Commentary Magazine


Topic: Thomas Friedman

Extending the Settlement Freeze Would Undermine a Vital Israeli Security Interest

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

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Thomas Friedman’s Additional Test

Thomas Friedman unloads on Israel, asserting that it is “behaving like a spoiled child” because Netanyahu will not agree to a new settlement-construction moratorium without additional assurances:

Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

I think he means that just two times he would like Israel to say it.

Last year, Obama demanded a settlement freeze — after reneging on agreements about such a freeze that had governed the peace process for the prior six years and refusing to endorse the presidential letter given to Israel in exchange for the dismantlement of every settlement in Gaza. The proposed deal was a construction freeze in exchange for small steps toward normalization with Israel that the U.S. would obtain from Arab states. Obama failed to get anything from the Arab states, but Israel announced a 10-month moratorium anyway. It had no impact at all.

Friedman writes that he has “no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel” but thinks Abbas should be tested with another moratorium. No idea?

He knows that Abbas’s term of office expired nearly two years ago and that Abbas is “President Abbas” only in the sense that George Mitchell is “Senator Mitchell.” He knows Abbas declined an offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem. He knows Abbas has stated he will “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state nor negotiate any land swap. He knows Abbas cannot make peace even with Hamas, which controls half the putative Palestinian state. He knows Abbas has repeatedly canceled elections and that the idea of the Palestinian Authority as a stable democratic entity is a joke. He knows Abbas has declared he will never waive the “right of return,” which makes a peace agreement impossible even if every other issue could be resolved. He knows Abbas has taken no steps to prepare his public for any of the compromises that would be necessary for a peace agreement. How many tests does Abbas have to fail before Thomas Friedman has an idea?

Would it be too much to ask that Abbas first give his Bir Zeit speech? Or that Obama commit to veto any Palestinian state that does not result from direct negotiations that provide Israel with defensible borders? Or would that be acting like a spoiled child?

Thomas Friedman unloads on Israel, asserting that it is “behaving like a spoiled child” because Netanyahu will not agree to a new settlement-construction moratorium without additional assurances:

Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

I think he means that just two times he would like Israel to say it.

Last year, Obama demanded a settlement freeze — after reneging on agreements about such a freeze that had governed the peace process for the prior six years and refusing to endorse the presidential letter given to Israel in exchange for the dismantlement of every settlement in Gaza. The proposed deal was a construction freeze in exchange for small steps toward normalization with Israel that the U.S. would obtain from Arab states. Obama failed to get anything from the Arab states, but Israel announced a 10-month moratorium anyway. It had no impact at all.

Friedman writes that he has “no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel” but thinks Abbas should be tested with another moratorium. No idea?

He knows that Abbas’s term of office expired nearly two years ago and that Abbas is “President Abbas” only in the sense that George Mitchell is “Senator Mitchell.” He knows Abbas declined an offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem. He knows Abbas has stated he will “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state nor negotiate any land swap. He knows Abbas cannot make peace even with Hamas, which controls half the putative Palestinian state. He knows Abbas has repeatedly canceled elections and that the idea of the Palestinian Authority as a stable democratic entity is a joke. He knows Abbas has declared he will never waive the “right of return,” which makes a peace agreement impossible even if every other issue could be resolved. He knows Abbas has taken no steps to prepare his public for any of the compromises that would be necessary for a peace agreement. How many tests does Abbas have to fail before Thomas Friedman has an idea?

Would it be too much to ask that Abbas first give his Bir Zeit speech? Or that Obama commit to veto any Palestinian state that does not result from direct negotiations that provide Israel with defensible borders? Or would that be acting like a spoiled child?

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The New Peace Process

The most important event in the new “peace process” took place last week, not in Washington but in Lebanon.

In Washington, it was clear from the Clinton-Mitchell media briefing Friday that while the administration has successfully pressured Mahmoud Abbas to talk to Israel, there is no agreement on anything else — not on the sequencing of issues, the terms of reference, the beginning point for the talks, or the role of Quartet statements:

QUESTION: Could you talk about the sequencing of the talks? Will they discuss territory, refugees, or Jerusalem first, or will this all be in parallel?

MR. MITCHELL: … It will be for the parties themselves to decide the manner by which [these issues] should be addressed.

***

QUESTION: Senator, is re-launching the direct negotiations without preconditions means that we are re-launching the direct negotiations without terms and references?

MR. MITCHELL: Only the parties can determine terms of reference and basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters. …

***

QUESTION: … Can you tell us whether they’re going to start from scratch, or will they build on what talks that – during the Olmert period? …

MR. MITCHELL: The parties themselves will determine the basis on which they will proceed in the discussions…

***

QUESTION: So the talks won’t be based on the Quartet statement of March 19?

MR. MITCHELL: The parties are the only ones who can determine what the basis of their discussions are, and that is the case.

As one of Israel’s prominent bloggers is fond of asking, what could go wrong?

In Lebanon last week, the parliament lifted some employment restrictions on Palestinians who have lived for decades in squalid camps run by UNWRA. Previously, they lacked the right to seek citizenship, own property, attend public schools, receive public health care, or work in anything but menial or administrative jobs. Under the new law, they can work in more jobs (although not in professions such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.), but they still lack all other rights. They are, in other words, the victims of legalized discrimination not by Israel but by their Arab brothers.

The new law was limited, according to the Lebanese Daily Star, because Lebanese “fear that granting the refugees the right to own property, among others, would be a slippery slope to permanent settlement.” The law passed only after a late June meeting with a delegation sent by Abbas, which promised that “Palestinian refugees would remain guests in Lebanon … and would not abandon their right of return.” Abbas thereby committed himself, once again, to a specious “right of return” that dooms any serious peace process with Israel.

Thomas Friedman yesterday called for a new Cairo speech by President Obama — to encourage not an interfaith dialogue but an intrafaith one within the Muslim world to heal “intracommunal divides.” Perhaps the president might use such a speech to term the treatment of Arab refugees by Arab countries an affront to human rights — and an obstacle to peace — and challenge them to “tear down those camps.” It would be a greater contribution to peace than the process he is initiating next week.

The most important event in the new “peace process” took place last week, not in Washington but in Lebanon.

In Washington, it was clear from the Clinton-Mitchell media briefing Friday that while the administration has successfully pressured Mahmoud Abbas to talk to Israel, there is no agreement on anything else — not on the sequencing of issues, the terms of reference, the beginning point for the talks, or the role of Quartet statements:

QUESTION: Could you talk about the sequencing of the talks? Will they discuss territory, refugees, or Jerusalem first, or will this all be in parallel?

MR. MITCHELL: … It will be for the parties themselves to decide the manner by which [these issues] should be addressed.

***

QUESTION: Senator, is re-launching the direct negotiations without preconditions means that we are re-launching the direct negotiations without terms and references?

