Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Brits

WikiLeaks Precedent Points to the Proper U.S. Response: Get Over It!

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

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Shut Up, the Islamists Explained

You may not have heard of Rachel Ehrenfeld or the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act), the one truly bipartisan piece of legislation passed unanimously during the Obama presidency. Ehrenfeld, the SPEECH Act, and the relative unenthusiasm that greeted the passage of legislation that concerns both the First Amendment and jihadism tell us a lot about “law-ware” being waged by Islamists.

Ehrenfeld has worked as an investigative journalist and researcher since the early 1990s. She is Israeli by birth and now an American citizen. In 2004 she was sued in the UK by a Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz. In her book Funding Evil, she documented his and other Saudis’ connection to and support for radical Muslim groups. Although her book was not distributed there and she is not a citizen or resident of the UK, British libel laws allowed the suit to proceed. (The case was described in detail in Andrew McCarthy’s COMMENTARY article, “Can Libel Tourism Be Stopped?” in September 2008.)  Bin Mahfouz was the only figure to sue her, although two others named in the book sued other publications. She explained to me in a phone interview that before his death the Saudi billionarie had in essence created a cottage industry suing or threatening to sue more than 40 journalists and publications in England, thereby intimidating Western journalists. Why sue her? “I had a very small publisher,” she tells me. And as an Israeli, she was an attractive target. It isn’t money the Islamists are after, she explains. “We don’t need your money; we need big ads retracting the story,” she quotes a Saudi prince. The name of the game here is to silence Western media. Read More

You may not have heard of Rachel Ehrenfeld or the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act), the one truly bipartisan piece of legislation passed unanimously during the Obama presidency. Ehrenfeld, the SPEECH Act, and the relative unenthusiasm that greeted the passage of legislation that concerns both the First Amendment and jihadism tell us a lot about “law-ware” being waged by Islamists.

Ehrenfeld has worked as an investigative journalist and researcher since the early 1990s. She is Israeli by birth and now an American citizen. In 2004 she was sued in the UK by a Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz. In her book Funding Evil, she documented his and other Saudis’ connection to and support for radical Muslim groups. Although her book was not distributed there and she is not a citizen or resident of the UK, British libel laws allowed the suit to proceed. (The case was described in detail in Andrew McCarthy’s COMMENTARY article, “Can Libel Tourism Be Stopped?” in September 2008.)  Bin Mahfouz was the only figure to sue her, although two others named in the book sued other publications. She explained to me in a phone interview that before his death the Saudi billionarie had in essence created a cottage industry suing or threatening to sue more than 40 journalists and publications in England, thereby intimidating Western journalists. Why sue her? “I had a very small publisher,” she tells me. And as an Israeli, she was an attractive target. It isn’t money the Islamists are after, she explains. “We don’t need your money; we need big ads retracting the story,” she quotes a Saudi prince. The name of the game here is to silence Western media.

But “I hadn’t done anything wrong” she says. “It was never tried on the merits. I wanted to stop it.” So she countersued the Saudi in New York court. While sympathetic, the court issued an opinion declaring that it lacked jurisdiction over the case. She didn’t stop there. She went to the New York legislature, which in a few months passed what became known as “Rachel’s law,” making clear that foreign libel judgments against U.S. journalists that run afoul of the First Amendment are not enforceable in the U.S. She then went to Capitol Hill and testified before Congress. Sponsored in the House by Democrat Steve Cohen and in the Senate by Pat Leahy and Jeff Sessions, the SPEECH Act was signed into law in August.

The reaction of the White House, not to mention the mainstream media, was oddly muted. Ehrenfeld explains that there was no signing ceremony, “Yet there’s a signing ceremony when they name some tree.” She also tells me that a joint op-ed by Sens. Sessions and Leahy was rejected by major publications, including the New York Times. (The Times did not respond to my request for comment.) She says, “Something very strange is going on.” Are the administration and mainstream media uncomfortable advertising the Saudi connection to terror funding and the need for such legislation? Ehrenfeld asserts that in both Britain and the U.S., media outlets have “caved to political correctness.” She warns that monetary interests (“Greed is the mother of all evil, ” she remarks) and the politicization of the press and the plaintiff’s bar in England have worked hand in hand to insulate Muslim groups from scrutiny.

I asked her if she sees a connection between “libel tourism” (the name for use of the UK courts to intimidate journalists) and the current furor over supposed, but unproven, Islamophobia in the U.S. She responds emphatically, “Wealthy Muslims are trying to dictate what the media does.” She explains that the Saudis and others go to great pains to “train” U.S. journalists, invite them on junkets, and press their view that accusations of terrorism are libelous and/or stem from bigotry. “It is very important to expose those who are enemies of both Israel and the U.S.,” Ehrenfeld says. “The same organizations are out to harm both the U.S. and Israel.” In Europe, she explains, foes of the U.S. and Israel are “supporting anti-Israel and anti-American groups. Take the flotilla incident. … Anti-Israel propaganda is increasing.” British journalists may be prevented from reporting by threat of litigation, “but here in America, we can do that without being sued.”

On a personal note, she adds that “it sometimes takes a new American to demand First Amendment rights, while Americans [by birth] are blase. My parents were in the Irgun and won against the Brits. I came to America. And I won against the Brits too.” Yes, she did.

Her implication is clear: if the mainstream media and the chattering class fall silent and cease researching, investigating and commenting on terror connections because of economic pressure and the reign of political correctness, the First Amendment will be severely weakened, and terrorists and their sponsors will escape scrutiny. Whether by libel tourism or accusations of Islamophobia, the Islamic radicals will use all available means to ensure that they can continue to conduct the jihadist war from the shadows. They will certainly succeed unless others join Rachel Ehrenfeld and refuse to be silenced.

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Zuckerman vs. Cohen: What Does Obama Intend?

Even when critiquing, indeed indicting, Obama’s serial foreign-policy debacles, many critics feel compelled to attribute fine motives to the president. Mort Zuckerman recently wrote:

Obama clearly wishes to do good and means well. But he is one of those people who believe that the world was born with the word and exists by means of persuasion, such that there is no person or country that you cannot, by means of logical and moral argument, bring around to your side. He speaks as a teacher, as someone imparting values and generalities appropriate for a Sunday morning sermon, not as a tough-minded leader. He urges that things “must be done” and “should be done” and that “it is time” to do them. As the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Les Gelb, put it, there is “the impression that Obama might confuse speeches with policy.” Another journalist put it differently when he described Obama as an “NPR [National Public Radio] president who gives wonderful speeches.” In other words, he talks the talk but doesn’t know how to walk the walk. The Obama presidency has so far been characterized by a well-intentioned but excessive belief in the power of rhetoric with too little appreciation of reality and loyalty.

Perhaps he’s just being polite or trying to draw into the debate those who are disposed to like Obama. Perhaps it is wishful thinking — we’d certainly like to believe our president is pursuing good. But we’ve now reached a point where not only conservatives are suggesting that it may be unwarranted to grant him the benefit of the doubt. Richard Cohen, not exactly a fiery conservative, writes:

[I]t’s not clear that Obama is appalled by China’s appalling human rights record. He seems hardly stirred about continued repression in Russia. He treats the Israelis and their various enemies as pests of equal moral standing. The president seems to stand foursquare for nothing much. …

Foreign policy is the realm where a president comes closest to ruling by diktat. By command decision, the war in Afghanistan has been escalated, yet it seems to lack an urgent moral component. It has an apparent end date even though girls may not yet be able to attend school and the Taliban may rule again. In some respects, I agree — the earlier out of Afghanistan, the better — but if we are to stay even for a while, it has to be for reasons that have to do with principle. Somewhat the same thing applies to China. It’s okay to trade with China. It’s okay to hate it, too.

