Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Guardian

Morning Commentary

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

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Good Advice from Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

I wouldn’t expect the Obama administration to take advice from ideological rivals on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But it’s puzzling that it remains equally deaf to advice from two prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

In a moderated conversation published this month, Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh were in complete accord:

OZ: … [T]he first issue we need to deal with is the refugee issue, because this one is really urgent. Jerusalem is not urgent, it can wait. It can go unresolved for another generation, it can be unresolved for three generations. The refugees are hundreds of thousands of people decomposing in dehumanizing conditions in refugee camps. Israel cannot take these refugees back or it would not be Israel. There would be two Palestinian states, and there would be no Israel. But Israel can do something, along with the Arab world, along with the entire world, to take those people out of the camps, into homes and jobs. Peace or no peace, as long as the refugees are rotting in the camps Israel will have no security.

NUSSEIBEH: I agree. Whether there is or isn’t a solution, the refugee problem is a human problem and it needs to be resolved. It cannot just be shelved day after day after day in the hope that something will happen. The human dimension is far more important in this whole conflict than the territorial.

Yet Obama’s team remains fixated on “borders first.” That’s ridiculous on several counts. First, since territory is all that Israel has to trade, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be foolish to make all his territorial concessions up front, leaving him without leverage to extract crucial Palestinian concessions on other issues, like the refugees.

Second, since two previous Israeli leaders, Ehud Barak (at Taba) and Ehud Olmert, were that foolish, the entire world ought to know by now that Israel twice offered the equivalent of 100 percent of the territories (with land swaps). Those offers went nowhere because the Palestinians refused to make reciprocal concessions on other issues — especially the refugees.

Specifically, the Palestinians insist that Israel absorb millions of refugees and their descendants under any deal, thereby eradicating the Jewish state by demography. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated this in the Guardian just last week; the governing body of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderate” Fatah party did so last month.

Until this changes, any territorial concessions Netanyahu offers will be meaningless, because no Israeli government will sign a deal that effectively spells the Jewish state’s death warrant. But if the refugee issue were resolved, Netanyahu would either make a generous territorial offer or face certain ouster in the next election. Thus, if Washington actually wants a deal, this is the place to start.

Finally, as Oz and Nusseibeh noted, this is a human tragedy that has already been left to fester far too long. That Palestinian leaders have held the refugees hostage to their maximalist demands for over six decades shows just how little they really care about their own people. And for all its fine talk of human rights, the “enlightened West” is evidently no better.

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David Brooks’s Unconvincing Defense of His Employer

Granted, he’s in a tough spot. His newspaper has facilitated a massive disclosure of confidential material. That paper claimed for itself the right to make decisions as to which cables would be released and redacted. Perhaps in such a situation, David Brooks should have refrained from excoriating Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder. The only difference, really, between Assange and the Times is that the former received the stolen documents directly from the thief rather than via the Guardian and that the latter made a show of interposing its own editorial judgment in the selective release of the documents.

Because these differences are minor compared with the underlying act of immorality — the subversion of the foreign policy apparatus in a democratic government — Brooks inevitably becomes tangled up in his defense of his employer:

My colleagues on the news side of this newspaper do not share Assange’s mentality. As the various statements from the editors have made abundantly clear, they face a much thornier set of issues.

As journalists, they have a professional obligation to share information that might help people make informed decisions. That means asking questions like: How does the U.S. government lobby allies? What is the real nature of our relationship with Pakistani intelligence? At the same time, as humans and citizens, my colleagues know they have a moral obligation not to endanger lives or national security.

The Times has thus erected a series of filters between the 250,000 raw documents that WikiLeaks obtained and complete public exposure. The paper has released only a tiny percentage of the cables. Information that might endanger informants has been redacted. Specific cables have been put into context with broader reporting.

We are to excuse the Times‘s behavior because it thought real hard about it? Puleez.

Brooks then feels compelled to spin on behalf of the administration and perhaps of his employer (for if the documents are perceived as devastating to the administration’s credibility — rightly so, I would argue — then Brooks’s defense of the Times would seem rather lame):

Despite the imaginings of people like Assange, the conversation revealed in the cables is not devious and nefarious. The private conversation is similar to the public conversation, except maybe more admirable. Israeli and Arab diplomats can be seen reacting sympathetically and realistically toward one another. The Americans in the cables are generally savvy and honest. Iran’s neighbors are properly alarmed and reaching out.

This is nonsense. The cables are embarrassing precisely because they reveal the gap between private conversation and public positioning. In public, the administration touts “reset”; in private, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits that democracy is dead in Russia. In public, the administration pleads that the non-peace process is needed to cajole the Arab states into opposing Iran; in private, the Arab states are freaked out that the administration is behaving so timidly. In public, the administration lauds outreach to Syria; in private, it is dismissed by Arab leaders as a joke.

Let’s be blunt: the Times is no better than Assange. At least Assange spared us the condescending chest-puffing. And both have done, no doubt to their dismay, much to bolster the critics of Obama’s foreign policy. But more important, both have demonstrated a contempt for democracy.

Granted, he’s in a tough spot. His newspaper has facilitated a massive disclosure of confidential material. That paper claimed for itself the right to make decisions as to which cables would be released and redacted. Perhaps in such a situation, David Brooks should have refrained from excoriating Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder. The only difference, really, between Assange and the Times is that the former received the stolen documents directly from the thief rather than via the Guardian and that the latter made a show of interposing its own editorial judgment in the selective release of the documents.

Because these differences are minor compared with the underlying act of immorality — the subversion of the foreign policy apparatus in a democratic government — Brooks inevitably becomes tangled up in his defense of his employer:

My colleagues on the news side of this newspaper do not share Assange’s mentality. As the various statements from the editors have made abundantly clear, they face a much thornier set of issues.

As journalists, they have a professional obligation to share information that might help people make informed decisions. That means asking questions like: How does the U.S. government lobby allies? What is the real nature of our relationship with Pakistani intelligence? At the same time, as humans and citizens, my colleagues know they have a moral obligation not to endanger lives or national security.

The Times has thus erected a series of filters between the 250,000 raw documents that WikiLeaks obtained and complete public exposure. The paper has released only a tiny percentage of the cables. Information that might endanger informants has been redacted. Specific cables have been put into context with broader reporting.

We are to excuse the Times‘s behavior because it thought real hard about it? Puleez.

Brooks then feels compelled to spin on behalf of the administration and perhaps of his employer (for if the documents are perceived as devastating to the administration’s credibility — rightly so, I would argue — then Brooks’s defense of the Times would seem rather lame):

Despite the imaginings of people like Assange, the conversation revealed in the cables is not devious and nefarious. The private conversation is similar to the public conversation, except maybe more admirable. Israeli and Arab diplomats can be seen reacting sympathetically and realistically toward one another. The Americans in the cables are generally savvy and honest. Iran’s neighbors are properly alarmed and reaching out.

This is nonsense. The cables are embarrassing precisely because they reveal the gap between private conversation and public positioning. In public, the administration touts “reset”; in private, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits that democracy is dead in Russia. In public, the administration pleads that the non-peace process is needed to cajole the Arab states into opposing Iran; in private, the Arab states are freaked out that the administration is behaving so timidly. In public, the administration lauds outreach to Syria; in private, it is dismissed by Arab leaders as a joke.

Let’s be blunt: the Times is no better than Assange. At least Assange spared us the condescending chest-puffing. And both have done, no doubt to their dismay, much to bolster the critics of Obama’s foreign policy. But more important, both have demonstrated a contempt for democracy.

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WikiLeaks Has Succeeded Only in Reinforcing a Culture of Secrecy

Regrettably, Pete, it looks like the answer is never (as Jennifer has noted). This, just in from the Guardian — a veritable barometer of the liberal mindset, at least as far as Europe goes. The best of the liberal crowd from the UK — a pro-Iranian campaigner, a leading voice of Bolshevik nostalgia who is also a dedicated promoter of Islamic radicalism, Juan Cole, and several other colorful opinion makers — weigh in on the significance of the WikiLeaks data dump on the Middle East.

For anyone harboring optimism about the ability of ideologues to change their minds, this is compulsory reading. I detect no mea culpa, no concession on the liberal animus toward Israel and America, no recoiling from the morbid sympathy for Iran and its nuclear ambitions, no hint of doubt.

Who knows, by the time all WikiLeaks documents have made their way into the public domain, perhaps even the die-hard Guardian ideologues will see the light. I am not holding my breath.

Colleagues may understandably dismiss the Guardian’s collection as a largely fringe phenomenon, but another reason I do not think the leaks will significantly affect people’s mindset one way or another is that the current U.S. administration, and many other liberals in Congress, the State Department, and various other agencies of the federal government, were privy to some, if not all, the content of the leaks before the public was — and that did not change their worldview or the policies they pursued.