MR. MITCHELL: Only the parties can determine terms of reference and basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters. …

***

QUESTION: … Can you tell us whether they’re going to start from scratch, or will they build on what talks that – during the Olmert period? …

MR. MITCHELL: The parties themselves will determine the basis on which they will proceed in the discussions…

***

QUESTION: So the talks won’t be based on the Quartet statement of March 19?

MR. MITCHELL: The parties are the only ones who can determine what the basis of their discussions are, and that is the case.

As one of Israel’s prominent bloggers is fond of asking, what could go wrong?

In Lebanon last week, the parliament lifted some employment restrictions on Palestinians who have lived for decades in squalid camps run by UNWRA. Previously, they lacked the right to seek citizenship, own property, attend public schools, receive public health care, or work in anything but menial or administrative jobs. Under the new law, they can work in more jobs (although not in professions such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.), but they still lack all other rights. They are, in other words, the victims of legalized discrimination not by Israel but by their Arab brothers.

The new law was limited, according to the Lebanese Daily Star, because Lebanese “fear that granting the refugees the right to own property, among others, would be a slippery slope to permanent settlement.” The law passed only after a late June meeting with a delegation sent by Abbas, which promised that “Palestinian refugees would remain guests in Lebanon … and would not abandon their right of return.” Abbas thereby committed himself, once again, to a specious “right of return” that dooms any serious peace process with Israel.

Thomas Friedman yesterday called for a new Cairo speech by President Obama — to encourage not an interfaith dialogue but an intrafaith one within the Muslim world to heal “intracommunal divides.” Perhaps the president might use such a speech to term the treatment of Arab refugees by Arab countries an affront to human rights — and an obstacle to peace — and challenge them to “tear down those camps.” It would be a greater contribution to peace than the process he is initiating next week.

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It’s Not About Climate Change; It’s About National Security

That this particular climate bill is dead may indeed be good news. But it’s definitely not good news that Congress is doing nothing serious about energy at all — not because of global warming (about which I share my colleagues’ skepticism) but because of national security: the global addiction to fossil fuels finances all of America’s worst enemies.

Republicans shouldn’t need reminding that Iran’s natural-gas wealth funds both its drive for nuclear weapons and numerous terrorist organizations; that Saudi Arabia’s oil riches fund madrassas worldwide that indoctrinate young men in radical Islamism and produce people like the 9/11 bombers; that Hugo Chavez uses Venezuela’s oil wealth to undermine American interests in Latin America; that Russia (Obama’s “reset” notwithstanding) uses its oil and gas wealth to thwart American interests worldwide. This is not a minor problem.

Clearly, that doesn’t mean Republicans have to accept Democrats’ ideas on how to solve it; there was indeed much to dislike in the now-defunct bill. But that doesn’t excuse Republicans’ failure to offer any ideas of their own beyond “drill, baby, drill.” More drilling would help the problem in the short term by lowering oil and gas prices and thus reducing our enemies’ revenues (and also helping the economy). But it’s not a long-term solution.

It’s true that no viable alternatives to fossil fuels currently exist. But that’s no reason not to at least put money into R&D aimed at trying to develop one. America has never hesitated to devote large-scale funding to R&D it deems vital to national security; the Manhattan Project and the moon shot are cases in point. Granted, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were Democrats. But do Republicans really want to argue that only Democrats are willing to invest in critical national-security R&D?

Moreover, while Republicans are obviously right that raising the price of a vital production input during a deep recession is a terrible idea, Democrats are right that both a carbon tax and (to a lesser extent) cap-and-trade are at least market-based solutions. Neither forces energy consumers to do anything in particular; they let consumers decide for themselves whether to conserve, invest in alternative technology, or live with the higher price. So if creative Republicans can’t devise a better idea, they might want to seriously consider these once the economy recovers.

Democrats have clearly handled the issue stupidly. Rather than vainly trying to persuade Republicans (and the public) to believe in global warming, they should have been trying to paint Republicans into a corner over national security. Instead, the only Democrat I’ve heard consistently making the security argument is Thomas Friedman (here, for instance), and even he treats it as secondary to the “real” issue of global warming.

But Democratic stupidity is no excuse for Republican stupidity. There’s no way to combat any terrorist movement without going after its funding sources, and fossil-fuel revenues are the lifeblood of radical Islamism — and of many other anti-American autocrats, like Chavez and Vladimir Putin. Ignoring the problem of fossil-fuel dependency won’t make it go away; it will only make America weaker.

That this particular climate bill is dead may indeed be good news. But it’s definitely not good news that Congress is doing nothing serious about energy at all — not because of global warming (about which I share my colleagues’ skepticism) but because of national security: the global addiction to fossil fuels finances all of America’s worst enemies.

Republicans shouldn’t need reminding that Iran’s natural-gas wealth funds both its drive for nuclear weapons and numerous terrorist organizations; that Saudi Arabia’s oil riches fund madrassas worldwide that indoctrinate young men in radical Islamism and produce people like the 9/11 bombers; that Hugo Chavez uses Venezuela’s oil wealth to undermine American interests in Latin America; that Russia (Obama’s “reset” notwithstanding) uses its oil and gas wealth to thwart American interests worldwide. This is not a minor problem.

Clearly, that doesn’t mean Republicans have to accept Democrats’ ideas on how to solve it; there was indeed much to dislike in the now-defunct bill. But that doesn’t excuse Republicans’ failure to offer any ideas of their own beyond “drill, baby, drill.” More drilling would help the problem in the short term by lowering oil and gas prices and thus reducing our enemies’ revenues (and also helping the economy). But it’s not a long-term solution.

It’s true that no viable alternatives to fossil fuels currently exist. But that’s no reason not to at least put money into R&D aimed at trying to develop one. America has never hesitated to devote large-scale funding to R&D it deems vital to national security; the Manhattan Project and the moon shot are cases in point. Granted, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were Democrats. But do Republicans really want to argue that only Democrats are willing to invest in critical national-security R&D?

Moreover, while Republicans are obviously right that raising the price of a vital production input during a deep recession is a terrible idea, Democrats are right that both a carbon tax and (to a lesser extent) cap-and-trade are at least market-based solutions. Neither forces energy consumers to do anything in particular; they let consumers decide for themselves whether to conserve, invest in alternative technology, or live with the higher price. So if creative Republicans can’t devise a better idea, they might want to seriously consider these once the economy recovers.

Democrats have clearly handled the issue stupidly. Rather than vainly trying to persuade Republicans (and the public) to believe in global warming, they should have been trying to paint Republicans into a corner over national security. Instead, the only Democrat I’ve heard consistently making the security argument is Thomas Friedman (here, for instance), and even he treats it as secondary to the “real” issue of global warming.

But Democratic stupidity is no excuse for Republican stupidity. There’s no way to combat any terrorist movement without going after its funding sources, and fossil-fuel revenues are the lifeblood of radical Islamism — and of many other anti-American autocrats, like Chavez and Vladimir Putin. Ignoring the problem of fossil-fuel dependency won’t make it go away; it will only make America weaker.