Pragmatism is fine — as long as it is complicated by regret. But that indispensable wince is precisely what Obama doesn’t show. It is not essential that he get angry or cry. It is essential, though, that he show us who he is. As of now, we haven’t a clue.

So for Cohen, at best the jury is out on Obama’s motives, and at worst the president seems to be hostile to human rights and democracy. Cohen has a lot of support for the latter assumption on the right, certainly.

As for Obama’s intentions, judging from his actions and public speeches, it certainly is more believable that he would prefer dealing with despots than messy popular uprisings, that he is not simpatico or even patient with Israel, and that he is more than willing to throw human rights and democracy under the bus for the sake of conflict avoidance. He intends, the evidence indicates, not to draw lines with Iran or Russia or the UN. He intends, from his public pronouncements we gather, not to risk war over a nuclear-armed Iran.

Is he then “well-intentioned”? It depends what ends you favor. At some point, one must conclude that it is not simply that Obama lacks the ability to express his passion for democracy, his fondness for the special relationship with the Brits, his devotion to human rights, and his commitment to a warm U.S.-Israel relationship; it is that these are not ends he intends to pursue. He intends to do other things — accommodate the UN, ingratiate himself with despotic Muslim rulers,  and appease Russia, to name a few. To many of us, that certainly doesn’t qualify as wishing to “do good” or “meaning well.”

Even when critiquing, indeed indicting, Obama’s serial foreign-policy debacles, many critics feel compelled to attribute fine motives to the president. Mort Zuckerman recently wrote:

Obama clearly wishes to do good and means well. But he is one of those people who believe that the world was born with the word and exists by means of persuasion, such that there is no person or country that you cannot, by means of logical and moral argument, bring around to your side. He speaks as a teacher, as someone imparting values and generalities appropriate for a Sunday morning sermon, not as a tough-minded leader. He urges that things “must be done” and “should be done” and that “it is time” to do them. As the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Les Gelb, put it, there is “the impression that Obama might confuse speeches with policy.” Another journalist put it differently when he described Obama as an “NPR [National Public Radio] president who gives wonderful speeches.” In other words, he talks the talk but doesn’t know how to walk the walk. The Obama presidency has so far been characterized by a well-intentioned but excessive belief in the power of rhetoric with too little appreciation of reality and loyalty.

Perhaps he’s just being polite or trying to draw into the debate those who are disposed to like Obama. Perhaps it is wishful thinking — we’d certainly like to believe our president is pursuing good. But we’ve now reached a point where not only conservatives are suggesting that it may be unwarranted to grant him the benefit of the doubt. Richard Cohen, not exactly a fiery conservative, writes:

[I]t’s not clear that Obama is appalled by China’s appalling human rights record. He seems hardly stirred about continued repression in Russia. He treats the Israelis and their various enemies as pests of equal moral standing. The president seems to stand foursquare for nothing much. …

Foreign policy is the realm where a president comes closest to ruling by diktat. By command decision, the war in Afghanistan has been escalated, yet it seems to lack an urgent moral component. It has an apparent end date even though girls may not yet be able to attend school and the Taliban may rule again. In some respects, I agree — the earlier out of Afghanistan, the better — but if we are to stay even for a while, it has to be for reasons that have to do with principle. Somewhat the same thing applies to China. It’s okay to trade with China. It’s okay to hate it, too.

Pragmatism is fine — as long as it is complicated by regret. But that indispensable wince is precisely what Obama doesn’t show. It is not essential that he get angry or cry. It is essential, though, that he show us who he is. As of now, we haven’t a clue.

So for Cohen, at best the jury is out on Obama’s motives, and at worst the president seems to be hostile to human rights and democracy. Cohen has a lot of support for the latter assumption on the right, certainly.

As for Obama’s intentions, judging from his actions and public speeches, it certainly is more believable that he would prefer dealing with despots than messy popular uprisings, that he is not simpatico or even patient with Israel, and that he is more than willing to throw human rights and democracy under the bus for the sake of conflict avoidance. He intends, the evidence indicates, not to draw lines with Iran or Russia or the UN. He intends, from his public pronouncements we gather, not to risk war over a nuclear-armed Iran.

Is he then “well-intentioned”? It depends what ends you favor. At some point, one must conclude that it is not simply that Obama lacks the ability to express his passion for democracy, his fondness for the special relationship with the Brits, his devotion to human rights, and his commitment to a warm U.S.-Israel relationship; it is that these are not ends he intends to pursue. He intends to do other things — accommodate the UN, ingratiate himself with despotic Muslim rulers,  and appease Russia, to name a few. To many of us, that certainly doesn’t qualify as wishing to “do good” or “meaning well.”

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Sally Quinn Gives Hillary a Merit Badge

Sally Quinn thinks Hillary Clinton has done a swell job. Actually, it sounds like she’s nominating Hillary for Girl Scout of the year (my observations in brackets):

Clinton has done an incredible job as secretary of state. [No, argument there. It’s incredible we could have annoyed so many allies and come up with no viable plan to keep Iran from going nuclear.] First of all, she has worked harder than anyone should ever be expected to. [“Hard work” is the sort of compliment liberals pay themselves for good intentions and poor results.] She has managed to do the impossible: She is the ambassador of the United States to the world [Doesn’t every secretary of state do this?], maintaining her credibility [Do we think the Brits, Israelis, Hondurans, not to mention our enemies, find her credible?] while playing the bad guy to President Obama’s good guy, such as with North Korea [How bizarre is it that Obama plays “good guy” to the world’s largest gulag?], Iran and Israel [According to polls, only a few percent of Israelis think he’s the “good guy”], and still looking good. She has been a true team player. If Clinton is dissatisfied with her role, you would never know it. She has been loyal and supportive to the president and has maintained a good relationship with him and with others in the White House. [Is any of this extraordinary?] If she is being left out of the policymaking [Yes, not really doing her job is a drag], or being sent on trips to keep her out of town, she has not shown it. She is cheerful, thoughtful, serious and diligent. [Clean, modest in dress, and polite too? Good golly, imagine describing Henry Kissinger or George Shultz or any other grown-up secretary of state in such terms.] There are no horror stories about her coming out of the State Department. [One would have to have ideas and be influential to make enemies] Most notable, though, is that Bill Clinton has not been the problem that so many anticipated. He has been supportive of her and of Obama, and he has stayed out of the limelight and been discreet about his own life. [Excuse me, but is “keeping husband out of scandal sheets” an accomplishment worth touting?]

OK, there’s not a single thing Hillary has done that is deserving of praise. So Quinn thinks she needs a promotion to VP. No, no, it’s easy:

After the president announced the switch, majorities in both houses of Congress would have to confirm Clinton to her new position, following the rules laid out in the 25th Amendment. She could then immediately begin campaigning for Obama for 2012, and she would also have at least two years in the White House as vice president to give her unassailable experience, clout and credibility. For his part, Biden would simply need Senate confirmation to get to work in Foggy Bottom.