Anyone who thinks that the WikiLeaks silver lining is in the “moment of truth” value should remember that WikiLeaks was irrelevant for the bigger picture — it revealed nothing we did not either instinctively or advisedly know about the world already. The information was entertaining in a tabloid way (as Max has said) — but again, gossip about Berlusconi’s lifestyle and Qaddafi’s erratic behavior were already available before this event. What value did we get out of this exposure that we had not already gotten out of a subscription to Hello! magazine?

Undoubtedly, the embarrassment from the exposure will eventually subside because, after all, governments made uncomfortable by these leaks must have similar documents in mind that their own diplomats have produced about U.S. leaders. Such is the nature of diplomacy, after all — to offer frank, unadorned assessments under the assumption that they will stay secret until long after they have become irrelevant.

In sum, the only enduring consequences of this affair are negative. First, there is the potential damage caused to sources of information — past, present, and future. Will the likelihood of being exposed as an informant in societies where such activity may be punished with death, loss of face or revenue, or damage to family, help or hinder the future recruitment of sources? Will current sources, seeing how they could easily be exposed, continue or discontinue their cooperation with American (and other) diplomats? Will they have the luxury of this choice, given that being exposed could lead to their death? And will they have continued access to information, given that they have now been exposed?

Then there is the real damage done to the quality of diplomatic communication. WikiLeaks stupidly boasts of serving transparency. The fact of the matter is that its irresponsible and puerile act of exposure will not obviate the need for discretion in the way governments conduct their affairs of state. To the contrary, it will force governments to build more impenetrable firewalls for their vital internal communications — with increased costs to the public coffers and with an increase in the kind of “culture of secrecy” that WikiLeaks so ardently wishes to undermine.

Regrettably, Pete, it looks like the answer is never (as Jennifer has noted). This, just in from the Guardian — a veritable barometer of the liberal mindset, at least as far as Europe goes. The best of the liberal crowd from the UK — a pro-Iranian campaigner, a leading voice of Bolshevik nostalgia who is also a dedicated promoter of Islamic radicalism, Juan Cole, and several other colorful opinion makers — weigh in on the significance of the WikiLeaks data dump on the Middle East.

For anyone harboring optimism about the ability of ideologues to change their minds, this is compulsory reading. I detect no mea culpa, no concession on the liberal animus toward Israel and America, no recoiling from the morbid sympathy for Iran and its nuclear ambitions, no hint of doubt.

Who knows, by the time all WikiLeaks documents have made their way into the public domain, perhaps even the die-hard Guardian ideologues will see the light. I am not holding my breath.

Colleagues may understandably dismiss the Guardian’s collection as a largely fringe phenomenon, but another reason I do not think the leaks will significantly affect people’s mindset one way or another is that the current U.S. administration, and many other liberals in Congress, the State Department, and various other agencies of the federal government, were privy to some, if not all, the content of the leaks before the public was — and that did not change their worldview or the policies they pursued.

Anyone who thinks that the WikiLeaks silver lining is in the “moment of truth” value should remember that WikiLeaks was irrelevant for the bigger picture — it revealed nothing we did not either instinctively or advisedly know about the world already. The information was entertaining in a tabloid way (as Max has said) — but again, gossip about Berlusconi’s lifestyle and Qaddafi’s erratic behavior were already available before this event. What value did we get out of this exposure that we had not already gotten out of a subscription to Hello! magazine?

Undoubtedly, the embarrassment from the exposure will eventually subside because, after all, governments made uncomfortable by these leaks must have similar documents in mind that their own diplomats have produced about U.S. leaders. Such is the nature of diplomacy, after all — to offer frank, unadorned assessments under the assumption that they will stay secret until long after they have become irrelevant.

In sum, the only enduring consequences of this affair are negative. First, there is the potential damage caused to sources of information — past, present, and future. Will the likelihood of being exposed as an informant in societies where such activity may be punished with death, loss of face or revenue, or damage to family, help or hinder the future recruitment of sources? Will current sources, seeing how they could easily be exposed, continue or discontinue their cooperation with American (and other) diplomats? Will they have the luxury of this choice, given that being exposed could lead to their death? And will they have continued access to information, given that they have now been exposed?

Then there is the real damage done to the quality of diplomatic communication. WikiLeaks stupidly boasts of serving transparency. The fact of the matter is that its irresponsible and puerile act of exposure will not obviate the need for discretion in the way governments conduct their affairs of state. To the contrary, it will force governments to build more impenetrable firewalls for their vital internal communications — with increased costs to the public coffers and with an increase in the kind of “culture of secrecy” that WikiLeaks so ardently wishes to undermine.

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How Not to Be Alone

I haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom. Franzen is a talented American writer and his works to date are not wanting for brilliant descriptive gems. But as a sermonizer on the topic of America’s derelict soul, he is as ingenious as a disenchanted ninth grader; he’s also as self-important.

Don’t believe me. Ask him. “I feel as if I’m clearly part of a trend among writers who take themselves seriously,” he offered in response to an interviewer’s question having nothing to do with himself, his seriousness, or anyone else’s. “I confess to taking myself as seriously as the next writer.” Perhaps if the next writer were Jonathan Franzen.

According to reviews, Freedom is an ambitious work intended to tell America something new and vitally important about itself. Yet, despite the torrent of ecstatic press, the book didn’t make it onto the short list for this year’s National Book Award in fiction. But Franzen need not take the snub too, um, seriously. He just gave an America-bashing interview to the Guardian’s Sarfraz Manzoor that’s all but guaranteed his Nobel Prize. This exchange provides the best cross-section view of the liberal mind at work that we’ll ever see. Read More

I haven’t read Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom. Franzen is a talented American writer and his works to date are not wanting for brilliant descriptive gems. But as a sermonizer on the topic of America’s derelict soul, he is as ingenious as a disenchanted ninth grader; he’s also as self-important.

Don’t believe me. Ask him. “I feel as if I’m clearly part of a trend among writers who take themselves seriously,” he offered in response to an interviewer’s question having nothing to do with himself, his seriousness, or anyone else’s. “I confess to taking myself as seriously as the next writer.” Perhaps if the next writer were Jonathan Franzen.

According to reviews, Freedom is an ambitious work intended to tell America something new and vitally important about itself. Yet, despite the torrent of ecstatic press, the book didn’t make it onto the short list for this year’s National Book Award in fiction. But Franzen need not take the snub too, um, seriously. He just gave an America-bashing interview to the Guardian’s Sarfraz Manzoor that’s all but guaranteed his Nobel Prize. This exchange provides the best cross-section view of the liberal mind at work that we’ll ever see.

Franzen: [In] the last decade America has emerged even in its own estimation as a problem state. That is, there were many criticisms one could make as early as treatment of the Indians; it goes way back; and our long relationship with slavery. There have been some problems with the country at many points. In the Cold War, we were certainly culpable. But the degree to which we are almost a rogue state and causing enormous trouble around the world in our attempt to preserve our freedom to drive SUVs and whatever by…

Manzoor: Operation Enduring Freedom.

Franzen: Operation enduring freedom, good. It does make one wonder: What is it in the national character that is making us such a problem state and I think [it is] a kind of mixed-up childish notion of freedom. And perhaps really, truly, who left Europe to go over there [America]? It was all the malcontents; it was all the people who were not getting along with others.

Manzoor: Are you more comfortable in America now than you were when you started writing the book?

Franzen: (sigh) No. It was possible while I was writing the book to look forward to some possibility of significant change. And now people left of the middle feel puzzled and sort of anguished because we don’t have an object for our anger but the right is still as angry as ever. I mean that’s the worrisome thing about our upcoming elections. [The worrisome thing] is that the right is still just as angrily motivated as ever. And the Democrats are in disarray and feeling, well, we have power but the system itself is so screwed up, and we are relatively the adult party so we’re responsible for trying to make an unworkable system work. It’s just, it’s this kind of (groan) discouragement and dull throbbing anxiety.

Forget the book. The pontifications above constitute Franzen’s true unwitting masterpiece. The whole liberal template is unwound and labeled like cracked genetic code. The wonderful thing about liberals is that their dismissal of competing ideologies strips them of the need to cloak or soften their bizarro theories when speaking publicly.

The first order of business is America’s guilt. Franzen can’t imagine that any sane person would disagree with him about the U.S.’s role in the Cold War being on a moral continuum with the institution of American slavery. And of course, who could possibly deny that the Bush years were even more ghastly than either one?

After the dirty hands comes the condescension. The American conception of freedom is “childish” and the Democrats are the “adult party.”

Next up is the left’s penchant for totalitarian lockstep. Franzen wags his finger at the earliest Americans for being nonconformist “malcontents” who bucked the non-democratic European nation-states. Note the creepiness of the speculation on misfit ancestry and problematic national character.