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No Shortage of ‘Barbarians’ to Oppose Peace

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

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Why Don’t They Talk About Ramallah?

A friend writes:

You might not have time to read the Travel section of the Sunday Times, but the story on page 13 of Sunday’s edition highlights a problem for the Palestinian Authority. The article makes clear that Ramallah, the PA’s effective capital, is a hip town with all kinds of exciting nightlife and restaurant choices. Hmm. Hardly squares with the beleaguered, impoverished, starving, besieged Palestinian-refugee narrative the Western media have been feeding us.

Salaam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, wants to encourage private-equity investments, but to do that you have to let investors know that there will be a return on capital. Suicide bombers and private equity don’t mix, whereas a dynamic social, cultural, economic climate do. So, who wins? The foreign-aid class represented by the UN or the economic-development group represented by Fayyad?  Fayyad wants to show the reality of a booming economy, while President Abbas (Fayyad’s boss, in principle) and Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (whatever that means, given that there are no negotiations), want to show the Palestinians as beaten down by circumstances and beaten up by brutal Israeli troops.

Not mentioned in the Travel section Ramallah story or in Thomas Friedman’s column in the same Sunday paper on West Bank economic development is the name Benjamin Netanyahu. Not that the New York Times is about to give Bibi credit for anything, but the fact is Bibi campaigned for office in January 2009 on two main planks: addressing the Iranian threat and rebuilding the West Bank economy. It was Bibi who ordered more than 200 roadblocks/checkpoints to be removed, and it is Bibi who meets weekly with Palestinian and Israeli economic-development experts to see what red tape he can cut through to help the Palestinian Authority aid the rapid economic growth of the West Bank.

Give all of the credit to Fayyad, but his silent partner in all of this growth and relaxation of security is Bibi. Even Fayyad has said this to visiting American groups.

Both Fayyad and Bibi believe that the growth of a vibrant economy will lead to the development of better security for both sides, the creation of civil society, and the institutions needed to survive Fayyad. And both believe that ultimately the people of Gaza will be asked to choose: Do you want Hamas, Islam, and poverty with the hope of a world without Israel some day, or do you want a quality of life, free movement, and a political entity that has Israel as a partner?

A friend writes:

You might not have time to read the Travel section of the Sunday Times, but the story on page 13 of Sunday’s edition highlights a problem for the Palestinian Authority. The article makes clear that Ramallah, the PA’s effective capital, is a hip town with all kinds of exciting nightlife and restaurant choices. Hmm. Hardly squares with the beleaguered, impoverished, starving, besieged Palestinian-refugee narrative the Western media have been feeding us.

Salaam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, wants to encourage private-equity investments, but to do that you have to let investors know that there will be a return on capital. Suicide bombers and private equity don’t mix, whereas a dynamic social, cultural, economic climate do. So, who wins? The foreign-aid class represented by the UN or the economic-development group represented by Fayyad?  Fayyad wants to show the reality of a booming economy, while President Abbas (Fayyad’s boss, in principle) and Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (whatever that means, given that there are no negotiations), want to show the Palestinians as beaten down by circumstances and beaten up by brutal Israeli troops.

Not mentioned in the Travel section Ramallah story or in Thomas Friedman’s column in the same Sunday paper on West Bank economic development is the name Benjamin Netanyahu. Not that the New York Times is about to give Bibi credit for anything, but the fact is Bibi campaigned for office in January 2009 on two main planks: addressing the Iranian threat and rebuilding the West Bank economy. It was Bibi who ordered more than 200 roadblocks/checkpoints to be removed, and it is Bibi who meets weekly with Palestinian and Israeli economic-development experts to see what red tape he can cut through to help the Palestinian Authority aid the rapid economic growth of the West Bank.

Give all of the credit to Fayyad, but his silent partner in all of this growth and relaxation of security is Bibi. Even Fayyad has said this to visiting American groups.

Both Fayyad and Bibi believe that the growth of a vibrant economy will lead to the development of better security for both sides, the creation of civil society, and the institutions needed to survive Fayyad. And both believe that ultimately the people of Gaza will be asked to choose: Do you want Hamas, Islam, and poverty with the hope of a world without Israel some day, or do you want a quality of life, free movement, and a political entity that has Israel as a partner?

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Reading Roger Cohen’s Mind Is Easier Than Reading His Columns

Back in November of 2007, not long after Roger Cohen joined the roster of op-ed pundits at the New York Times, Jack Shafer, the media critic at Slate, took the columnist apart in a piece in which he skewered him for his laziness, lame clichés, and generally bad writing. Cohen’s predilection for tired journalistic tropes prompted Shafer to wonder whether he was paying the Scotty Reston estate royalties for using the same pompous copy the ancient Times institution employed in its pages decades ago.

Since then, Cohen has at least showed some creativity. After all, no ordinary mediocrity would have the chutzpah to spend weeks in Iran and then claim that interviews with some of the intimidated remnants of that country’s Jewish community (conducted in the presence of government minders and translators) proved that the Islamist tyranny wasn’t so bad after all. Whitewashing an anti-Semitic regime may have been despicable and hearkened back to the worst sort of propaganda journalism in the tradition of Stalin apologist Walter Duranty — but it did require some effort.

But, alas, after his exertions in Iran last year and a steady stream of convoluted columns blasting Israel and his critics, Cohen is back to the same sort of lazy, stupid writing that struck Shafer as evidence of his utter incompetence. Today, he returns to what Shafer aptly called the “threadbare cliché of constructing [a] piece as a faux conversation or speech” in which he presents a fake monologue titled “Reading Sarkozy’s Mind” from inside the head of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. This sort of shtick was stale twenty years ago when William Safire regularly employed it in the Times but at least that able wordsmith usually managed to execute such columns with a modicum of wit. The genre was further degraded by the wise-aleck versions of this cliché written by Thomas Friedman. Those were bad enough. But get a load of the following prose from Cohen, purporting to be the thoughts of Sarkozy:

“And Iran. Ooh la la! All these advisers telling me Khamenei is not Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad is not Larijani. C’est du baloney! Du pur baloney!”

or

“So I tell Barack to be firm. And he says, Nicolas, we need the Chinese. The Chinese! I’m a trained lawyer and I tell him, Barack, I could bill you beaucoup hours while you wait for the Middle Kingdom! Barack’s a good guy. He’s learning. The press portrays us as two fighting cocks! C’est du twaddle!”

Does Cohen really think this is funny? Insightful? It’s not a matter of him being right or wrong about Sarkozy or Obama but rather that he is floundering around trying desperately to pound out a column no matter how bad it might be. There’s no point trying to parse such pieces for the value of Cohen’s opinions, as all they are is evidence that the columnist has run out of ideas. In such cases, it’s not just that the internal editor that every writer must have is absent, but that the actual editors at the Times who are responsible for publishing such trash are also missing in action. As Shafer wrote in 2007, there ought to be a law against such bad writing.