Thunk. I’m reasonably certain that as inept and ham-handed as the White House has become, there is no one with the nerve to suggest this to Obama, nor a single senator who’d want to rubber-stamp such a harebrained idea.

Forget Hillary for a moment. Is Quinn serious, or is this an entry in a “Write a column so silly, not even Maureen Dowd could come up with it” contest? If it’s the latter, it’s sheer genius.

Sally Quinn thinks Hillary Clinton has done a swell job. Actually, it sounds like she’s nominating Hillary for Girl Scout of the year (my observations in brackets):

Clinton has done an incredible job as secretary of state. [No, argument there. It’s incredible we could have annoyed so many allies and come up with no viable plan to keep Iran from going nuclear.] First of all, she has worked harder than anyone should ever be expected to. [“Hard work” is the sort of compliment liberals pay themselves for good intentions and poor results.] She has managed to do the impossible: She is the ambassador of the United States to the world [Doesn’t every secretary of state do this?], maintaining her credibility [Do we think the Brits, Israelis, Hondurans, not to mention our enemies, find her credible?] while playing the bad guy to President Obama’s good guy, such as with North Korea [How bizarre is it that Obama plays “good guy” to the world’s largest gulag?], Iran and Israel [According to polls, only a few percent of Israelis think he’s the “good guy”], and still looking good. She has been a true team player. If Clinton is dissatisfied with her role, you would never know it. She has been loyal and supportive to the president and has maintained a good relationship with him and with others in the White House. [Is any of this extraordinary?] If she is being left out of the policymaking [Yes, not really doing her job is a drag], or being sent on trips to keep her out of town, she has not shown it. She is cheerful, thoughtful, serious and diligent. [Clean, modest in dress, and polite too? Good golly, imagine describing Henry Kissinger or George Shultz or any other grown-up secretary of state in such terms.] There are no horror stories about her coming out of the State Department. [One would have to have ideas and be influential to make enemies] Most notable, though, is that Bill Clinton has not been the problem that so many anticipated. He has been supportive of her and of Obama, and he has stayed out of the limelight and been discreet about his own life. [Excuse me, but is “keeping husband out of scandal sheets” an accomplishment worth touting?]

OK, there’s not a single thing Hillary has done that is deserving of praise. So Quinn thinks she needs a promotion to VP. No, no, it’s easy:

After the president announced the switch, majorities in both houses of Congress would have to confirm Clinton to her new position, following the rules laid out in the 25th Amendment. She could then immediately begin campaigning for Obama for 2012, and she would also have at least two years in the White House as vice president to give her unassailable experience, clout and credibility. For his part, Biden would simply need Senate confirmation to get to work in Foggy Bottom.

Thunk. I’m reasonably certain that as inept and ham-handed as the White House has become, there is no one with the nerve to suggest this to Obama, nor a single senator who’d want to rubber-stamp such a harebrained idea.

Forget Hillary for a moment. Is Quinn serious, or is this an entry in a “Write a column so silly, not even Maureen Dowd could come up with it” contest? If it’s the latter, it’s sheer genius.

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The Irish and the Flotilla Inquiry

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

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The Special Relationship Goes South

Obama was going to restore our standing in the world and repair supposedly frayed ties with allies. He’s managed to do neither; rather, he’s succeeded in highlighting how well the Bush administration got along with an array of key allies (e.g., India, Britain, France, Israel). In fact, it’s now clear just how badly Obama’s bollixed up the special relationship with Britain. William Inboden and Lisa Aronsson write:

In stark contrast to the stratospheric hopes that Mr. Obama would dramatically improve America’s relations with the world in general and the U.K. in particular, a full 74% of the British people now think that their relationship with the U.S. has stayed the same or even worsened since Mr. Obama’s election.

This might explain why when asked “if Britain were attacked, who do you think would come to its aid first?” only 32% of Britons identified the U.S. Or in answer to which nation most shares Britain’s values, their top choice was Australia at 28%, followed by Canada at 19%. Only 15% cited America.

It’s not hard to see why this is so. In addition to the cold shoulder Obama has shown the Brits, our loudly telegraphed unwillingness to use force to defend another close ally — Israel — has likely unnerved the Brits and others with the realization that the U.S. is not in the business of helping friends in time of distress.

The writers suggest: “Mr. Obama must begin to take Europe more seriously, and the U.S. must begin to pay at least as much attention to its key allies as it does to its enemies.” Well, that would be a start. I suspect that the Brits, the Israelis, and others will need to await a new White House occupant before they again feel the warm embrace of the U.S. — a “cowboy” president, perhaps, who understands the value of alliances.

Obama was going to restore our standing in the world and repair supposedly frayed ties with allies. He’s managed to do neither; rather, he’s succeeded in highlighting how well the Bush administration got along with an array of key allies (e.g., India, Britain, France, Israel). In fact, it’s now clear just how badly Obama’s bollixed up the special relationship with Britain. William Inboden and Lisa Aronsson write:

In stark contrast to the stratospheric hopes that Mr. Obama would dramatically improve America’s relations with the world in general and the U.K. in particular, a full 74% of the British people now think that their relationship with the U.S. has stayed the same or even worsened since Mr. Obama’s election.

This might explain why when asked “if Britain were attacked, who do you think would come to its aid first?” only 32% of Britons identified the U.S. Or in answer to which nation most shares Britain’s values, their top choice was Australia at 28%, followed by Canada at 19%. Only 15% cited America.

It’s not hard to see why this is so. In addition to the cold shoulder Obama has shown the Brits, our loudly telegraphed unwillingness to use force to defend another close ally — Israel — has likely unnerved the Brits and others with the realization that the U.S. is not in the business of helping friends in time of distress.

The writers suggest: “Mr. Obama must begin to take Europe more seriously, and the U.S. must begin to pay at least as much attention to its key allies as it does to its enemies.” Well, that would be a start. I suspect that the Brits, the Israelis, and others will need to await a new White House occupant before they again feel the warm embrace of the U.S. — a “cowboy” president, perhaps, who understands the value of alliances.

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Less Engagement on the Middle East, Please

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

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Gray Lady Foreign Policy PR Effort Falls Short

The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports — with plenty of fawning quotes from foreign policy establishment types — that there is an Obama Doctrine emerging. He explains it this way:

If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baker never describes the purpose of Obama’s ditching of human rights or the values that underlie his focus on the “traditional great powers” (which presumably does not include the Brits, whom we’ve continually insulted). He describes what Obama is doing but is curiously silent about Obama’s vision of the world and America’s role in it. This isn’t Baker’s fault, of course; Obama has yet to articulate a coherent outlook and has alternated between contempt for American “triumphalism” and a more traditional defense of American power and values (at Oslo, for example). Baker does correctly perceive that human rights and democracy have been shoved under the bus (although “second-tier” is overly generous considering the Obami’s track record on these issues).