Last, the subterfuge. The Democrats have done nothing wrong. It’s this stubborn broken thing called “the system” that no amount of liberal wisdom can set right. And so what can the enlightened liberal do but groan in the face of the “dull throbbing anxiety” created by the non-liberal world and its perpetually angry conservatives.

Franzen’s failure is ultimately not political but artistic. His realm is the creative, and in parroting those of the most meager imaginations, he has reversed the artist’s aim. Liberalism doesn’t only encroach upon things like opportunity and standard of living. It’s what it does to the self that’s most dangerous and pernicious. It pushes out the individual imagination and replaces it with wooden convictions. Before that wreaks havoc on a polity, it has its way with a mind. For a novelist, this is fatal. And so Franzen, a writer of copious narrative and descriptive gifts, ends up sounding like a 14-year-old who broke up his usual Daily Kos with his first read through Howard Zinn. The Nobel speech can’t possibly measure up.

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The Race to Baghdad

In a sense, it doesn’t matter whether Americans think Iran has too much influence in Iraq. Sunnis, in both Iraq and the larger region, increasingly think Iran has too much influence there — and that’s what matters to developments on the ground. Iraqi Sunnis have friends in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but they are also a natural recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. A Sunni revolt against Iranian influence will not be carried out in the Iraqi editorial pages.

The pace of events has accelerated in the last two weeks. Iraq has been without a governing coalition since March, but on October 1, radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr — who has lived in Iran since 2007, studying with the country’s most senior clerics — announced his backing of Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister and head of the caretaker government. The U.S. has asked Maliki to distance himself from Sadr as a condition of continued American support. But things aren’t that simple, primarily because President Obama has made it so clear that American support to an Iraqi government doesn’t mean what it meant two years ago. Obama has declared combat “over” in Iraq and is withdrawing troops as he promised. To function independently, however, what Maliki needs is the guarantee of active U.S. force at his back — and that is precisely what Obama is busy removing.

The UK Guardian has a remarkably detailed article from the weekend outlining the collusion of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in the Maliki-Sadr hook-up. (See companion piece here.) I’m routinely somewhat skeptical of Guardian stories, but in addition to its extensive detail, this one is bolstered by echoes in the Arabic press of the energetic shuttle diplomacy by the principal actors. The reaction from the region’s loose Sunni coalition certainly seems to validate the Guardian’s facts; as outlined by the Al-Ahram piece linked at the top, Iraqi Sunnis have kicked into overdrive a campaign for support from the Sunni nations (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey).

It’s against this background that the defection to al-Qaeda of the “Anbar Awakening” Sunnis must be understood. Almost every nation in the Middle East is trying to “fix” the outcome in Iraq — a reality that is largely invisible to Americans, but is one of the two main factors in the Sunni defection. The other is the perception that Obama’s America is inert and irrelevant to the power competition in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran has launched an aggressive, activist phase in its regional policy, a trend amplified by Ahmadinejad’s triumphal visit to Lebanon last week. The U.S. could have averted the visit; that it did not has reinforced our Obama-era image of feckless passivity at the worst possible times.

According to the Guardian, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s condition for supporting the Maliki-Sadr coalition is a guarantee that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq in 2011. In the absence of clear, assertive U.S. policy, we will find ourselves increasingly boxed in by the plans of opponents who want to make our policy for us. In many cases, the opponents will be terrorists.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter whether Americans think Iran has too much influence in Iraq. Sunnis, in both Iraq and the larger region, increasingly think Iran has too much influence there — and that’s what matters to developments on the ground. Iraqi Sunnis have friends in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but they are also a natural recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. A Sunni revolt against Iranian influence will not be carried out in the Iraqi editorial pages.

The pace of events has accelerated in the last two weeks. Iraq has been without a governing coalition since March, but on October 1, radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr — who has lived in Iran since 2007, studying with the country’s most senior clerics — announced his backing of Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister and head of the caretaker government. The U.S. has asked Maliki to distance himself from Sadr as a condition of continued American support. But things aren’t that simple, primarily because President Obama has made it so clear that American support to an Iraqi government doesn’t mean what it meant two years ago. Obama has declared combat “over” in Iraq and is withdrawing troops as he promised. To function independently, however, what Maliki needs is the guarantee of active U.S. force at his back — and that is precisely what Obama is busy removing.

The UK Guardian has a remarkably detailed article from the weekend outlining the collusion of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in the Maliki-Sadr hook-up. (See companion piece here.) I’m routinely somewhat skeptical of Guardian stories, but in addition to its extensive detail, this one is bolstered by echoes in the Arabic press of the energetic shuttle diplomacy by the principal actors. The reaction from the region’s loose Sunni coalition certainly seems to validate the Guardian’s facts; as outlined by the Al-Ahram piece linked at the top, Iraqi Sunnis have kicked into overdrive a campaign for support from the Sunni nations (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey).

It’s against this background that the defection to al-Qaeda of the “Anbar Awakening” Sunnis must be understood. Almost every nation in the Middle East is trying to “fix” the outcome in Iraq — a reality that is largely invisible to Americans, but is one of the two main factors in the Sunni defection. The other is the perception that Obama’s America is inert and irrelevant to the power competition in Iraq. Meanwhile, Iran has launched an aggressive, activist phase in its regional policy, a trend amplified by Ahmadinejad’s triumphal visit to Lebanon last week. The U.S. could have averted the visit; that it did not has reinforced our Obama-era image of feckless passivity at the worst possible times.

According to the Guardian, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s condition for supporting the Maliki-Sadr coalition is a guarantee that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq in 2011. In the absence of clear, assertive U.S. policy, we will find ourselves increasingly boxed in by the plans of opponents who want to make our policy for us. In many cases, the opponents will be terrorists.

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Wikileaks, Insignificant

The Pentagon Papers they’re not. The New York Times and the Guardian, among others, are touting the massive leak of 92,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, which was unearthed by the Wikileaks website. What bombshells do these secret memos contain? Pretty much none, if you are an even marginally attentive follower of the news.

In fact, the only new thing I learned from the documents was that the Taliban have attacked coalition aircraft with heat-seeking missiles. That is interesting to learn but not necessarily terribly alarming because, even with such missiles, the insurgents have not managed to take down many aircraft — certainly nothing like the toll that Stingers took on the Red Army in the 1980s.

As for the other “revelations,” here is the best the Times could do after weeks of examining the documents:

The documents … suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan. …

  • The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
  • Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

Is it really news to anyone that Pakistan supports the Taliban? Or that Special Operations Forces and the CIA are conducting raids against the Taliban? If so, these must be the worst-kept secrets in the world. Senior U.S. officials have quite openly spoken about Pakistan’s role and about the Special Operations raids. As usual, comments on the CIA’s role have been more circumspect, but the agency’s involvement has been written about in numerous books and articles and not denied by senior officials.

Perhaps the biggest faux news here is that unmanned aerial vehicles sometimes “crash or collide.” This would come as a revelation, presumably, only to those who believe that military operations in wartime should achieve a standard of perfection unknown in any other human activity.

The Guardian, as befitting the more freewheeling (and less factual) culture of British journalism, tries harder to hype the findings, which, it claims, provide a “devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan.” Actually, the documents show no such thing. At most, they provide a ground-level view of difficulties the coalition experienced in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009.

Nobody denies that the war was being lost in that period; in fact, that was the rationale for the surge in forces orchestrated by the Bush and Obama administrations since 2008 — to turn around a failing war effort. The documents do not at all reflect on how the war is going now because they don’t cover this year. Even if they did, their usefulness would be highly limited: like most such reports, they provide a soda-straw view of events narrowly circumscribed by time and location. The fact that blunders and casualties occur in wartime should hardly be news; whether those blunders and casualties amount to a failing war effort or whether they are part of the fog and friction normal even in victory is more than the documents can tell us.

The Wikileakers should certainly be castigated for their cavalier treatment of classified documents, which may make our troops’ jobs harder and more dangerous. Their enablers in the mainstream media should also come in for censure. Whoever provided the information to them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But at the same time, we should recognize this disclosure for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt to damage the war effort. I doubt that anyone will remember this episode a year from now; what will count, as always, will be the outcome on the battlefield. Win, and a thousand missteps are forgiven; lose, and even the biggest tactical victories fade into insignificance.

The Pentagon Papers they’re not. The New York Times and the Guardian, among others, are touting the massive leak of 92,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, which was unearthed by the Wikileaks website. What bombshells do these secret memos contain? Pretty much none, if you are an even marginally attentive follower of the news.

In fact, the only new thing I learned from the documents was that the Taliban have attacked coalition aircraft with heat-seeking missiles. That is interesting to learn but not necessarily terribly alarming because, even with such missiles, the insurgents have not managed to take down many aircraft — certainly nothing like the toll that Stingers took on the Red Army in the 1980s.