Back in November of 2007, not long after Roger Cohen joined the roster of op-ed pundits at the New York Times, Jack Shafer, the media critic at Slate, took the columnist apart in a piece in which he skewered him for his laziness, lame clichés, and generally bad writing. Cohen’s predilection for tired journalistic tropes prompted Shafer to wonder whether he was paying the Scotty Reston estate royalties for using the same pompous copy the ancient Times institution employed in its pages decades ago.

Since then, Cohen has at least showed some creativity. After all, no ordinary mediocrity would have the chutzpah to spend weeks in Iran and then claim that interviews with some of the intimidated remnants of that country’s Jewish community (conducted in the presence of government minders and translators) proved that the Islamist tyranny wasn’t so bad after all. Whitewashing an anti-Semitic regime may have been despicable and hearkened back to the worst sort of propaganda journalism in the tradition of Stalin apologist Walter Duranty — but it did require some effort.

But, alas, after his exertions in Iran last year and a steady stream of convoluted columns blasting Israel and his critics, Cohen is back to the same sort of lazy, stupid writing that struck Shafer as evidence of his utter incompetence. Today, he returns to what Shafer aptly called the “threadbare cliché of constructing [a] piece as a faux conversation or speech” in which he presents a fake monologue titled “Reading Sarkozy’s Mind” from inside the head of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. This sort of shtick was stale twenty years ago when William Safire regularly employed it in the Times but at least that able wordsmith usually managed to execute such columns with a modicum of wit. The genre was further degraded by the wise-aleck versions of this cliché written by Thomas Friedman. Those were bad enough. But get a load of the following prose from Cohen, purporting to be the thoughts of Sarkozy:

“And Iran. Ooh la la! All these advisers telling me Khamenei is not Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad is not Larijani. C’est du baloney! Du pur baloney!”

or

“So I tell Barack to be firm. And he says, Nicolas, we need the Chinese. The Chinese! I’m a trained lawyer and I tell him, Barack, I could bill you beaucoup hours while you wait for the Middle Kingdom! Barack’s a good guy. He’s learning. The press portrays us as two fighting cocks! C’est du twaddle!”

Does Cohen really think this is funny? Insightful? It’s not a matter of him being right or wrong about Sarkozy or Obama but rather that he is floundering around trying desperately to pound out a column no matter how bad it might be. There’s no point trying to parse such pieces for the value of Cohen’s opinions, as all they are is evidence that the columnist has run out of ideas. In such cases, it’s not just that the internal editor that every writer must have is absent, but that the actual editors at the Times who are responsible for publishing such trash are also missing in action. As Shafer wrote in 2007, there ought to be a law against such bad writing.

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Moderation

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has picked up on the April 4 – Easter Sunday – greeting to the Palestinian people of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In it, Fayyad promised that next year, the people will hold the (Islamic) Holy Fire vigil in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, “capital” of the Palestinian state.

Fayyad, of course, has made his reputation over the last decade as a Western-friendly moderate, praised by Thomas Friedman for advocating that the Palestinian Arabs focus on building their institutions to prepare for viable statehood rather than on armed struggle against Israel. Friedman calls this approach “Fayyadism,” but as Jonathan Tobin pointed out in March, Fayyadism is a policy without a constituency among the Palestinian Arabs.  It isn’t something that can be counted on or appealed to in the clutch.

Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting is a reminder that it could be more problematic if Fayyadism did have a constituency. The statehood proposal announced by Fayyad in August 2009 might de-emphasize armed resistance, but its provision for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state with the June 4, 1967, border is hardly uncontroversial.

One element of such a declaration – to be made in 2011, according to Fayyad’s two-year timetable – would be unilaterally assuming Arab control of Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the rest of East Jerusalem. The text of Fayyad’s April 4 greeting could hardly be more pointed regarding the import of that. His words are a reminder of the years 1948 to 1967, when Jordan’s occupation force destroyed dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter and denied Jews access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. More than half of Old Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants left the city during that period because of religious restrictions and harassment.

Today, the ancient iron key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is kept and wielded daily by a Muslim family under a centuries-old charter from the Ottoman Empire. While Israel administers civil life in the Old City, this is merely a tradition with an aspect of historical charm to it. Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting reminds us, however, that under Arab Islamic rule, this tradition represents the power to prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Fayyad’s provocative greeting can’t be dismissed as meaningless demagoguery. He has already put forward an actual plan to declare East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state in 2011, the “next year” referred to in his greeting. He himself may or may not be the leader around whom Palestinians and their foreign sponsors can coalesce, but he has for the first time overlaid the Palestinians’ long-vague aspirations with the organizing agent of a true, state-oriented strategy.

Thomas Friedman is typical of Western observers in welcoming this as a sign of seriousness. But we would be perilously shortsighted to mistake the Fayyad strategy’s de-emphasis on the tactics of armed insurgency for a moderation of Palestinian objectives. Palestinian leaders continue to promise a great deal they either can’t deliver, or could only deliver if conditions were radically different. Approaching immoderate objectives with a revised strategy isn’t actually a sign of moderation.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has picked up on the April 4 – Easter Sunday – greeting to the Palestinian people of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In it, Fayyad promised that next year, the people will hold the (Islamic) Holy Fire vigil in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, “capital” of the Palestinian state.

Fayyad, of course, has made his reputation over the last decade as a Western-friendly moderate, praised by Thomas Friedman for advocating that the Palestinian Arabs focus on building their institutions to prepare for viable statehood rather than on armed struggle against Israel. Friedman calls this approach “Fayyadism,” but as Jonathan Tobin pointed out in March, Fayyadism is a policy without a constituency among the Palestinian Arabs.  It isn’t something that can be counted on or appealed to in the clutch.

Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting is a reminder that it could be more problematic if Fayyadism did have a constituency. The statehood proposal announced by Fayyad in August 2009 might de-emphasize armed resistance, but its provision for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state with the June 4, 1967, border is hardly uncontroversial.

One element of such a declaration – to be made in 2011, according to Fayyad’s two-year timetable – would be unilaterally assuming Arab control of Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the rest of East Jerusalem. The text of Fayyad’s April 4 greeting could hardly be more pointed regarding the import of that. His words are a reminder of the years 1948 to 1967, when Jordan’s occupation force destroyed dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter and denied Jews access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. More than half of Old Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants left the city during that period because of religious restrictions and harassment.

Today, the ancient iron key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is kept and wielded daily by a Muslim family under a centuries-old charter from the Ottoman Empire. While Israel administers civil life in the Old City, this is merely a tradition with an aspect of historical charm to it. Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting reminds us, however, that under Arab Islamic rule, this tradition represents the power to prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Fayyad’s provocative greeting can’t be dismissed as meaningless demagoguery. He has already put forward an actual plan to declare East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state in 2011, the “next year” referred to in his greeting. He himself may or may not be the leader around whom Palestinians and their foreign sponsors can coalesce, but he has for the first time overlaid the Palestinians’ long-vague aspirations with the organizing agent of a true, state-oriented strategy.