But is it “realpolitik” to ignore or pick fights with allies? To imagine that paper agreements will induce despots to give up their nukes? To sign a START treaty that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of ratification and to disclaim use of nuclear retaliation in the case of a biological or chemical attack? To pare down our own defense budget and cut spending on missile defense? All this seems to be out of the Left’s 1970’s playbook rather than the stuff of hard-headed realism, given the conduct and nature of the regimes we face. And for realpolitik players, they seem to lack the ability to size up their opponents and discern that unilateral gestures are a hindrance rather than a help (e.g. Syria).

At times the sympathetic foreign policy gurus from whom Baker solicits input have difficulty trying to come up with compliments. Richard Haass (who now favors regime change in Iran, something Obama clearly does not) manages this on Obama’s efforts to date: “These are not transformational developments … but in foreign policy it’s important to keep the ball moving down the field in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening.” On Iran? On the Middle East?

The Obama foreign policy is a hodge-podge of bad ideas (multilateralism, American un-exceptionalism, disdain for human rights) incompetently executed. It is, moreover, one that refuses to confront in a serious way the greatest challenge we face — a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state that is replacing the U.S.-Israel alliance as the dominant player in the Middle East. No matter how hard the Gray Lady tries, one is hard pressed to find a coherent, effective, and principled foreign policy coming out of this administration.

The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports — with plenty of fawning quotes from foreign policy establishment types — that there is an Obama Doctrine emerging. He explains it this way:

If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baker never describes the purpose of Obama’s ditching of human rights or the values that underlie his focus on the “traditional great powers” (which presumably does not include the Brits, whom we’ve continually insulted). He describes what Obama is doing but is curiously silent about Obama’s vision of the world and America’s role in it. This isn’t Baker’s fault, of course; Obama has yet to articulate a coherent outlook and has alternated between contempt for American “triumphalism” and a more traditional defense of American power and values (at Oslo, for example). Baker does correctly perceive that human rights and democracy have been shoved under the bus (although “second-tier” is overly generous considering the Obami’s track record on these issues).

But is it “realpolitik” to ignore or pick fights with allies? To imagine that paper agreements will induce despots to give up their nukes? To sign a START treaty that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of ratification and to disclaim use of nuclear retaliation in the case of a biological or chemical attack? To pare down our own defense budget and cut spending on missile defense? All this seems to be out of the Left’s 1970’s playbook rather than the stuff of hard-headed realism, given the conduct and nature of the regimes we face. And for realpolitik players, they seem to lack the ability to size up their opponents and discern that unilateral gestures are a hindrance rather than a help (e.g. Syria).

At times the sympathetic foreign policy gurus from whom Baker solicits input have difficulty trying to come up with compliments. Richard Haass (who now favors regime change in Iran, something Obama clearly does not) manages this on Obama’s efforts to date: “These are not transformational developments … but in foreign policy it’s important to keep the ball moving down the field in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening.” On Iran? On the Middle East?

The Obama foreign policy is a hodge-podge of bad ideas (multilateralism, American un-exceptionalism, disdain for human rights) incompetently executed. It is, moreover, one that refuses to confront in a serious way the greatest challenge we face — a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state that is replacing the U.S.-Israel alliance as the dominant player in the Middle East. No matter how hard the Gray Lady tries, one is hard pressed to find a coherent, effective, and principled foreign policy coming out of this administration.

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The Indifferent Ally

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

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No George Bush When It Comes to Our Allies

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

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Hillary Wants Out Too?

Obama isn’t the only one musing about a single term. Now Hillary Clinton gets into the act, declaring, “I don’t wanna make any predictions sitting here, I’m honored to serve, I serve at the pleasure of the President, but it’s a, it’s a 24/7 job, and I think at some point, I will be very happy to LAUGHS pass it on to someone else.” Hmm. (She assures us she isn’t, however, interested in running for president.) Is this not everything she hoped it would be? Maybe not anything.

She can claim not a single foreign-policy accomplishment (escaping the corner she painted herself into on Honduras doesn’t count). She was going to restore our standing in the world, but who thinks our relations with Britain, Eastern Europe, and Israel (to name just a few key allies) are better now than during the Bush administration? Seriously, we went from the most robust and productive relationship with Israel of any administration to the worst. We’ve offended and rebuffed the Brits at multiple turns. And we’ve pulled the rug out from under the Poles and the Czechs. Are we being smart diplomats yet?

Meanwhile, we’re in the process of missing a historic opportunity to affect a peaceful, popular revolution in Iran. We’ve given the cold shoulder to human rights advocates. And we’ve accomplished none of the items on the Obama multilateralist to-do list. (Climate-control efforts look eerily similar to the course taken by ObamaCare.) We didn’t even get the Olympics.

Hillary might well want to bug out. It’s nice to go out on a high note after some major achievement. But it might not be a good idea for her to wait that long. While her popularity is still high, she might want to flee. There are lots of Senate and gubernatorial races, after all. But then after a year of Obama, it’s not exactly the time to run if you have a “D” after your name. Poor Hillary. Another male politician has done her wrong.

Obama isn’t the only one musing about a single term. Now Hillary Clinton gets into the act, declaring, “I don’t wanna make any predictions sitting here, I’m honored to serve, I serve at the pleasure of the President, but it’s a, it’s a 24/7 job, and I think at some point, I will be very happy to LAUGHS pass it on to someone else.” Hmm. (She assures us she isn’t, however, interested in running for president.) Is this not everything she hoped it would be? Maybe not anything.

She can claim not a single foreign-policy accomplishment (escaping the corner she painted herself into on Honduras doesn’t count). She was going to restore our standing in the world, but who thinks our relations with Britain, Eastern Europe, and Israel (to name just a few key allies) are better now than during the Bush administration? Seriously, we went from the most robust and productive relationship with Israel of any administration to the worst. We’ve offended and rebuffed the Brits at multiple turns. And we’ve pulled the rug out from under the Poles and the Czechs. Are we being smart diplomats yet?

Meanwhile, we’re in the process of missing a historic opportunity to affect a peaceful, popular revolution in Iran. We’ve given the cold shoulder to human rights advocates. And we’ve accomplished none of the items on the Obama multilateralist to-do list. (Climate-control efforts look eerily similar to the course taken by ObamaCare.) We didn’t even get the Olympics.

Hillary might well want to bug out. It’s nice to go out on a high note after some major achievement. But it might not be a good idea for her to wait that long. While her popularity is still high, she might want to flee. There are lots of Senate and gubernatorial races, after all. But then after a year of Obama, it’s not exactly the time to run if you have a “D” after your name. Poor Hillary. Another male politician has done her wrong.

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On a Letter from London

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down. Read More

Geoff Dyer’s column “My American Friends” in the New York Times is hitting my mailbox from every direction at once. If you’ve not read it, you should: it’s fun. It’s got, of course, a few swipes at George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair, but it’s really a love letter from Britain to the United States. Dyer points out that many of the British clichés voiced about America reflect either ignorance or a barely-disguised, liberal-elite desire to bring the U.S. down a peg or two because, as too many Britons are grumpy and desperate to feel superior about something, Americans must be made out to be inferior.

He’s certainly right about the grumpiness. I’ve written about this myself, pointing out that “Britain is a more self-absorbed, less expansive, society than it was in the post-war era, and while it is more prosperous, it is also less happy and less sure of itself.” The Economist writes this week along the same lines, noting the British, of all the citizens of the advanced democracies, are among the least satisfied with the state of their nation. Of course, given the parlous condition of Britain’s economy, their dissatisfaction may be a sign of rationality, but Dyer is not alone in thinking that it’s not just the economy getting Britain down.

