck, there’s an impasse, and he doesn’t want yet again to travel and achieve nothing. So until there’s some breakthrough, he’s sitting it out.” You’d think this would be simple, no? Write up the bribe list settlement-freeze deal and hand it to Bibi to present to the cabinet. But wait, maybe asking for it in writing was the single most effective bit of diplomacy Bibi could muster. If the deal for the planes, for example, is conditioned or the administration really won’t exclude East Jerusalem from the freeze deal, then there is little chance the cabinet would approve it. And once again, the administration would be trapped by the gap between its private actions and its public comments. The administration is hemorrhaging credibility on multiple fronts. This won’t help. And as long as Mitchell stays home, you know the Obama team is “stuck.”

Read Less

NATO Going Cold Turkey

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

Read Less

The Peace Process Letter(s)

Citing “Palestinian sources,” Ynet reports the Palestinians expect their own package of U.S. guarantees and financial incentives to persuade them to return to talks intended to give them a state:

The sources added that the American commitments would include setting the Palestinian state’s borders within three months and solving the refugee problem, including compensation through an international fund comprised of most of the region’s countries (including Israel). The sources also said that the American list of commitment[s] would include financial and diplomatic aid in exchange for returning to the direct negotiations.

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Spokesman P.J. Crowley seemed to confirm that something is being considered beyond merely restarting the talks (when a question has to be repeated to Crowley three times, you know he is withholding something):

QUESTION: … I’m just wondering, why does the Administration think that three months is enough time to get enough done on borders?

MR. CROWLEY: Well … all I will tell you is that we remain intensely engaged with the parties to try to get them back into negotiations. …

QUESTION: Yeah, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you think that three months is enough time to get some kind of progress on borders done, that keeps the process alive.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’m just emphasizing that our first step here in the process is to get them back in negotiations.  Once we get them back into negotiations, we’ll have a better view of how to get from where we are now to an ultimate agreement.

QUESTION: Well … I mean, surely you have some plan after negotiations resume.  Yeah?

MR. CROWLEY: Right.

QUESTION: And that plan would be … to get some kind of progress or some kind of loose agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state, which would then keep the parties at the table and get them onto perhaps more difficult issues.  So why do you think that that’s possible, to get that kind of progress in a three-month period?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’re trying to do, as the Secretary said, is to get them back into negotiations.  We’re working in advancing some ideas on both sides to help accomplish that. … [Emphasis added].

If news reports about what is being offered to Israel are accurate, Benny Avni’s conclusion that it is a bad deal for Israel, unlikely to produce peace, seems right. Moreover, if the letter Netanyahu is negotiating does not begin with “the U.S. reiterates its ‘steadfast commitments’ set forth in the presidential letter dated April 14, 2004,” Israel is making further concessions without confirming what it was already promised in the last presidential letter, given in exchange for a complete withdrawal from Gaza.

And words should matter.

Citing “Palestinian sources,” Ynet reports the Palestinians expect their own package of U.S. guarantees and financial incentives to persuade them to return to talks intended to give them a state:

The sources added that the American commitments would include setting the Palestinian state’s borders within three months and solving the refugee problem, including compensation through an international fund comprised of most of the region’s countries (including Israel). The sources also said that the American list of commitment[s] would include financial and diplomatic aid in exchange for returning to the direct negotiations.

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Spokesman P.J. Crowley seemed to confirm that something is being considered beyond merely restarting the talks (when a question has to be repeated to Crowley three times, you know he is withholding something):

QUESTION: … I’m just wondering, why does the Administration think that three months is enough time to get enough done on borders?

MR. CROWLEY: Well … all I will tell you is that we remain intensely engaged with the parties to try to get them back into negotiations. …

QUESTION: Yeah, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you think that three months is enough time to get some kind of progress on borders done, that keeps the process alive.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’m just emphasizing that our first step here in the process is to get them back in negotiations.  Once we get them back into negotiations, we’ll have a better view of how to get from where we are now to an ultimate agreement.

QUESTION: Well … I mean, surely you have some plan after negotiations resume.  Yeah?

MR. CROWLEY: Right.

QUESTION: And that plan would be … to get some kind of progress or some kind of loose agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state, which would then keep the parties at the table and get them onto perhaps more difficult issues.  So why do you think that that’s possible, to get that kind of progress in a three-month period?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’re trying to do, as the Secretary said, is to get them back into negotiations.  We’re working in advancing some ideas on both sides to help accomplish that. … [Emphasis added].

If news reports about what is being offered to Israel are accurate, Benny Avni’s conclusion that it is a bad deal for Israel, unlikely to produce peace, seems right. Moreover, if the letter Netanyahu is negotiating does not begin with “the U.S. reiterates its ‘steadfast commitments’ set forth in the presidential letter dated April 14, 2004,” Israel is making further concessions without confirming what it was already promised in the last presidential letter, given in exchange for a complete withdrawal from Gaza.

And words should matter.

Read Less




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