Thomas Friedman is typical of Western observers in welcoming this as a sign of seriousness. But we would be perilously shortsighted to mistake the Fayyad strategy’s de-emphasis on the tactics of armed insurgency for a moderation of Palestinian objectives. Palestinian leaders continue to promise a great deal they either can’t deliver, or could only deliver if conditions were radically different. Approaching immoderate objectives with a revised strategy isn’t actually a sign of moderation.

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The Trouble with Fayyadism

Regular readers of Thomas Friedman were hardly surprised when he used the controversy over an ill-timed announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem to write about the need for America to save Israel from itself this past weekend. The piece, titled “Driving Drunk in Jerusalem,” was a long-discredited argument pulled from Friedman’s file and dusted off for the umpteenth time.

Nevertheless, with some sense did he note that “only a right-wing prime minister, like Netanyahu, can make a deal over the West Bank; Netanyahu’s actual policies on the ground there have helped Palestinians grow their economy.” That’s true. If the Palestinians ever actually wanted to make peace, Netanyahu would be the one who could sell such a deal to his country. But although it is also true that, as Friedman wrote, “Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are as genuine and serious about working toward a solution as any Israel can hope to find,” that doesn’t mean there is any hope that Abbas and Fayyad have the will or the power to accept such a solution.

Friedman further develops this theme in today’s column, which celebrates “Fayyadism” — the idea that creating a viable, independent Palestinian state can define the future of the Middle East. Many serious people both here and in Israel think Fayyad is sincere about his desire to replace the empty Palestinian political culture, based on hatred for Israel, with a productive nationalism devoted to improving the lives of ordinary Arabs in the West Bank. But the Times columnist believes Netanyahu’s coalition partners are preventing the prime minister from fully embracing Fayyad and making peace. So he agrees with President Obama’s attempt to break up Netanyahu’s government and replace it with a more left-leaning one.

Yet like almost all of Friedman’s bright ideas for bettering our not-so-flat world, there is a fatal flaw to this theory. Fayyad may be a genuine moderate, but he lacks a constituency. Palestinians still prefer the guys with the guns who will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where the borders are placed or how much of Jerusalem is rendered Jew-free. If “Fayyadism” had any sort of a following, then Fayyad’s boss might have accepted Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in just about all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. Both Fayyad and Abbas still know that if they sign any peace agreement, that will be the end of Fatah, no matter how many concessions Obama forces upon Israel. The threat of Hamas and its Iranian patron hang over Palestinian moderates, and no amount of fantasizing by Friedman or Obama — or unilateral pressure on Israel — can wish that away.  The lack of Palestinian support for Fayyad’s vision of peace destroyed the previous government of Israel, which was more to the liking of Friedman and Obama. But as Obama’s American fans like to say, elections have consequences.

Rather than pressuring Israelis to adopt self-destructive policies they’ve already rejected at the ballot box, those trying to save Israel from itself should focus their attention on the gap between Fayyad and the rest of the Palestinians. Indeed, the effort to stop Jews from building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem — the focal point of the current dustup — encourages the Palestinian forces that are antithetical to “Fayyadism.” So long as Arabs think that outside parties can hammer Israel into submission and force the Jews to abandon their own land, it remains an upstream swim for those seeking to convince the Palestinians to abandon their belief in Israel’s destruction. Rather than aiding Fayyad, Obama’s attack on Jewish Jerusalem confirms once again that moderates have no chance to change a destructive and violent Palestinian political culture.

Regular readers of Thomas Friedman were hardly surprised when he used the controversy over an ill-timed announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem to write about the need for America to save Israel from itself this past weekend. The piece, titled “Driving Drunk in Jerusalem,” was a long-discredited argument pulled from Friedman’s file and dusted off for the umpteenth time.

Nevertheless, with some sense did he note that “only a right-wing prime minister, like Netanyahu, can make a deal over the West Bank; Netanyahu’s actual policies on the ground there have helped Palestinians grow their economy.” That’s true. If the Palestinians ever actually wanted to make peace, Netanyahu would be the one who could sell such a deal to his country. But although it is also true that, as Friedman wrote, “Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are as genuine and serious about working toward a solution as any Israel can hope to find,” that doesn’t mean there is any hope that Abbas and Fayyad have the will or the power to accept such a solution.

Friedman further develops this theme in today’s column, which celebrates “Fayyadism” — the idea that creating a viable, independent Palestinian state can define the future of the Middle East. Many serious people both here and in Israel think Fayyad is sincere about his desire to replace the empty Palestinian political culture, based on hatred for Israel, with a productive nationalism devoted to improving the lives of ordinary Arabs in the West Bank. But the Times columnist believes Netanyahu’s coalition partners are preventing the prime minister from fully embracing Fayyad and making peace. So he agrees with President Obama’s attempt to break up Netanyahu’s government and replace it with a more left-leaning one.

Yet like almost all of Friedman’s bright ideas for bettering our not-so-flat world, there is a fatal flaw to this theory. Fayyad may be a genuine moderate, but he lacks a constituency. Palestinians still prefer the guys with the guns who will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where the borders are placed or how much of Jerusalem is rendered Jew-free. If “Fayyadism” had any sort of a following, then Fayyad’s boss might have accepted Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in just about all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem. Both Fayyad and Abbas still know that if they sign any peace agreement, that will be the end of Fatah, no matter how many concessions Obama forces upon Israel. The threat of Hamas and its Iranian patron hang over Palestinian moderates, and no amount of fantasizing by Friedman or Obama — or unilateral pressure on Israel — can wish that away.  The lack of Palestinian support for Fayyad’s vision of peace destroyed the previous government of Israel, which was more to the liking of Friedman and Obama. But as Obama’s American fans like to say, elections have consequences.

Rather than pressuring Israelis to adopt self-destructive policies they’ve already rejected at the ballot box, those trying to save Israel from itself should focus their attention on the gap between Fayyad and the rest of the Palestinians. Indeed, the effort to stop Jews from building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem — the focal point of the current dustup — encourages the Palestinian forces that are antithetical to “Fayyadism.” So long as Arabs think that outside parties can hammer Israel into submission and force the Jews to abandon their own land, it remains an upstream swim for those seeking to convince the Palestinians to abandon their belief in Israel’s destruction. Rather than aiding Fayyad, Obama’s attack on Jewish Jerusalem confirms once again that moderates have no chance to change a destructive and violent Palestinian political culture.

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Undeserved Hosannas

* “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your arms, with your hands, with your nails and teeth.”

* “After we perform our duty in liberating the West Bank and Jerusalem, our national duty is to liberate all the Arab territories.”

* “The removal of the Israeli occupation from our occupied land, Palestine, is the first and basic condition for just peace. … The Islamic nation and just believers in any religion or creed will not accept the situation of the … cradle of prophets and divine messages being captive of Zionist occupation.”