My own reaction to Dyer’s piece is twofold. First, I do think he’s onto something when he writes that Americans have better manners and are more freespoken because “deep down, everyone is agreed on the premise that America is better than anyplace else.” Of course, traditional American openness isn’t based just on this: the fact that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and relatively classless, has a lot to do with it. But it is easier to be civil when you’re optimistic about your nation and inclined -– partially because of religious faith -– to think well of your fellow man than it is if you think poorly of everyone.

But it’s just not true that “everyone is agreed” on the premise that the U.S. is best. The President’s oft-quoted remark that “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism” implies that, at best, he has a distinctly posmodern approach to this belief. If everyone thinks they’re special, then presumably no one really is. The poorly hidden declinism of his administration, which implies that the greatest service the U.S. can do the world is to plan a graceful exit from its role as the hegemon, also clashes with Dyer’s assessment. For my part, I think Dyer’s got a better grasp of the American people, and of reality, than Obama does, and that Obama’s unexceptional approach will be what trips him up.

Second, in the British context, Dyer is a bit glib when he argues that, because Britain’s Muslims are among the most unsatisfied in Europe, this proves that they’ve assimilated very well — in that they’re just as unhappy as everyone else. But again, he’s not totally wrong. The traditional American approach to assimilation was to be proud of the United States, to invite immigrants to restrict their Old World customs to their private lives, and to expect them to conform publicly to existing American norms and beliefs. As bin Laden might have expected, that “strong horse” approach was quite attractive: being invited to join a self-confident, assertive, and successful community is a great compliment because it implies that you, yourself, possess those qualities and will be welcomed as an equal.

Britain has done the opposite: it has tried the “weak horse” approach, consisting of lots of multiculturalism and plenty of welfare payments. Again, not surprising, this hasn’t worked terribly well: there are few reasons to want to join a community that beats itself up so relentlessly. Where Dyer is totally wrong is when he writes that “the qualities that make us indubitably British . . . are no longer conducive to Greatness.” According to Dyer, those qualities consist mostly of a mustn’t-grumble spirit that allows the British public to put up with poor quality service and to accept apologies as a substitute for actual improvements.

But this has nothing to do with the qualities the British actually displayed in the formative era of British identity, the late-Hanoverian to mid-Victorian era. Britons in those days were relentless improvers -– in the quality of government, in public services, in industry, and through charity. Not for nothing did Asa Briggs title his great history of the era “The Age of Improvement.

One of those improvements, of course, was in British manners, where Dyer now celebrates the U.S. and gripes about the U.K. But English manners before the Victorian era were nothing special: only in the nineteenth century did the idea take hold that Britain was a nation of line-formers, of forthright “manly” speakers, and of courteous, “evenin’ all” bobbies. Maybe what made Britain British above all in that era was its political pride: in the Commons, in its freedom of the press and of trade, in its religious toleration, in its limited and liberal government, and in its contributions to the spread of civilization. Those are all still great qualities. The problem is that, since the 1960s, too many Britons have forgotten about them, or even cooperated in slandering or traducing them, which in turn has made the problem of assimilation -– or simply maintaining social order -– a lot more formidable.

What Dyer is basically and accurately complaining about is the collapse of the Victorian model in Britain; he is basically praising its partial survival in the U.S. He’s not wrong to dismiss the febrile leftism that has taken its place. But in one sense, his complaints are part of the problem because the model is so far gone that even a sympathetic and obviously careful observer like Dyer no longer recognizes that it ever existed in the first place.

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Re: Not an Easy Time for Obama Worshipers

Pete, one feels discomfort watching liberal pundits twist and turn, straining to come up with explanations for the decline in their once beloved Obama’s fortunes. It is embarrassing at times. Jill Lawrence is a case in point. She goes so far as to argue that none of the bad polling is really the Obami’s fault:

So where did they go wrong? What could they have done to avoid what many analysts see as portents of doom for the 2010 House and Senate elections? Probably nothing. In fact, they’d be in even worse shape if they had made different choices.

Really? He’d be in worse shape than if he hadn’t made the choices he made? Frankly, that’s poppycock.  Hard to imagine on foreign policy Obama would be in worse shape if he hadn’t played footsie with the mullahs for a year, engaged in a monumentally stupid settlement freeze gambit in the Middle East, done his best to offend the Brits, yanked missile-defense systems from allies, shoved human rights under the rug, and bowed and scraped before many a monarch. All of those choices have led to widespread criticism from across the political spectrum.

Then there are Obama’s choices on the war on terror. If he hadn’t decided to end enhanced interrogations, go after the CIA, shutter Guantanamo, move the detainees to Illinois, and give KSM a civilian trial, would he really be worse off? The public hates all of these moves, after all.

Then there is the spending binge, the debt accumulation, and the ultra-liberal domestic agenda. Had he not delegated the stimulus plan junk-a-thon drafting to Nancy Pelosi and backed a huge energy tax and regulatory bill just when the public was losing patience with global-warming hysteria, would Obama’s poll numbers be lower than they are now? And had he not backed a health-care plan that Americans despise, could he have been worse off? It seems as though Obama’s recent decline in polling has tracked the plunge in support for Obamacare. To borrow a phrase, he’s fallen off the precipice and is now below 50 percent approval in virtually every poll.

Liberal pundits are reluctant to admit that Obama is increasingly unpopular because his extreme liberal agenda is unpopular — and because he’s proven to be a cold and huffy personality. During the campaign and the opening months of the administration, the liberal spinners alternately told us that he wasn’t that liberal or that the policies would neatly fit with the public’s shift leftward. But the public didn’t shift Left. And after telling us that Obama was a “sort of God,” the media cheerleaders are now hard pressed to cheer for a president who has managed to be both ubiquitous and unlikable.

So they spin and contort, disregard available evidence, and suggest that Obama is not really responsible for his own unpopularity. But the excuses are lame, not even George W. Bush can be tagged for Obama’s policy choices and the public has wised up. Most of the country doesn’t seem to buy the notion that it’s all someone else’s fault.

Pete, one feels discomfort watching liberal pundits twist and turn, straining to come up with explanations for the decline in their once beloved Obama’s fortunes. It is embarrassing at times. Jill Lawrence is a case in point. She goes so far as to argue that none of the bad polling is really the Obami’s fault:

So where did they go wrong? What could they have done to avoid what many analysts see as portents of doom for the 2010 House and Senate elections? Probably nothing. In fact, they’d be in even worse shape if they had made different choices.

Really? He’d be in worse shape than if he hadn’t made the choices he made? Frankly, that’s poppycock.  Hard to imagine on foreign policy Obama would be in worse shape if he hadn’t played footsie with the mullahs for a year, engaged in a monumentally stupid settlement freeze gambit in the Middle East, done his best to offend the Brits, yanked missile-defense systems from allies, shoved human rights under the rug, and bowed and scraped before many a monarch. All of those choices have led to widespread criticism from across the political spectrum.

Then there are Obama’s choices on the war on terror. If he hadn’t decided to end enhanced interrogations, go after the CIA, shutter Guantanamo, move the detainees to Illinois, and give KSM a civilian trial, would he really be worse off? The public hates all of these moves, after all.