As for the other “revelations,” here is the best the Times could do after weeks of examining the documents:

The documents … suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan. …

  • The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
  • Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

Is it really news to anyone that Pakistan supports the Taliban? Or that Special Operations Forces and the CIA are conducting raids against the Taliban? If so, these must be the worst-kept secrets in the world. Senior U.S. officials have quite openly spoken about Pakistan’s role and about the Special Operations raids. As usual, comments on the CIA’s role have been more circumspect, but the agency’s involvement has been written about in numerous books and articles and not denied by senior officials.

Perhaps the biggest faux news here is that unmanned aerial vehicles sometimes “crash or collide.” This would come as a revelation, presumably, only to those who believe that military operations in wartime should achieve a standard of perfection unknown in any other human activity.

The Guardian, as befitting the more freewheeling (and less factual) culture of British journalism, tries harder to hype the findings, which, it claims, provide a “devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan.” Actually, the documents show no such thing. At most, they provide a ground-level view of difficulties the coalition experienced in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009.

Nobody denies that the war was being lost in that period; in fact, that was the rationale for the surge in forces orchestrated by the Bush and Obama administrations since 2008 — to turn around a failing war effort. The documents do not at all reflect on how the war is going now because they don’t cover this year. Even if they did, their usefulness would be highly limited: like most such reports, they provide a soda-straw view of events narrowly circumscribed by time and location. The fact that blunders and casualties occur in wartime should hardly be news; whether those blunders and casualties amount to a failing war effort or whether they are part of the fog and friction normal even in victory is more than the documents can tell us.

The Wikileakers should certainly be castigated for their cavalier treatment of classified documents, which may make our troops’ jobs harder and more dangerous. Their enablers in the mainstream media should also come in for censure. Whoever provided the information to them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But at the same time, we should recognize this disclosure for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt to damage the war effort. I doubt that anyone will remember this episode a year from now; what will count, as always, will be the outcome on the battlefield. Win, and a thousand missteps are forgiven; lose, and even the biggest tactical victories fade into insignificance.

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Passport Fraud and Double Standards

The excellent British organization Just Journalism has a report out today comparing the remarkable calm with which the latest instance of passport fraud has been treated with the hysterics that followed the Dubai assassination:

An editorial published by The Guardian following the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat from the UK following the Dubai affair: ‘Israel and Britain: The rule of law,’ (24 March 2010) carried the sub-head, ‘The forging of British passports is the work of a country which believes it can act with impunity when planning the murder of its enemies’. The piece described the faking of UK passports as ‘the mark[s] of an arrogant nation that has overreached itself.’ In today’s editorial, ‘Russian espionage: Spies like us,’ in the same newspaper, the alleged use of a forged UK passport failed to even elicit a mention.

Well, that’s because in the current case the passport forgers are not Jews.

What would be far better than reports from interest groups, though, are some statements from Israeli political leaders, shaming Britain for its hypocrisy. Given the British media’s hyper-obsession with Israel, such statements would surely receive a great deal of coverage — coverage that would invariably have to deal with the question of double standards, rather than with imagined Israeli crimes. That’s why it’s important to seize opportunities to be the accuser instead of waiting around to play the role of the accused.

The excellent British organization Just Journalism has a report out today comparing the remarkable calm with which the latest instance of passport fraud has been treated with the hysterics that followed the Dubai assassination:

An editorial published by The Guardian following the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat from the UK following the Dubai affair: ‘Israel and Britain: The rule of law,’ (24 March 2010) carried the sub-head, ‘The forging of British passports is the work of a country which believes it can act with impunity when planning the murder of its enemies’. The piece described the faking of UK passports as ‘the mark[s] of an arrogant nation that has overreached itself.’ In today’s editorial, ‘Russian espionage: Spies like us,’ in the same newspaper, the alleged use of a forged UK passport failed to even elicit a mention.

Well, that’s because in the current case the passport forgers are not Jews.

What would be far better than reports from interest groups, though, are some statements from Israeli political leaders, shaming Britain for its hypocrisy. Given the British media’s hyper-obsession with Israel, such statements would surely receive a great deal of coverage — coverage that would invariably have to deal with the question of double standards, rather than with imagined Israeli crimes. That’s why it’s important to seize opportunities to be the accuser instead of waiting around to play the role of the accused.

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RE: Helen Thomas Quits

I’m just thinking about her next gig. Her options surely include a guest blogger spot at Mondoweiss, a column in the Guardian, or as a political analyst for al-Manar. Or maybe as the spokesperson for the Turkish embassy in Washington.

I’m just thinking about her next gig. Her options surely include a guest blogger spot at Mondoweiss, a column in the Guardian, or as a political analyst for al-Manar. Or maybe as the spokesperson for the Turkish embassy in Washington.

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UK: Don’t Say Western Wall or Jerusalem is in Israel

In recent years, Israel-bashing has become one of the United Kingdom’s favorite sports. Academic and trade-union boycotts of the Jewish state have flourished while anti-Israeli plays such as “My Name is Rachel Corrie” have been hits on London’s West End stages. Ironically, the growth of anti-Zionist extremism there has made the British government’s increasing hostility toward Israel looked moderate by comparison. Indeed, in a country where Israel’s right to exist is denied by most of the intelligentsia, politicians such as Conservative Party leader David Cameron are seen as “pro-Israel” because they oppose the state’s destruction even while consistently opposing its right of self-defense as well as Jewish claims to Jerusalem.

But in a country where so much of the academic and artistic community as well as a large number of mainstream politicians are so fervently opposed to Israel’s existence, it’s not surprising when such attitudes leach into government proceedings. Thus, while outrageous, it can hardly be considered a great surprise that the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned an ad by the Israel Government’s Tourist Office depicting sites from Jerusalem’s Old City on the grounds that it is fraudulent since it claimed that viewers of the ad were likely to think the places featured in its pictures were actually in the State of Israel. Since Britain doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, let alone the Old City, the agency dubbed the ad misleading.

This is, of course, nonsense. The politics of the Middle East conflict notwithstanding, anyone who visits Israel will quickly learn that, contrary to the fiction maintained by London (and other Western governments), a united Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and visitors to the country have free and easy access to all the holy sites, including Christian and Muslim shrines. Even if future “peace” deals might attempt to divide the city and rebuild the walls that divided it between 1949 and 1967 (when Jordan illegally occupied those areas now misleadingly termed “East Jerusalem”), the Old City is now firmly under Israeli jurisdiction. Any ad that attempted to portray these places as currently being under the control of any country but Israel would be misleading, not the IGTO’s inoffensive appeal to tourists. What’s going on here is a blatant attempt to inject an anti-Zionist political agenda into the business of monitoring misleading advertising. As Israel’s Tourism Ministry said in its reply, “the ad provided basic, accurate information to a prospective UK traveler who wanted to know what to expect in Israel.”

Moreover, there is something profoundly offensive about a foreign government claiming that the most sacred shrine in Judaism — the Western Wall — is part of what the Guardian calls “the Palestinian occupied territories.”  Though this UK pronouncement will do little damage to Israel, it does represent the lengths to which Israel’s enemies will go in their efforts to delegitimize the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the entire country. If Britain thinks Jews have no right to call the Kotel their own, then what hope is there of convincing it that Jews have a right to live anywhere in their country?

In recent years, Israel-bashing has become one of the United Kingdom’s favorite sports. Academic and trade-union boycotts of the Jewish state have flourished while anti-Israeli plays such as “My Name is Rachel Corrie” have been hits on London’s West End stages. Ironically, the growth of anti-Zionist extremism there has made the British government’s increasing hostility toward Israel looked moderate by comparison. Indeed, in a country where Israel’s right to exist is denied by most of the intelligentsia, politicians such as Conservative Party leader David Cameron are seen as “pro-Israel” because they oppose the state’s destruction even while consistently opposing its right of self-defense as well as Jewish claims to Jerusalem.

But in a country where so much of the academic and artistic community as well as a large number of mainstream politicians are so fervently opposed to Israel’s existence, it’s not surprising when such attitudes leach into government proceedings. Thus, while outrageous, it can hardly be considered a great surprise that the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned an ad by the Israel Government’s Tourist Office depicting sites from Jerusalem’s Old City on the grounds that it is fraudulent since it claimed that viewers of the ad were likely to think the places featured in its pictures were actually in the State of Israel. Since Britain doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, let alone the Old City, the agency dubbed the ad misleading.