Quick — name the Jew hater or vicious enemy of Israel capable of spouting such venom. Arafat? Khadaffi? Ahmadinejad? Actually, the speaker in all three cases was everyone’s favorite Arab moderate, the late King Hussein of Jordan (on, respectively, Radio Amman, June 6, 1967; Radio Amman, Dec. 1, 1973; and Amman Domestic Service, July 11, 1988).

I have this little calendar that lists the names of prominent people who died or were born on each specific date. Seeing that the anniversary of Hussein’s death (Feb. 7, 1999) is upon us brought to mind both the decades of duplicity that defined the king’s life until almost the very end and the Hosannas that have been coming his way for the past 11 years. (The trend continued in two recent, largely positive, biographies.)

So desperate are we for any sign of non-fanaticism on the part of an Arab leader, we seem to gladly downplay or overlook the negative and play up the positive, with little regard for historical truth or future implications.

The floodgates of Hussein revisionism were opened immediately upon his passing. Typical was a sugary tribute from columnist Richard Chesnoff, in the New York Daily News:

Now this great son of the desert is gone, and all the children of Abraham weep. We will sorely miss this brave brother of ours.

Also typical of the distortions by a media intent on canonizing the king was the assertion by New York Times foreign-affairs sage Thomas Friedman that Hussein “talked himself out of the 1973 war.”

While it’s true Hussein was considerably less enthusiastic about going to war in ’73 than he’d been in ’67 — losing a large chunk of your kingdom will do that to you — he was far from a passive bystander.

As noted out in the indispensable Myths and Facts, published by Near East Report, Hussein sent “two of his best units — the 40th and 60th armored brigades — to Syria. This force took positions in the southern sector, defending the main Amman-Damascus route and attacking Israeli positions along the Kuneitra-Sassa road on October 16. Three Jordanian artillery batteries also participated in the assault, carried out by nearly 100 tanks.”

Nearly forgotten in the rush to sanctify Hussein was the scorn that had come his way over the years for such behavior as his constant double-dealing in his relations with Israel, the U.S., and his fellow Arabs; his permitting the desecration of Jewish holy places when Jordan had possession of East Jerusalem (gravestones of Jews were used as latrines in army camps and dozens of synagogues were demolished or turned into stables and chicken coops); and his support of Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War, coupled with his circumvention of the U.S.-led blockade of Iraq.

By all indications, the elder-statesman persona adopted by King Hussein in the final years of his life was genuine, and even before then, he was the lesser of evils when compared with other Arab leaders. But to trumpet him as something of a historical giant or visionary is to drain those words of any real meaning and lower the bar for what should constitute forthright and reliable Arab leadership.

* “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your arms, with your hands, with your nails and teeth.”

* “After we perform our duty in liberating the West Bank and Jerusalem, our national duty is to liberate all the Arab territories.”

* “The removal of the Israeli occupation from our occupied land, Palestine, is the first and basic condition for just peace. … The Islamic nation and just believers in any religion or creed will not accept the situation of the … cradle of prophets and divine messages being captive of Zionist occupation.”

Quick — name the Jew hater or vicious enemy of Israel capable of spouting such venom. Arafat? Khadaffi? Ahmadinejad? Actually, the speaker in all three cases was everyone’s favorite Arab moderate, the late King Hussein of Jordan (on, respectively, Radio Amman, June 6, 1967; Radio Amman, Dec. 1, 1973; and Amman Domestic Service, July 11, 1988).

I have this little calendar that lists the names of prominent people who died or were born on each specific date. Seeing that the anniversary of Hussein’s death (Feb. 7, 1999) is upon us brought to mind both the decades of duplicity that defined the king’s life until almost the very end and the Hosannas that have been coming his way for the past 11 years. (The trend continued in two recent, largely positive, biographies.)

So desperate are we for any sign of non-fanaticism on the part of an Arab leader, we seem to gladly downplay or overlook the negative and play up the positive, with little regard for historical truth or future implications.

The floodgates of Hussein revisionism were opened immediately upon his passing. Typical was a sugary tribute from columnist Richard Chesnoff, in the New York Daily News:

Now this great son of the desert is gone, and all the children of Abraham weep. We will sorely miss this brave brother of ours.

Also typical of the distortions by a media intent on canonizing the king was the assertion by New York Times foreign-affairs sage Thomas Friedman that Hussein “talked himself out of the 1973 war.”

While it’s true Hussein was considerably less enthusiastic about going to war in ’73 than he’d been in ’67 — losing a large chunk of your kingdom will do that to you — he was far from a passive bystander.

As noted out in the indispensable Myths and Facts, published by Near East Report, Hussein sent “two of his best units — the 40th and 60th armored brigades — to Syria. This force took positions in the southern sector, defending the main Amman-Damascus route and attacking Israeli positions along the Kuneitra-Sassa road on October 16. Three Jordanian artillery batteries also participated in the assault, carried out by nearly 100 tanks.”

Nearly forgotten in the rush to sanctify Hussein was the scorn that had come his way over the years for such behavior as his constant double-dealing in his relations with Israel, the U.S., and his fellow Arabs; his permitting the desecration of Jewish holy places when Jordan had possession of East Jerusalem (gravestones of Jews were used as latrines in army camps and dozens of synagogues were demolished or turned into stables and chicken coops); and his support of Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War, coupled with his circumvention of the U.S.-led blockade of Iraq.

By all indications, the elder-statesman persona adopted by King Hussein in the final years of his life was genuine, and even before then, he was the lesser of evils when compared with other Arab leaders. But to trumpet him as something of a historical giant or visionary is to drain those words of any real meaning and lower the bar for what should constitute forthright and reliable Arab leadership.

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Wanted: Fact-Checker for China Enthusiast

Thomas Friedman, New York Times, January 12, 2010:

More and more Chinese students educated abroad are returning home to work and start new businesses. … One of the biggest problems for China’s manufacturing and financial sectors has been finding capable middle managers. The reverse-brain drain is eliminating that problem as well.

David Wessel, Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2010:

Most foreigners who came to the U.S. to earn doctorate degrees in science and engineering stayed on after graduation—at least until the recession began—refuting predictions that post-9/11 restrictions on immigrants or expanding opportunities in China and India would send more of them home. … Among 2002 graduates, 92% of the Chinese and 81% of the Indians were in the U.S. after five years; in contrast, 41% of South Koreans and 52% of Germans were.

Brain drain, indeed.

Thomas Friedman, New York Times, January 12, 2010:

More and more Chinese students educated abroad are returning home to work and start new businesses. … One of the biggest problems for China’s manufacturing and financial sectors has been finding capable middle managers. The reverse-brain drain is eliminating that problem as well.

David Wessel, Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2010:

Most foreigners who came to the U.S. to earn doctorate degrees in science and engineering stayed on after graduation—at least until the recession began—refuting predictions that post-9/11 restrictions on immigrants or expanding opportunities in China and India would send more of them home. … Among 2002 graduates, 92% of the Chinese and 81% of the Indians were in the U.S. after five years; in contrast, 41% of South Koreans and 52% of Germans were.