Then there is the spending binge, the debt accumulation, and the ultra-liberal domestic agenda. Had he not delegated the stimulus plan junk-a-thon drafting to Nancy Pelosi and backed a huge energy tax and regulatory bill just when the public was losing patience with global-warming hysteria, would Obama’s poll numbers be lower than they are now? And had he not backed a health-care plan that Americans despise, could he have been worse off? It seems as though Obama’s recent decline in polling has tracked the plunge in support for Obamacare. To borrow a phrase, he’s fallen off the precipice and is now below 50 percent approval in virtually every poll.

Liberal pundits are reluctant to admit that Obama is increasingly unpopular because his extreme liberal agenda is unpopular — and because he’s proven to be a cold and huffy personality. During the campaign and the opening months of the administration, the liberal spinners alternately told us that he wasn’t that liberal or that the policies would neatly fit with the public’s shift leftward. But the public didn’t shift Left. And after telling us that Obama was a “sort of God,” the media cheerleaders are now hard pressed to cheer for a president who has managed to be both ubiquitous and unlikable.

So they spin and contort, disregard available evidence, and suggest that Obama is not really responsible for his own unpopularity. But the excuses are lame, not even George W. Bush can be tagged for Obama’s policy choices and the public has wised up. Most of the country doesn’t seem to buy the notion that it’s all someone else’s fault.

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The More Things Change …

I was reading a textbook history of the United States and noticed this ditty composed by the British after the U.S. started running into debt problems following the Panic of 1837:

Yankee Doodle borrows cash,
Yankee Doodle spends it,
And then 
he snaps his fingers at
The jolly flat that lends it.

Ouch.

President Andrew Jackson had implemented several policies designed to benefit, or so he believed, the common man. Perhaps well-intentioned, his policies, combined with a wheat failure, nevertheless led to the Panic of 1837 and ultimately hurt that very same common man by making it more difficult for him to access capital.

After the Panic, the country, with its expanding transportation system and business growth, fell deeply in debt to the British. When several states defaulted on that debt, the Brits were understandably furious.

I wonder what kids will be reading in textbooks 20 years from now — and whether they’ll need to know Mandarin to get the joke.

I was reading a textbook history of the United States and noticed this ditty composed by the British after the U.S. started running into debt problems following the Panic of 1837:

Yankee Doodle borrows cash,
Yankee Doodle spends it,
And then 
he snaps his fingers at
The jolly flat that lends it.

Ouch.

President Andrew Jackson had implemented several policies designed to benefit, or so he believed, the common man. Perhaps well-intentioned, his policies, combined with a wheat failure, nevertheless led to the Panic of 1837 and ultimately hurt that very same common man by making it more difficult for him to access capital.

After the Panic, the country, with its expanding transportation system and business growth, fell deeply in debt to the British. When several states defaulted on that debt, the Brits were understandably furious.

I wonder what kids will be reading in textbooks 20 years from now — and whether they’ll need to know Mandarin to get the joke.

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Nice to Whom?

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

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Bomb Rangoon — With Aid

While the death toll in Burma rises, its government continues to block foreign aid shipments, and Western governments fret about what to do, some outspoken voices across the pond are offering up some useful ideas. British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has come up with a novel proposal to the crisis in Burma: air-drop supplies to civilians with or without the consent of their government. “The case for unilateral delivery of aid by the international community will only grow stronger,” as the death toll grows, he said yesterday. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates all but rules out American aid drops, telling reporters that he “cannot imagine us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government.” It’s good to know that the spirit of Tony Blair still exist in British politics, if not within the higher ranks of his own party.

Writing in yesterday’s Times of London, David Aaronovitch goes for the Full Monty, so to speak, and says that the only justifiable objection to military intervention is whether or not it is feasible:

How often do we need it proved? The issue isn’t whether we have the right to intervene – because the consequences of vicious dictatorships usually catch up with us in time – but whether or not, practically, we can. Everything else is a polite conversation in a sunny church.

Nick Cohen, another liberal hawk, echoes the call. If the arguments of these men are not morally pure enough for the Left, a coalition of domestic opposition groups in Burma released a statement explicitly calling for international intervention:

To save thousands of lives before it’s too late, we would like to urge the United Nations and foreign governments to intervene in Burma immediately to provide humanitarian and relief assistance directly to the people of Burma, without waiting for the permission of the military junta.

With the United States stretched thin in both Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention in Burma ought to be left to the British (they could put to use soldiers they withdrew from Basra last year). Not only are the British better equipped to deal with this crisis, but Burma is a former British territorial possession, and so the Brits probably have a better understanding of the lay of the land. The moral and legal case for military intervention is airtight. The question is whether or not Great Britain could ever pull it off.

While the death toll in Burma rises, its government continues to block foreign aid shipments, and Western governments fret about what to do, some outspoken voices across the pond are offering up some useful ideas. British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has come up with a novel proposal to the crisis in Burma: air-drop supplies to civilians with or without the consent of their government. “The case for unilateral delivery of aid by the international community will only grow stronger,” as the death toll grows, he said yesterday. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates all but rules out American aid drops, telling reporters that he “cannot imagine us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government.” It’s good to know that the spirit of Tony Blair still exist in British politics, if not within the higher ranks of his own party.

Writing in yesterday’s Times of London, David Aaronovitch goes for the Full Monty, so to speak, and says that the only justifiable objection to military intervention is whether or not it is feasible:

How often do we need it proved? The issue isn’t whether we have the right to intervene – because the consequences of vicious dictatorships usually catch up with us in time – but whether or not, practically, we can. Everything else is a polite conversation in a sunny church.

Nick Cohen, another liberal hawk, echoes the call. If the arguments of these men are not morally pure enough for the Left, a coalition of domestic opposition groups in Burma released a statement explicitly calling for international intervention:

To save thousands of lives before it’s too late, we would like to urge the United Nations and foreign governments to intervene in Burma immediately to provide humanitarian and relief assistance directly to the people of Burma, without waiting for the permission of the military junta.

With the United States stretched thin in both Iraq and Afghanistan, intervention in Burma ought to be left to the British (they could put to use soldiers they withdrew from Basra last year). Not only are the British better equipped to deal with this crisis, but Burma is a former British territorial possession, and so the Brits probably have a better understanding of the lay of the land. The moral and legal case for military intervention is airtight. The question is whether or not Great Britain could ever pull it off.

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Britain’s Qumran Craziness

When will the Brits run out of new and creative ways to attack Israel? The British Advertising Standards Authority, an independent watchdog set up to ensure fairness in advertising, has attacked the Israeli tourism ministry for including the historical site at Qumran in one of its ads. The problem? Qumran is on the wrong side of the Green Line, and is technically in territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Therefore, Israel is “misleading” consumers by implying that Qumran is in Israel.

Leave aside the fact that the territory is disputed, or that Qumran is known as an important site only because the Israeli government has enabled archaeologists for a generation to excavate and analyze the crucial Dead Sea Scrolls that were found there. Even leave aside the ridiculous double-standards involved: According to one ministry official, “Representatives of the Palestinian Tourism Ministry feature a map of Palestine which shows all of Israel’s regions, including Ben-Gurion Airport, as Palestine’s major airport, but the British never complained about that.”