This is, of course, nonsense. The politics of the Middle East conflict notwithstanding, anyone who visits Israel will quickly learn that, contrary to the fiction maintained by London (and other Western governments), a united Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and visitors to the country have free and easy access to all the holy sites, including Christian and Muslim shrines. Even if future “peace” deals might attempt to divide the city and rebuild the walls that divided it between 1949 and 1967 (when Jordan illegally occupied those areas now misleadingly termed “East Jerusalem”), the Old City is now firmly under Israeli jurisdiction. Any ad that attempted to portray these places as currently being under the control of any country but Israel would be misleading, not the IGTO’s inoffensive appeal to tourists. What’s going on here is a blatant attempt to inject an anti-Zionist political agenda into the business of monitoring misleading advertising. As Israel’s Tourism Ministry said in its reply, “the ad provided basic, accurate information to a prospective UK traveler who wanted to know what to expect in Israel.”

Moreover, there is something profoundly offensive about a foreign government claiming that the most sacred shrine in Judaism — the Western Wall — is part of what the Guardian calls “the Palestinian occupied territories.”  Though this UK pronouncement will do little damage to Israel, it does represent the lengths to which Israel’s enemies will go in their efforts to delegitimize the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the entire country. If Britain thinks Jews have no right to call the Kotel their own, then what hope is there of convincing it that Jews have a right to live anywhere in their country?

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Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran? Check the Source First

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

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Al-Qaeda Attempts to Woo Useful Idiots

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky. Read More

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky.

Communists used to pull stunts like this all the time to get support in the West from what Vladimir Lenin called “useful idiots.” Even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez manage to attract Western fans like Oliver Stone, Medea Benjamin, and writers at the Nation.

I’m slightly surprised it has taken al-Qaeda so long to figure this out. Hamas and Hezbollah are way ahead. They have far more sophisticated public relations departments. A few weeks ago, Hezbollah, Hamas, and leaders from what’s left of the Iraqi “resistance” hosted a terrorist conference in Beirut, which some of the usual subjects from the fringe Left attended — former Democratic party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and British member of Parliament George Galloway.

Less prominent American and European leftists also attended, including a Jewish blogger from Sweden who said his first trip to Lebanon was an “overwhelming experience” and described his slide into the political abyss in two sentences. “As a Jew I felt guilt about the treatment of the Palestinians because it is carried out in the name of all Jews,” he said to a Syrian journalist who asked what he was doing there. “I converted guilt into responsibility by taking up the political cause for the dissolution of the Jewish state.”

In a way, it’s rather astonishing that terrorists can scrape up support from even marginal people who imagine themselves upholders of the liberal tradition, but look at the propaganda. This crowd isn’t just championing the environment and quoting Chomsky. A statement at the Arab International Forum for the Support of the Resistance said “the right of people to resist via all forms, particularly armed struggle, stems from a fundamental principle of self-defense and the right to liberty, dignity, sovereignty and equality among the peoples of the world, and emphasized that resistance is in fact a necessary condition for the establishment of a just international order, to prevent aggression and occupation, and to end colonialism and racism.”

Sounds great. Liberty, dignity, sovereignty, and equality? Post-racism? A just international order? Who could argue with any of that?

The problem, of course, is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi “resistance” aren’t fighting for liberty, any more than Communist guerrillas fought for liberty. Hamas fires rockets at schools and throws its political opponents off skyscrapers. Hezbollah fires even bigger rockets at schools, torches Lebanese television stations, shoots political opponents dead in the streets, and self-identifies as the “vanguard” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s murdering, raping, head-cracking government in Iran. Iraqi “resistance” fighters not only kill American soldiers with improvised explosive devices, they blow up mosques, massacre civilians with car bombs, decapitate children with kitchen knives, and assassinate officials and employees of the elected representative government.

None of the useful Western idiots attending the recent terrorist conference belong to the mainstream Left, nor does the American journalist who swooned over Hezbollah’s supposed global-warming “awareness.” There isn’t a chance that the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or even Jimmy Carter will ever fall for this kind of nonsense or throw their support behind Hamas, Hezbollah, or active leaders of the Iraqi “resistance.” Still, having a gallery of rogues and naifs as your cheering section in the West beats having no one.

It’s too late for Osama bin Laden to polish his image, but I can’t really blame him for thinking he could.

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Does South Africa’s “Big Love” President Have a Lesson for Liberal America?

You have to hand it to the Republic of South Africa. That continent’s richest country may have a lot of problems, but there’s no obsessing about the sexual escapades of its political leaders in the way we prudish Americans obsess about ours. South Africans appear to believe in marriage and lots of it. In fact, in a story that didn’t make it into the pages of most American newspapers on Monday, Britain’s Guardian reports that South African President Jacob Zuma reaped the congratulations of his countrymen by marrying his third wife today in a traditional Zulu ceremony. The only hitch in the proceedings occurred when the 67-year-old president slipped and fell backward while performing a traditional solo dance throughout which he wore animal pelts and white tennis shoes. He is believed to be uninjured.

According to a different report about the event from the AP, South Africa’s new first (or should I say third) lady, 38-year-old Tobeka Madiba, has actually already been married to the president under civil law (he paid her family the bride price back in 2007) and has given birth to three of Zuma’s 19 children.

But three isn’t enough for the popular Zuma, who revels in his reputation as a representative of Zulu traditionalism. The Guardian says he is planning on marrying a fourth woman, Gloria Bongi Ngema, who has also already given birth to one of his children. His other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, and Nompumelelo Ntuli, who became his wife in 2008. Another marriage ended in divorce (though that wife is now South Africa’s home-affairs minister). Yet another wife killed herself reportedly after describing her marriage as “24 years of hell.”

For those wondering how South African women feel toward a polygamist president, a better question would be to wonder how they feel toward a president who was tried for rape in 2006. Zuma was acquitted of raping the daughter of a family friend. His defense consisted of stating that he believed that the woman’s decision to see him alone was an invitation to consensual intercourse. The following year, the victim was granted asylum in the Netherlands.

While all this may seem either revolting or ridiculous to Western sensibilities, it does raise the question of whether or not polygamy is compatible with genuine democracy. Back in 2006, Stanley Kurtz penned a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard, which insisted: “Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family.”

However, as Kurtz noted then, in the era we live in, a growing number of Americans, including the majority of some courts and legislatures, appear to believe that it is not only permissible but also mandatory to redefine our traditional concepts of marriage to allow gay unions. But it isn’t clear what legal — as opposed to religious — principle would mandate that same-sex marriage be labeled kosher while plural marriage still be treated as beyond the pale.

As HBO’s “Big Love” series about Mormon fundamentalists gears up for the premiere of its fourth season this week, Zuma’s shenanigans provide a version of reality TV that makes Bill Hendrickson, the show’s embattled home-improvement entrepreneur with three very different women to deal with at home, look pretty tame. But as Kurtz wrote in 2006, the impetus for the premise of the series may come from a liberal Hollywood mindset that seeks “to highlight the analogy between same-sex unions and polygamy.” The point is, if your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults? Kurtz’s answer, dictated in no small measure by his concern about the spread of polygamy in the West as a result of tolerance for the Muslim practice of plural marriage, was that “stable, monogamous, parenthood-focused marriage” is part of the foundation of a society in which freedom can thrive. There is little question that, as Zuma’s preeminence in South Africa proves, polygamy can lead to a society ruled by men, not laws. That’s a sobering thought that ought to worry even the most ardent libertarians on such issues.

You have to hand it to the Republic of South Africa. That continent’s richest country may have a lot of problems, but there’s no obsessing about the sexual escapades of its political leaders in the way we prudish Americans obsess about ours. South Africans appear to believe in marriage and lots of it. In fact, in a story that didn’t make it into the pages of most American newspapers on Monday, Britain’s Guardian reports that South African President Jacob Zuma reaped the congratulations of his countrymen by marrying his third wife today in a traditional Zulu ceremony. The only hitch in the proceedings occurred when the 67-year-old president slipped and fell backward while performing a traditional solo dance throughout which he wore animal pelts and white tennis shoes. He is believed to be uninjured.

According to a different report about the event from the AP, South Africa’s new first (or should I say third) lady, 38-year-old Tobeka Madiba, has actually already been married to the president under civil law (he paid her family the bride price back in 2007) and has given birth to three of Zuma’s 19 children.

But three isn’t enough for the popular Zuma, who revels in his reputation as a representative of Zulu traditionalism. The Guardian says he is planning on marrying a fourth woman, Gloria Bongi Ngema, who has also already given birth to one of his children. His other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, and Nompumelelo Ntuli, who became his wife in 2008. Another marriage ended in divorce (though that wife is now South Africa’s home-affairs minister). Yet another wife killed herself reportedly after describing her marriage as “24 years of hell.”