Brain drain, indeed.

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Time to Short Tom Friedman

Tuesday, January 12 was a hard day for Thomas Friedman. Or at least it turned into one. That morning, the New York Times ran Friedman’s latest—and possibly last—900 word panegyric to the unstoppable wonder of China’s economy. His column had, as it occasionally does, a personal edge. He was essentially writing to the American investor James Chanos. Friedman had read that Chanos thinks the Chinese bubble is about to burst and is looking to short China’s economy for profit.

And undo all Friedman’s cheerleading??? No sir. Friedman explained to Chanos, and to us, that while China has some things to deal with, “(the most dangerous being pollution)… it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).”

You know, it’s not the cleanest place in the world, but its wise leaders will put a few billions toward a country-wide clean-up crew (hey, maybe they can put some of those good-for-nothing Charter 8 signatories and Uighers to work!) before their world domination gets properly started. Friedman’s parting shot was all class, maturity, and circumspection: “Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.”

I’d imagine it’s working out rather well. For on the same morning, a shortsighted, ignorant little entity of no importance called Google announced that it too was shorting China, and ceasing to do business there so long as they had to comply with Beijing’s strict censorship requirements. This puts Chanos in fairly good company.

But did Google miss the Friedman memo? China is rich and focused, “unlike us.” Moreover, as Friedman never fails to mention, “China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband,” —unlike us, of course. Invest away. Shockingly, Google had an issue with China that went beyond the country’s investment mechanics. As the company’s statement read, “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.” Human rights? What does that mean? Any regular reader of Friedman knows that China’s is a “reasonably enlightened” dictatorship. How else could they achieve what Friedman calls their “Green Leap Forward,” “the most important thing to happen” in the first decade of this century? Google, it turns out, made a principled decision.

After this news broke, I wondered how Friedman would respond. Courtesy of yesterday’s New York Times, here comes his Yellow Leap Backward: “Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks. There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.”

You see, he’s still bullish on China, just bearish on the Chinese Communist Party. Makes perfect sense. Kind of like cheering the rise of eggs and the simultaneous demise of chickens. If it’s a confusing proposition, never fear. There is no wrong-headed opinion that Thomas Friedman cannot reduce to a childishly digestible formulation.

There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let’s call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.

Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.

It’s rare to see one wrestle so transparently with cognitive dissonance. Friedman asserted one thing about China. That thing was proved wrong in real time. To handle the contradiction, he splits China into two parts. What he said still applies to one China, not the other. Then he quotes some Non-Fiction Best-Sellerese from a recent book by John Hagel:

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.” And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all.

Can you really? Here’s a challenge for Tom Friedman: There is a very smart person, a scholar even, named Liu Xiiaobo. Can Friedman reach out across “today’s flat world” and get in touch with him? You see, Liu was just sentenced to eleven years for “inciting subversion of state power” by the Chinese government. If Friedman gets hold of him, he should ask Liu which China he’s in. Maybe it’s called Autocratic China or, if we’re being adult about it, just China.

Let’s make it easier on Friedman. Finding one Chinese political prisoner in a sea of them is a bit daunting. How about he reaches out to one of the 20 million inhabitants of the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has blacked out all online access for an area three times the size of Texas. What is that China called? Is it safe to short?

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Friedman. Let us know how it works out for you.

Tuesday, January 12 was a hard day for Thomas Friedman. Or at least it turned into one. That morning, the New York Times ran Friedman’s latest—and possibly last—900 word panegyric to the unstoppable wonder of China’s economy. His column had, as it occasionally does, a personal edge. He was essentially writing to the American investor James Chanos. Friedman had read that Chanos thinks the Chinese bubble is about to burst and is looking to short China’s economy for profit.

And undo all Friedman’s cheerleading??? No sir. Friedman explained to Chanos, and to us, that while China has some things to deal with, “(the most dangerous being pollution)… it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).”

You know, it’s not the cleanest place in the world, but its wise leaders will put a few billions toward a country-wide clean-up crew (hey, maybe they can put some of those good-for-nothing Charter 8 signatories and Uighers to work!) before their world domination gets properly started. Friedman’s parting shot was all class, maturity, and circumspection: “Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.”

I’d imagine it’s working out rather well. For on the same morning, a shortsighted, ignorant little entity of no importance called Google announced that it too was shorting China, and ceasing to do business there so long as they had to comply with Beijing’s strict censorship requirements. This puts Chanos in fairly good company.

But did Google miss the Friedman memo? China is rich and focused, “unlike us.” Moreover, as Friedman never fails to mention, “China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband,” —unlike us, of course. Invest away. Shockingly, Google had an issue with China that went beyond the country’s investment mechanics. As the company’s statement read, “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.” Human rights? What does that mean? Any regular reader of Friedman knows that China’s is a “reasonably enlightened” dictatorship. How else could they achieve what Friedman calls their “Green Leap Forward,” “the most important thing to happen” in the first decade of this century? Google, it turns out, made a principled decision.

After this news broke, I wondered how Friedman would respond. Courtesy of yesterday’s New York Times, here comes his Yellow Leap Backward: “Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks. There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.”

You see, he’s still bullish on China, just bearish on the Chinese Communist Party. Makes perfect sense. Kind of like cheering the rise of eggs and the simultaneous demise of chickens. If it’s a confusing proposition, never fear. There is no wrong-headed opinion that Thomas Friedman cannot reduce to a childishly digestible formulation.

There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let’s call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.

Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.

It’s rare to see one wrestle so transparently with cognitive dissonance. Friedman asserted one thing about China. That thing was proved wrong in real time. To handle the contradiction, he splits China into two parts. What he said still applies to one China, not the other. Then he quotes some Non-Fiction Best-Sellerese from a recent book by John Hagel:

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.” And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all.

Can you really? Here’s a challenge for Tom Friedman: There is a very smart person, a scholar even, named Liu Xiiaobo. Can Friedman reach out across “today’s flat world” and get in touch with him? You see, Liu was just sentenced to eleven years for “inciting subversion of state power” by the Chinese government. If Friedman gets hold of him, he should ask Liu which China he’s in. Maybe it’s called Autocratic China or, if we’re being adult about it, just China.

Let’s make it easier on Friedman. Finding one Chinese political prisoner in a sea of them is a bit daunting. How about he reaches out to one of the 20 million inhabitants of the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has blacked out all online access for an area three times the size of Texas. What is that China called? Is it safe to short?

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Friedman. Let us know how it works out for you.

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Going Google

Beijing is ready to say good-bye to Google. Wang Chen, China’s State Council Information Office minister, has responded to Google’s principled threat to pull out of China:

Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts … Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security. Internet media must always make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty. Currently, the Internet gives space for spreading rumours and issuing false information and other actions that diminish confidence, and this is causing serious damage to society and the public interest.

Let’s put this retrograde autocratic boilerplate up against this week’s column by China fetishist Thomas Friedman. The multi-Pulitzer Man sounded, characteristically, indistinguishable from a China lobbyist:

All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you’ll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.