What I’m wondering is: Are images of the Western Wall, which was also conquered by Israel in 1967, also “misleading”? And what about the Knesset, which sits in Western Jerusalem, which has never been formally recognized as part of Israel? We’re waiting, BASA . . .

When will the Brits run out of new and creative ways to attack Israel? The British Advertising Standards Authority, an independent watchdog set up to ensure fairness in advertising, has attacked the Israeli tourism ministry for including the historical site at Qumran in one of its ads. The problem? Qumran is on the wrong side of the Green Line, and is technically in territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Therefore, Israel is “misleading” consumers by implying that Qumran is in Israel.

Leave aside the fact that the territory is disputed, or that Qumran is known as an important site only because the Israeli government has enabled archaeologists for a generation to excavate and analyze the crucial Dead Sea Scrolls that were found there. Even leave aside the ridiculous double-standards involved: According to one ministry official, “Representatives of the Palestinian Tourism Ministry feature a map of Palestine which shows all of Israel’s regions, including Ben-Gurion Airport, as Palestine’s major airport, but the British never complained about that.”

What I’m wondering is: Are images of the Western Wall, which was also conquered by Israel in 1967, also “misleading”? And what about the Knesset, which sits in Western Jerusalem, which has never been formally recognized as part of Israel? We’re waiting, BASA . . .

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Where Hysteria Rules

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan took me to task for my delusional “complacency” about America’s image in the eyes of the world. (Earlier in the day, I had written of Camille Paglia: “If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s ‘reputation in tatters,’ she’s describing some internal or personal state of perception.”)

America’s commitment to a drawn-out, asymmetrical, multi-theater war with a global enemy has thrown up an array of sticky challenges. One of them is securing the ongoing commitment of allies. But Paglia’s (and Sullivan’s) hysteria is another matter.

Among whom, exactly, has the U.S.’s reputation taken this alleged dramatic downturn? Spain; Iran and Syria, the enjoyment of whose friendships would be both a disgrace and a functional liability; the totalitarian Hugo Chavez, whose loathing the U.S. should wear as a badge of honor.

Canada’s conservative government continues to pledge troops to the Afghanistan fight, though there are some grumblings there about creeping American fascism. Yet these come from the same quarters that hold state-sponsored censorship hearings in the name of human rights.

There is, of course, the case of Vladimir Putin and Russia. But can the chill emanating from Moscow really be chalked up to cowboy diplomacy? If anything, George Bush has been too trusting and deferential towards the Russian president.

North Korea is everyone’s problem, and will remain so no matter who is in office, even if it’s Barack Obama.

It’s worth pointing out who likes us, too. The Brits under Brown are still fighting with us. France under Sarkozy has taken an unprecedentedly pro-American stance, even upping its contribution to active NATO forces in Afghanistan. Germany’s Angela Merkel is no longer cringing away from George Bush, as she was a couple of years back. Eastern Europe seems fairly content to have the U.S. erecting a protective missile shield there. Bush’s decision to share nuclear technology with India has ushered in a new age of economic and diplomatic comity with the sub-continent. U.S. aid to Africa over the past seven years has made Bush an adored personage continent-wide.

Yet unless you admit the sky is falling, Sullivan diagnoses you as delusional and moves on to the next Obama convert who “gets it,”who understands that Obama’s willingness to talk to everyone (and trade with no one) will repair America’s tattered image.

This is the bi-polar political impulse that’s characterized Sullivan’s work since 9/11. The Iraq War was the bravest, most thoughtful, most promising exercise of military might in modern history–until it was the biggest moral and strategic catastrophe America had ever seen. To find yourself in the path of Sullivan’s hyperbolic pendulum only means that you’ll find yourself there again when it swings from the other direction. In time, even I will presumably “get it.”

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan took me to task for my delusional “complacency” about America’s image in the eyes of the world. (Earlier in the day, I had written of Camille Paglia: “If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s ‘reputation in tatters,’ she’s describing some internal or personal state of perception.”)

America’s commitment to a drawn-out, asymmetrical, multi-theater war with a global enemy has thrown up an array of sticky challenges. One of them is securing the ongoing commitment of allies. But Paglia’s (and Sullivan’s) hysteria is another matter.

Among whom, exactly, has the U.S.’s reputation taken this alleged dramatic downturn? Spain; Iran and Syria, the enjoyment of whose friendships would be both a disgrace and a functional liability; the totalitarian Hugo Chavez, whose loathing the U.S. should wear as a badge of honor.

Canada’s conservative government continues to pledge troops to the Afghanistan fight, though there are some grumblings there about creeping American fascism. Yet these come from the same quarters that hold state-sponsored censorship hearings in the name of human rights.

There is, of course, the case of Vladimir Putin and Russia. But can the chill emanating from Moscow really be chalked up to cowboy diplomacy? If anything, George Bush has been too trusting and deferential towards the Russian president.

North Korea is everyone’s problem, and will remain so no matter who is in office, even if it’s Barack Obama.

It’s worth pointing out who likes us, too. The Brits under Brown are still fighting with us. France under Sarkozy has taken an unprecedentedly pro-American stance, even upping its contribution to active NATO forces in Afghanistan. Germany’s Angela Merkel is no longer cringing away from George Bush, as she was a couple of years back. Eastern Europe seems fairly content to have the U.S. erecting a protective missile shield there. Bush’s decision to share nuclear technology with India has ushered in a new age of economic and diplomatic comity with the sub-continent. U.S. aid to Africa over the past seven years has made Bush an adored personage continent-wide.

Yet unless you admit the sky is falling, Sullivan diagnoses you as delusional and moves on to the next Obama convert who “gets it,”who understands that Obama’s willingness to talk to everyone (and trade with no one) will repair America’s tattered image.

This is the bi-polar political impulse that’s characterized Sullivan’s work since 9/11. The Iraq War was the bravest, most thoughtful, most promising exercise of military might in modern history–until it was the biggest moral and strategic catastrophe America had ever seen. To find yourself in the path of Sullivan’s hyperbolic pendulum only means that you’ll find yourself there again when it swings from the other direction. In time, even I will presumably “get it.”

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Fighting in Basra

I have hesitated to comment on the fighting raging in Basra, which has spilled over into other cities including Baghdad, because the shape of events is so difficult to make out from afar-or for that matter even from up close. The best analysis I have seen is this article in the Financial Times which notes that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is taking a major gamble by challenging the power of the Shiite militias–more like criminal gangs-which have seized control of Basra, Iraq’s second or third largest city and home to its only major port.

While most news coverage has focused on the renewed fighting as signs of impending doom–or at the very least evidence that the surge isn’t working so well–the FT correctly detects a silver lining: “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia.”

This gamble is long overdue. The British basically abdicated their counterinsurgency role in the south and allowed thugs to take over Basra. The police force is particularly corrupt. Maliki is now sending the Iraqi Security Forces to do what the Brits wouldn’t: clean up Dodge.

The risk of course is that Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi (JAM)–one of Iraq’s largest and most threatening militias–will go to the mattresses in retaliation. There is some evidence of this happening with ultra-violent “Special Groups”, which have been loosely associated with JAM, ramping up rocket attacks on the Green Zone. There have also been clashes reported in Sadr City, Hilla, Karbala, and other Shiite areas.