For those wondering how South African women feel toward a polygamist president, a better question would be to wonder how they feel toward a president who was tried for rape in 2006. Zuma was acquitted of raping the daughter of a family friend. His defense consisted of stating that he believed that the woman’s decision to see him alone was an invitation to consensual intercourse. The following year, the victim was granted asylum in the Netherlands.

While all this may seem either revolting or ridiculous to Western sensibilities, it does raise the question of whether or not polygamy is compatible with genuine democracy. Back in 2006, Stanley Kurtz penned a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard, which insisted: “Polygamy in all its forms is a recipe for social structures that inhibit and ultimately undermine social freedom and democracy. A hard-won lesson of Western history is that genuine democratic self-rule begins at the hearth of the monogamous family.”

However, as Kurtz noted then, in the era we live in, a growing number of Americans, including the majority of some courts and legislatures, appear to believe that it is not only permissible but also mandatory to redefine our traditional concepts of marriage to allow gay unions. But it isn’t clear what legal — as opposed to religious — principle would mandate that same-sex marriage be labeled kosher while plural marriage still be treated as beyond the pale.

As HBO’s “Big Love” series about Mormon fundamentalists gears up for the premiere of its fourth season this week, Zuma’s shenanigans provide a version of reality TV that makes Bill Hendrickson, the show’s embattled home-improvement entrepreneur with three very different women to deal with at home, look pretty tame. But as Kurtz wrote in 2006, the impetus for the premise of the series may come from a liberal Hollywood mindset that seeks “to highlight the analogy between same-sex unions and polygamy.” The point is, if your libertarian instincts tell you that it’s none of your business if two men or two women marry each other, then why is it the state’s business if one man marries two, three, or four women, so long as they are all consenting adults? Kurtz’s answer, dictated in no small measure by his concern about the spread of polygamy in the West as a result of tolerance for the Muslim practice of plural marriage, was that “stable, monogamous, parenthood-focused marriage” is part of the foundation of a society in which freedom can thrive. There is little question that, as Zuma’s preeminence in South Africa proves, polygamy can lead to a society ruled by men, not laws. That’s a sobering thought that ought to worry even the most ardent libertarians on such issues.

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A Slice, and Only a Slice, of Reality in the Afghan National Army

YouTube has posted this clip about the Afghan army, which was made by Guardian Films, an affiliate of the ultra-left-wing Guardian newspaper in Britain. It is generating considerable chatter in the blogosphere because it presents a dire picture of the state of the Afghan National Army training as seen through the eyes of a Marine Embedded Training Team. As one Marine says: “You walk into a whole squad of ANA smoking hashish. They don’t understand that the use of drugs — it affects the way that they accomplish their mission. Soldiers come out without helmets, soldiers come out missing a lot of gear.” This has become, predictably, fodder for opponents of the war effort to claim that General McChrystal’s mission is hopeless.

A little perspective is in order. Similar videos could have been made about the Iraqi army a few years ago, or even certain Iraqi units today. Nevertheless the Iraqis have come a long way toward taking charge of their own security, and there is no reason the Afghans cannot make similar progress. In fact, some units of the Afghan National Army are already far along. Many of their soldiers show commendable courage in taking on the Taliban without the kind of equipment or support that U.S. troops take for granted. The unit featured in the video clip was undoubtedly suffering from lack of good leadership — a real problem but hardly unfixable. It simply requires time, training, and mentoring to improve the quality of the Afghan army.

It is also important that we not hold the Afghans to impossible standards. The Marines in the video are clearly disgusted by the idea of soldiers smoking hash before going on a combat patrol. They should realize that the current sobriety of the U.S. armed forces is the exception, not the norm. Throughout history — including American history — most soldiers have partaken of intoxicating spirits on campaign (remember the rum ration?), and no doubt many were drunk or half drunk or at any rate a little tipsy when going into battle. I imagine that, being Muslims, most of these ANA soldiers don’t drink; hash is their version of the rum ration.

It’s not ideal, but it’s not exactly unprecedented, and not a reason to write them off as hopeless. I would bet plenty of Taliban are stoned when they go into battle too; certainly that was true of many insurgents in Iraq. The difference is that they don’t allow Western journalists to film them toking up.

We can’t expect many Third World militaries to meet the standards of the 21st century U.S. armed forces. Heck, even many American soldiers don’t meet the high standards that are demanded of them. Anyone who has spent any time in the field knows that booze, while prohibited, is pretty common on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. So are other rules infractions, including those regarding “fraternization” (i.e., sexual relations). And while the average quality of American units is extraordinarily high, a few are deeply troubled and could be subject to a Guardian exposé of their own.

In sum, the Guardian clip presents a slice of reality, not all of reality. It should not be dismissed, nor should it be given the last word. Until now, the U.S. and its allies have not made a really intensive effort to improve the quality and size of the Afghan security forces — certainly not on the scale of our efforts in Iraq. Such an effort is just now getting under way. For instance, salaries are just now being raised to pay Afghan soldiers wages comparable to those of the Taliban. Let us reserve judgment for a few years and see how the Afghan army does then.

YouTube has posted this clip about the Afghan army, which was made by Guardian Films, an affiliate of the ultra-left-wing Guardian newspaper in Britain. It is generating considerable chatter in the blogosphere because it presents a dire picture of the state of the Afghan National Army training as seen through the eyes of a Marine Embedded Training Team. As one Marine says: “You walk into a whole squad of ANA smoking hashish. They don’t understand that the use of drugs — it affects the way that they accomplish their mission. Soldiers come out without helmets, soldiers come out missing a lot of gear.” This has become, predictably, fodder for opponents of the war effort to claim that General McChrystal’s mission is hopeless.

A little perspective is in order. Similar videos could have been made about the Iraqi army a few years ago, or even certain Iraqi units today. Nevertheless the Iraqis have come a long way toward taking charge of their own security, and there is no reason the Afghans cannot make similar progress. In fact, some units of the Afghan National Army are already far along. Many of their soldiers show commendable courage in taking on the Taliban without the kind of equipment or support that U.S. troops take for granted. The unit featured in the video clip was undoubtedly suffering from lack of good leadership — a real problem but hardly unfixable. It simply requires time, training, and mentoring to improve the quality of the Afghan army.

It is also important that we not hold the Afghans to impossible standards. The Marines in the video are clearly disgusted by the idea of soldiers smoking hash before going on a combat patrol. They should realize that the current sobriety of the U.S. armed forces is the exception, not the norm. Throughout history — including American history — most soldiers have partaken of intoxicating spirits on campaign (remember the rum ration?), and no doubt many were drunk or half drunk or at any rate a little tipsy when going into battle. I imagine that, being Muslims, most of these ANA soldiers don’t drink; hash is their version of the rum ration.

It’s not ideal, but it’s not exactly unprecedented, and not a reason to write them off as hopeless. I would bet plenty of Taliban are stoned when they go into battle too; certainly that was true of many insurgents in Iraq. The difference is that they don’t allow Western journalists to film them toking up.

We can’t expect many Third World militaries to meet the standards of the 21st century U.S. armed forces. Heck, even many American soldiers don’t meet the high standards that are demanded of them. Anyone who has spent any time in the field knows that booze, while prohibited, is pretty common on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. So are other rules infractions, including those regarding “fraternization” (i.e., sexual relations). And while the average quality of American units is extraordinarily high, a few are deeply troubled and could be subject to a Guardian exposé of their own.

In sum, the Guardian clip presents a slice of reality, not all of reality. It should not be dismissed, nor should it be given the last word. Until now, the U.S. and its allies have not made a really intensive effort to improve the quality and size of the Afghan security forces — certainly not on the scale of our efforts in Iraq. Such an effort is just now getting under way. For instance, salaries are just now being raised to pay Afghan soldiers wages comparable to those of the Taliban. Let us reserve judgment for a few years and see how the Afghan army does then.

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The Unmasking of Barack Obama

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this. Read More

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this.

On almost every front, progress is nonexistent. In many instances, things are getting worse rather than better. The enormous goodwill that Obama’s election was met with hasn’t been leveraged into anything useful and tangible. Rather, our allies are now questioning America’s will, while our adversaries are becoming increasingly emboldened. The United States looks weak and uncertain. It’s “amateur hour at the White House,” according to Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former official in the Carter administration. “Not only are things not getting fixed, they may be getting more broken,” according to Michael Hirsh at Newsweek. When even such strong Obama supporters as Gelb and Hirsh reach these conclusions, you know things must be unraveling.

It’s no mystery as to why. President Obama’s approach to international relations is simplistic and misguided. It is premised on the belief that American concessions to our adversaries will beget goodwill and concessions in return; that American self-abasement is justified; that the American decline is inevitable (and in some respects welcome); and that diplomacy and multilateralism are ends rather than means to an end.

Right now the overwhelming issue on the public’s mind is the economy, where Obama is also having serious problems. But national-security issues matter a great deal, and they remain the unique responsibility of the president. With every passing month, Barack Obama looks more and more like his Democratic predecessor Jimmy Carter: irresolute, unsteady, and overmatched. The president and members of his own party will find out soon enough, though, that Obama the Impotent isn’t what they had in mind when they elected him. We are witnessing the unmasking, and perhaps the unmaking, of Barack Obama.

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Map Check

The central problem in foreign press coverage of Israel is the tendency of journalists to rewrite and sensationalize current events or, more commonly, to mischaracterize them into agreement with a preferred narrative. Take the brouhaha over Gilo. Many journalists would like to incorporate the Israeli decision to add housing to this neighborhood into the larger narrative about West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements encroaching on land slated for a future Palestinian state. It would be complicated if it was acknowledged, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out, that

The building of apartments in Gilo is irrelevant to [the] eventual disposition of Jerusalem because everyone — the Americans, the Palestinians and the Israelis — knows that Gilo … will undoubtedly end up in Israel as part of a negotiated solution. … It doesn’t matter, then, if the Israelis build 900 housing units in Gilo or 900 skyscrapers: Gilo will be kept by Israel in exchange for a one-to-one land swap with Palestine.

The narrative of dispossession would be even more profoundly challenged if it was acknowledged that Gilo isn’t even in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. It’s actually in Southwest Jerusalem. Type “Gilo Jerusalem” into Google Maps if you want to see for yourself. Yet almost every single story on the Gilo controversy locates the neighborhood in a completely different region — specifically, an Arab region — of Jerusalem. What’s even more remarkable is that most of these stories are written by reporters who are stationed in Jerusalem. These sloppy characters either don’t know the geography of their own backyard or are willfully misleading their readers.

So, here’s to you, Ben Hubbard of the AP, Katya Adler of the BBC, Fox News, the BBC (again), Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, Ben Lynfield of the UK Independent, Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor, and many more.

You have all flunked Journalism 101.

The central problem in foreign press coverage of Israel is the tendency of journalists to rewrite and sensationalize current events or, more commonly, to mischaracterize them into agreement with a preferred narrative. Take the brouhaha over Gilo. Many journalists would like to incorporate the Israeli decision to add housing to this neighborhood into the larger narrative about West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements encroaching on land slated for a future Palestinian state. It would be complicated if it was acknowledged, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out, that

The building of apartments in Gilo is irrelevant to [the] eventual disposition of Jerusalem because everyone — the Americans, the Palestinians and the Israelis — knows that Gilo … will undoubtedly end up in Israel as part of a negotiated solution. … It doesn’t matter, then, if the Israelis build 900 housing units in Gilo or 900 skyscrapers: Gilo will be kept by Israel in exchange for a one-to-one land swap with Palestine.

The narrative of dispossession would be even more profoundly challenged if it was acknowledged that Gilo isn’t even in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. It’s actually in Southwest Jerusalem. Type “Gilo Jerusalem” into Google Maps if you want to see for yourself. Yet almost every single story on the Gilo controversy locates the neighborhood in a completely different region — specifically, an Arab region — of Jerusalem. What’s even more remarkable is that most of these stories are written by reporters who are stationed in Jerusalem. These sloppy characters either don’t know the geography of their own backyard or are willfully misleading their readers.

So, here’s to you, Ben Hubbard of the AP, Katya Adler of the BBC, Fox News, the BBC (again), Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, Ben Lynfield of the UK Independent, Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor, and many more.

You have all flunked Journalism 101.

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Israel Derangement Syndrome

The basic formula of IDS is that almost any negative consequences which derive from Arab attacks on Israel are blamed by enlightened elites not on the attackers themselves, but on Israel, especially when the Jewish state’s response to being assaulted does not take the form of absolute and total moral perfection as defined by the UN and the Guardian‘s editorial board. IDS in its more subtle forms is so pervasive it largely escapes notice. But it’s still worth noting, once in a while. Here are a couple of examples from recent days:

1. Reporting on a conversation in which Joschka Fischer claimed that Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before the end of the year, Nouriel Roubini, an NYU business professor, declared that

if such action were to be taken by Israel the consequences outlined above would be the clear outcome: a major global recession, wars throughout the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Israel, etc.) and a major increase in geopolitical instability.

In other words, a litany of catastrophes would befall the world not because Iran is in violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and three UN Security Council resolutions, is developing nuclear weapons, waging war against America, Israel, and Lebanon through proxy forces, and has repeatedly threatened to annihilate the state of Israel. None of those items inform the moral calculus. No, Roubini’s argument runs, Israel is to blame, because not allowing itself to be destroyed would upset global harmony. Nice.

2. The Gaza Fulbright scholars. Reports ABC News:

Seven Palestinian scholars may lose their prized Fulbright scholarships to attend American universities because Israel won’t let them out of the Gaza Strip.

So Israel is now responsible for ensuring the educational opportunities of Gaza students? The young soldiers of the IDF, according to this logic, must be put in harm’s way at the crossing points of Gaza — which are Hamas’ favorite ambush and attack sites — so that seven people may leave a territory into and out of which they would be able to freely travel any day they wished if Hamas was not engaged in a terror war against Israel. The point is not that limitations on Palestinian educational opportunities are a good thing; it is that such hardships have their origins not in Israeli cruelty, but in Palestinian violence. As someone once said, the Jewish state is expected to act like the only Christian nation in the world.

There are dozens more examples. But there is a group of people on whose behalf anything is rarely said. They are the Palestinians who detest the manner in which Hamas has imprisoned them in Gaza. These people have no spokesmen, not even among the western reporters who derive so much smug satisfaction in imagining themselves the champions of the voiceless. By falsely incriminating Israel and thereby apologizing for Hamas, such journalists only prolong the suffering of Palestinians. IDS hurts Arabs, too.

The basic formula of IDS is that almost any negative consequences which derive from Arab attacks on Israel are blamed by enlightened elites not on the attackers themselves, but on Israel, especially when the Jewish state’s response to being assaulted does not take the form of absolute and total moral perfection as defined by the UN and the Guardian‘s editorial board. IDS in its more subtle forms is so pervasive it largely escapes notice. But it’s still worth noting, once in a while. Here are a couple of examples from recent days:

1. Reporting on a conversation in which Joschka Fischer claimed that Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before the end of the year, Nouriel Roubini, an NYU business professor, declared that

if such action were to be taken by Israel the consequences outlined above would be the clear outcome: a major global recession, wars throughout the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Israel, etc.) and a major increase in geopolitical instability.

In other words, a litany of catastrophes would befall the world not because Iran is in violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and three UN Security Council resolutions, is developing nuclear weapons, waging war against America, Israel, and Lebanon through proxy forces, and has repeatedly threatened to annihilate the state of Israel. None of those items inform the moral calculus. No, Roubini’s argument runs, Israel is to blame, because not allowing itself to be destroyed would upset global harmony. Nice.

2. The Gaza Fulbright scholars. Reports ABC News:

Seven Palestinian scholars may lose their prized Fulbright scholarships to attend American universities because Israel won’t let them out of the Gaza Strip.

So Israel is now responsible for ensuring the educational opportunities of Gaza students? The young soldiers of the IDF, according to this logic, must be put in harm’s way at the crossing points of Gaza — which are Hamas’ favorite ambush and attack sites — so that seven people may leave a territory into and out of which they would be able to freely travel any day they wished if Hamas was not engaged in a terror war against Israel. The point is not that limitations on Palestinian educational opportunities are a good thing; it is that such hardships have their origins not in Israeli cruelty, but in Palestinian violence. As someone once said, the Jewish state is expected to act like the only Christian nation in the world.

There are dozens more examples. But there is a group of people on whose behalf anything is rarely said. They are the Palestinians who detest the manner in which Hamas has imprisoned them in Gaza. These people have no spokesmen, not even among the western reporters who derive so much smug satisfaction in imagining themselves the champions of the voiceless. By falsely incriminating Israel and thereby apologizing for Hamas, such journalists only prolong the suffering of Palestinians. IDS hurts Arabs, too.

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Revoke Jimmy Carter’s Security Clearance

One of the perks that former presidents receive, if they choose to utilize it, is a daily security briefing from the CIA. This is how Jimmy Carter came to know (or at least claim) that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, considering the fact that the Israeli government has pursued a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear weapon capability. This is a policy that was formed with tacit agreement by the United States, which in exchange for a promise by Israel not to conduct nuclear tests, agreed to the rubric that the Jewish State would not be the first, officially acknowledged Middle Eastern nuclear power. Of course, Carter knew a lot about Israel’s nuclear capability during his time in office, and it’s unprecedented that a former president would reveal this information publicly.