But the Sadrist leadership has stuck by its promise to maintain a ceasefire, at least when it comes to operations against coalition forces. Even though some more mainstream JAM elements, not just the Special Groups, seem to be drawn into fighting against the Iraqi security forces and to a lesser extent coalition forces, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If we’re going to have a showdown, better to have it now then in the fall when there will be substantially fewer American troops on the ground.

The power of militias has been one of the most corrosive features of post-2003 Iraq. No prime minister, including Maliki, has shown much willingness or ability to take on the gunmen, because successive Iraqi governments have depended for their existence on political parties closely aligned with the militias, notably the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr trend. If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered. I only hope he does not lose his nerve in this hour of crisis: if well-led, the Iraqi Security Forces have the power to defeat any militia on the battlefield.

I have hesitated to comment on the fighting raging in Basra, which has spilled over into other cities including Baghdad, because the shape of events is so difficult to make out from afar-or for that matter even from up close. The best analysis I have seen is this article in the Financial Times which notes that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is taking a major gamble by challenging the power of the Shiite militias–more like criminal gangs-which have seized control of Basra, Iraq’s second or third largest city and home to its only major port.

While most news coverage has focused on the renewed fighting as signs of impending doom–or at the very least evidence that the surge isn’t working so well–the FT correctly detects a silver lining: “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia.”

This gamble is long overdue. The British basically abdicated their counterinsurgency role in the south and allowed thugs to take over Basra. The police force is particularly corrupt. Maliki is now sending the Iraqi Security Forces to do what the Brits wouldn’t: clean up Dodge.

The risk of course is that Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi (JAM)–one of Iraq’s largest and most threatening militias–will go to the mattresses in retaliation. There is some evidence of this happening with ultra-violent “Special Groups”, which have been loosely associated with JAM, ramping up rocket attacks on the Green Zone. There have also been clashes reported in Sadr City, Hilla, Karbala, and other Shiite areas.

But the Sadrist leadership has stuck by its promise to maintain a ceasefire, at least when it comes to operations against coalition forces. Even though some more mainstream JAM elements, not just the Special Groups, seem to be drawn into fighting against the Iraqi security forces and to a lesser extent coalition forces, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If we’re going to have a showdown, better to have it now then in the fall when there will be substantially fewer American troops on the ground.

The power of militias has been one of the most corrosive features of post-2003 Iraq. No prime minister, including Maliki, has shown much willingness or ability to take on the gunmen, because successive Iraqi governments have depended for their existence on political parties closely aligned with the militias, notably the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr trend. If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered. I only hope he does not lose his nerve in this hour of crisis: if well-led, the Iraqi Security Forces have the power to defeat any militia on the battlefield.

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Mr. Smith Bears Left

The collapse of even watered-down versions of Marxism has fruitfully pushed a number of leftist British intellectuals into a reconsideration of Adam Smith. The publication in 2001 of Emma Rothschild’s Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment set off a flurry of efforts to reclaim Adam Smith from “the Right.” Rothschild rightly saw that Smith was far from the caricature of a heartless demonic elitist so dear to left wing prayer books. Three years later, Gareth Stedman Jones followed up with his book An End to Poverty, which applauded Smith for his anti-statism.

Now, according to January 18 TLS, new books on Smith have entered the lists. Two of them—Ian McLean ‘s Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian and Gavin Kennedy’s Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy—try with a less than scholarly touch to claim Smith for New Labor. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scotsman, has written the introduction to the MacLean volume. Brown, playing up the Scottish card, claims that “Coming from Kirkcaldy as Adam Smith did, I have come to understand that his (1776) Wealth of Nations, was underpinned by his (1759) Theory of Moral Sentiments” which saw “neighborliness” as crucial to mitigating the underside of economic competition. By this Brown, following McLean, argues that Smith was as much a theorist of social justice as an economist.

Taken in a Tocquevillian light this might seem innocuous. But, in the name of “neighborliness,” MacLean and Brown want if not to replace then at least to displace “the invisible hand” of markets with the “helping hand” of the state. This argument, depending on how you look at it, is either a hypocritical perversion of Smith or a thoughtful means of reconciling British leftists to global competition.

An answer, of sorts to Brown, comes from the Tory’s shadow chancellor George Osborne in his introduction to a new edition of The Wealth of Nations. Osborne sees Smith as the definitive answer to the shapeless anti-market ideology of the anti-globalization movement which has no positive program but is skilled at playing Cassandra. Osborne accurately sees economic nationalism as the road to perdition. But invoking Smith is scant guide for how either the Brits or the Americans should respond to the neo-mercantilist sovereign wealth funds of China and some of the Gulf States which invest politically in open societies while closing their own borders to foreigners.

Smith who was a moral ironist would no doubt be amused at the attempt by contemporary British politicians to enlist his writings in their causes. He once, after all, define an elected official as “that insidious and crafty animal vulgarly called a statesman or politician, whose councils are directed by the momentary fluctuation of affairs.”

The collapse of even watered-down versions of Marxism has fruitfully pushed a number of leftist British intellectuals into a reconsideration of Adam Smith. The publication in 2001 of Emma Rothschild’s Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment set off a flurry of efforts to reclaim Adam Smith from “the Right.” Rothschild rightly saw that Smith was far from the caricature of a heartless demonic elitist so dear to left wing prayer books. Three years later, Gareth Stedman Jones followed up with his book An End to Poverty, which applauded Smith for his anti-statism.

Now, according to January 18 TLS, new books on Smith have entered the lists. Two of them—Ian McLean ‘s Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian and Gavin Kennedy’s Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy—try with a less than scholarly touch to claim Smith for New Labor. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scotsman, has written the introduction to the MacLean volume. Brown, playing up the Scottish card, claims that “Coming from Kirkcaldy as Adam Smith did, I have come to understand that his (1776) Wealth of Nations, was underpinned by his (1759) Theory of Moral Sentiments” which saw “neighborliness” as crucial to mitigating the underside of economic competition. By this Brown, following McLean, argues that Smith was as much a theorist of social justice as an economist.

Taken in a Tocquevillian light this might seem innocuous. But, in the name of “neighborliness,” MacLean and Brown want if not to replace then at least to displace “the invisible hand” of markets with the “helping hand” of the state. This argument, depending on how you look at it, is either a hypocritical perversion of Smith or a thoughtful means of reconciling British leftists to global competition.

An answer, of sorts to Brown, comes from the Tory’s shadow chancellor George Osborne in his introduction to a new edition of The Wealth of Nations. Osborne sees Smith as the definitive answer to the shapeless anti-market ideology of the anti-globalization movement which has no positive program but is skilled at playing Cassandra. Osborne accurately sees economic nationalism as the road to perdition. But invoking Smith is scant guide for how either the Brits or the Americans should respond to the neo-mercantilist sovereign wealth funds of China and some of the Gulf States which invest politically in open societies while closing their own borders to foreigners.

Smith who was a moral ironist would no doubt be amused at the attempt by contemporary British politicians to enlist his writings in their causes. He once, after all, define an elected official as “that insidious and crafty animal vulgarly called a statesman or politician, whose councils are directed by the momentary fluctuation of affairs.”

Read Less




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