Carter did not make this revelation in the midst of top-level policy discussion with world leaders (or terrorists who pretend to be leaders), but at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in Wales, an annual event sponsored by The Guardian newspaper. He followed this disclosure with the assertion that “One of the greatest human rights crimes on earth is the starvation and imprisonment of 1.6m Palestinians.” Writing in Ha’aretz, defense analyst Reuven Pedatzur observes “One can assume that Iran will now be able to make use of Carter’s comments in order to point to the double standard of the Western world, which is prepared to accept a nuclear Israel but makes a great effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear.”

Last month I questioned whether Jimmy Carter was in violation of the Logan Act for his meeting with Khaled Meshal, leader of Hamas. Edward Zelinsky of the Cardozo School of Law concluded that the former President was breaking the law, but that given the history of the statute’s non-enforcement by federal authorities, a prosecution would be unlikely and ill-considered. Taking Professor Zelinsky’s learned opinion to heart, the United States government ought to at least revoke Carter’s security clearance before our worst ex-President further endangers international peace and security.

One of the perks that former presidents receive, if they choose to utilize it, is a daily security briefing from the CIA. This is how Jimmy Carter came to know (or at least claim) that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, considering the fact that the Israeli government has pursued a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear weapon capability. This is a policy that was formed with tacit agreement by the United States, which in exchange for a promise by Israel not to conduct nuclear tests, agreed to the rubric that the Jewish State would not be the first, officially acknowledged Middle Eastern nuclear power. Of course, Carter knew a lot about Israel’s nuclear capability during his time in office, and it’s unprecedented that a former president would reveal this information publicly.

Carter did not make this revelation in the midst of top-level policy discussion with world leaders (or terrorists who pretend to be leaders), but at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in Wales, an annual event sponsored by The Guardian newspaper. He followed this disclosure with the assertion that “One of the greatest human rights crimes on earth is the starvation and imprisonment of 1.6m Palestinians.” Writing in Ha’aretz, defense analyst Reuven Pedatzur observes “One can assume that Iran will now be able to make use of Carter’s comments in order to point to the double standard of the Western world, which is prepared to accept a nuclear Israel but makes a great effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear.”

Last month I questioned whether Jimmy Carter was in violation of the Logan Act for his meeting with Khaled Meshal, leader of Hamas. Edward Zelinsky of the Cardozo School of Law concluded that the former President was breaking the law, but that given the history of the statute’s non-enforcement by federal authorities, a prosecution would be unlikely and ill-considered. Taking Professor Zelinsky’s learned opinion to heart, the United States government ought to at least revoke Carter’s security clearance before our worst ex-President further endangers international peace and security.

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Reaping the Whirlwind

The riots which swept Johannesburg yesterday were, according to the Guardian, “the worst violence to hit Johannesburg since the politically-driven killings of the final years of apartheid.” Judging by the photographs, one could be forgiven for thinking yesterday’s uproar actually were scenes from the 1980’s. The targets of these roving mobs–which rampaged through not only the poor, sprawling townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg but also ravaged the city’s downtown business district–were foreigners, most of whom are Zimbabwean. South Africa has an unofficial employment rate believed to be hovering around 40%, and the presence of outsiders willing to work cheaply has for many years been a source of embitterment for South Africa’s poor blacks. (And a glaring shortcoming of the African National Congress’s promise to redistribute the country’s wealth.)

This latest outburst, while reprehensible, was bound to happen. Over the past eight years, what started as a steady stream of migrants fleeing the tyranny of Robert Mugabe has turned into a flood. At least three million (and perhaps many, many more) Zimbabweans (a full quarter of the country’s native population) now reside illegally in South Africa. Some 3,000 people cross the border every week. Zimbabwe has become, as a South African economist told me in 2006, “South Africa’s Mexico.”

Yet the situation is far more dire than that of Mexico and America. The glaring deficiency with this analysis is that we don’t have a 40% unemployment rate. Moreover, you can be sure that were Mexico experiencing the tumult that Zimbabwe has over the past 8 years–a dictator stealing elections, killing his political opponents, and starving his people–America would do something about it, from enforcing stringent sanctions to carrying out regime change.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, has carried out a policy that has amounted to saying nothing about the human rights catastrophe next door while keeping the United Nations and Western countries at bay. South Africa is beginning to experience the chaos wrought by its negligence towards Mugabe. The only beneficial outcome of the growing refugee crisis within its borders is the possibility that it may change the government’s attitude towards the dictator.

The riots which swept Johannesburg yesterday were, according to the Guardian, “the worst violence to hit Johannesburg since the politically-driven killings of the final years of apartheid.” Judging by the photographs, one could be forgiven for thinking yesterday’s uproar actually were scenes from the 1980’s. The targets of these roving mobs–which rampaged through not only the poor, sprawling townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg but also ravaged the city’s downtown business district–were foreigners, most of whom are Zimbabwean. South Africa has an unofficial employment rate believed to be hovering around 40%, and the presence of outsiders willing to work cheaply has for many years been a source of embitterment for South Africa’s poor blacks. (And a glaring shortcoming of the African National Congress’s promise to redistribute the country’s wealth.)

This latest outburst, while reprehensible, was bound to happen. Over the past eight years, what started as a steady stream of migrants fleeing the tyranny of Robert Mugabe has turned into a flood. At least three million (and perhaps many, many more) Zimbabweans (a full quarter of the country’s native population) now reside illegally in South Africa. Some 3,000 people cross the border every week. Zimbabwe has become, as a South African economist told me in 2006, “South Africa’s Mexico.”

Yet the situation is far more dire than that of Mexico and America. The glaring deficiency with this analysis is that we don’t have a 40% unemployment rate. Moreover, you can be sure that were Mexico experiencing the tumult that Zimbabwe has over the past 8 years–a dictator stealing elections, killing his political opponents, and starving his people–America would do something about it, from enforcing stringent sanctions to carrying out regime change.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, has carried out a policy that has amounted to saying nothing about the human rights catastrophe next door while keeping the United Nations and Western countries at bay. South Africa is beginning to experience the chaos wrought by its negligence towards Mugabe. The only beneficial outcome of the growing refugee crisis within its borders is the possibility that it may change the government’s attitude towards the dictator.

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The Orwellian Winner of the Orwell Prize

Our friend Tom Gross notes the disgusting publication of an openly anti-Semitic article by the star columnist in The Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers:

 Last Thursday Johann Hari, the leading political columnist for the British daily The Independent, received the (previously) highly prestigious Orwell Prize for political writing. The 29-year-old Hari “celebrated” by writing a vicious attack on Israel.

In his column in The Independent this week, he writes: “Whenever I try to mouth these words [of reassurance for Israel], a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit.”

In a modern day “poisoning of the wells” blood libel, Hari accuses Israel of deliberately polluting West Bank groundwater supplies.

Continuing his sewage analogy, Hari’s concludes his piece: “Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.”

Hari has a track record of slanderous anti-Israel opinion pieces. For example, he referred to the Virgin Mary (who was, of course, Jewish) as a “Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem”.

(In 2007, Hari was also named “Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He has also written for The New York Times and Le Monde.)

Hari’s “shit” piece this week is apparently considered so brilliant by other news editors that in the last two days it has been reproduced in The Canberra Times (in Australia) and The Irish Independent, as well on dozens of extreme left and extreme-right anti-Israel websites.

One would be tempted to ignore The Guardian and The Independent but they are overwhelmingly the papers of choice subscribed to by other journalists, particularly staff at the BBC and Reuters in London, and also by school teachers and university professors in the UK and elsewhere.

Our friend Tom Gross notes the disgusting publication of an openly anti-Semitic article by the star columnist in The Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers:

 Last Thursday Johann Hari, the leading political columnist for the British daily The Independent, received the (previously) highly prestigious Orwell Prize for political writing. The 29-year-old Hari “celebrated” by writing a vicious attack on Israel.

In his column in The Independent this week, he writes: “Whenever I try to mouth these words [of reassurance for Israel], a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit.”

In a modern day “poisoning of the wells” blood libel, Hari accuses Israel of deliberately polluting West Bank groundwater supplies.

Continuing his sewage analogy, Hari’s concludes his piece: “Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.”

Hari has a track record of slanderous anti-Israel opinion pieces. For example, he referred to the Virgin Mary (who was, of course, Jewish) as a “Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem”.

(In 2007, Hari was also named “Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He has also written for The New York Times and Le Monde.)

Hari’s “shit” piece this week is apparently considered so brilliant by other news editors that in the last two days it has been reproduced in The Canberra Times (in Australia) and The Irish Independent, as well on dozens of extreme left and extreme-right anti-Israel websites.

One would be tempted to ignore The Guardian and The Independent but they are overwhelmingly the papers of choice subscribed to by other journalists, particularly staff at the BBC and Reuters in London, and also by school teachers and university professors in the UK and elsewhere.

Read Less




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