Poor, declining America. The writing is on the wall, isn’t it? A once-great nation is now muddling along with its quaint democratic government, passé freedoms, sub-bullet-speed trains and — the kiss of death for any great civilization — bad motel Internet.

That’s an interesting metric by which to assess superpower status. Friedman might want to put a little more weight on the fact that those 80 million Americans can perform what would constitute a Chinese Miracle: entering “Tiananmen massacre” into a search engine and getting a result. But no. Apparently “the 21st-century knowledge age” is best suited to states that systematically ban knowledge. The important thing is Jetsons-like rail travel. Here’s Friedman’s sci-fi-Wi-Fi obsession on particularly nasty display in a column from last week:

Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

There’s the backward U.S. for you, focusing on terrorism and freedom when the future belongs to trains and laptops.

But what does Friedman do now? Upon his return to the impossibly slow U.S., how does he explain Google’s decision that human rights trump a share of the Chinese market? How does he discuss this without citing an old-fashioned American emphasis on liberty and justice? Whose side will Friedman and other China obsessives take? If other Internet and tech giants (grudgingly) follow, where does that leave his beloved regime?

The truth is that Wang Chen’s statement tells you everything you need to know about China’s supposedly inevitable rise. Beijing doesn’t enjoy enough legitimacy to allow its citizens to hear dissenting opinions. Without the free flow of ideas, China’s citizens will, in turn, remain insufficient to the task of true innovation. Instead, government-backed quasi-corporations will continue to tinker with gadgets from the disco era — bullet trains and solar power. The world’s Tom Friedmans will continue to swoon. Important technological innovation will come, inevitably, in a form few if any have predicted — let alone ranted about for years in the New York Times. And when it comes, it will come from a part of the world where disagreement and tension give birth to genius, not information blockades.

Even as the Obama administration abandons the long-standing American policy of supporting human rights and democracy abroad, other parties take up the torch to heartening effect. That, after all, is what it means to be a superpower: to embrace and offer compelling ideas that resonate in unexpected corners and live in unforeseen contingents. Ideas that, to some extent, do the work of advancing your interests for you. We saw this unfold with Iran’s pro-American democrats, and now we see it in the American corporate sector. Such displays of integrity can’t but shame cynics on their speed trains to magical futures.

Beijing is ready to say good-bye to Google. Wang Chen, China’s State Council Information Office minister, has responded to Google’s principled threat to pull out of China:

Our country is at a crucial stage of reform and development, and this is a period of marked social conflicts … Properly guiding Internet opinion is a major measure for protecting Internet information security. Internet media must always make nurturing positive, progressive mainstream opinion an important duty. Currently, the Internet gives space for spreading rumours and issuing false information and other actions that diminish confidence, and this is causing serious damage to society and the public interest.

Let’s put this retrograde autocratic boilerplate up against this week’s column by China fetishist Thomas Friedman. The multi-Pulitzer Man sounded, characteristically, indistinguishable from a China lobbyist:

All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you’ll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.

Poor, declining America. The writing is on the wall, isn’t it? A once-great nation is now muddling along with its quaint democratic government, passé freedoms, sub-bullet-speed trains and — the kiss of death for any great civilization — bad motel Internet.

That’s an interesting metric by which to assess superpower status. Friedman might want to put a little more weight on the fact that those 80 million Americans can perform what would constitute a Chinese Miracle: entering “Tiananmen massacre” into a search engine and getting a result. But no. Apparently “the 21st-century knowledge age” is best suited to states that systematically ban knowledge. The important thing is Jetsons-like rail travel. Here’s Friedman’s sci-fi-Wi-Fi obsession on particularly nasty display in a column from last week:

Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.

There’s the backward U.S. for you, focusing on terrorism and freedom when the future belongs to trains and laptops.

But what does Friedman do now? Upon his return to the impossibly slow U.S., how does he explain Google’s decision that human rights trump a share of the Chinese market? How does he discuss this without citing an old-fashioned American emphasis on liberty and justice? Whose side will Friedman and other China obsessives take? If other Internet and tech giants (grudgingly) follow, where does that leave his beloved regime?

The truth is that Wang Chen’s statement tells you everything you need to know about China’s supposedly inevitable rise. Beijing doesn’t enjoy enough legitimacy to allow its citizens to hear dissenting opinions. Without the free flow of ideas, China’s citizens will, in turn, remain insufficient to the task of true innovation. Instead, government-backed quasi-corporations will continue to tinker with gadgets from the disco era — bullet trains and solar power. The world’s Tom Friedmans will continue to swoon. Important technological innovation will come, inevitably, in a form few if any have predicted — let alone ranted about for years in the New York Times. And when it comes, it will come from a part of the world where disagreement and tension give birth to genius, not information blockades.

Even as the Obama administration abandons the long-standing American policy of supporting human rights and democracy abroad, other parties take up the torch to heartening effect. That, after all, is what it means to be a superpower: to embrace and offer compelling ideas that resonate in unexpected corners and live in unforeseen contingents. Ideas that, to some extent, do the work of advancing your interests for you. We saw this unfold with Iran’s pro-American democrats, and now we see it in the American corporate sector. Such displays of integrity can’t but shame cynics on their speed trains to magical futures.

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Two Years from Never

George Mitchell, perhaps the least effective Middle East envoy ever (maybe the least effective envoy to any region of the world), was interviewed by Charlie Rose. The interview will air in full tonight, but Politico has this tidbit:

“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time,” Mitchell tells Rose. “We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

“I want to emphasize, political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth so that when the Palestinian state is created, it is capable of functioning effectively from day one,” Mitchell said.

What is he talking about, really? He has a predetermined time frame for how long the negotiations should last, but there’s no one at the bargaining table and no Palestinian leader invested with the authority or political will to make a deal. And the Israeli government is, at best, wary of the Obama team, which spent a year trying to stuff a unilateral settlement freeze down its throat. Contrast Mitchell’s surreal obsession with conferences and time lines with what is really going on, as this report makes clear:

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests. “Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran,” Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. “They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland.”

Doesn’t sound as though the Palestinians are ready for the bargaining table, does it? But Mitchell is not to be dissuaded by the lack of will or of bargaining parties. He’s got it down pat: the process has to include “political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth.” Earth-shaking and revolutionary! Well, if you’ve been dozing off for 20 years or so and missed the entire failed “peace process,” this would seem innovative.

It’s useful when Mitchell goes on like this, however. When he does, one comes to fully appreciate just how divorced from reality he and the administration are. Back in November, even Thomas Friedman could see that the peace process has become a farce:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen.

Months later Mitchell is still playacting. Meanwhile, the real Middle East crisis — the steady progress of Iran’s march toward inclusion in the club of nuclear powers — grinds on. And while Mitchell has been blathering on, Iran has been busy:

Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Well, you see why the striped pants set at Foggy Bottom and the frequent-flier champ Mitchell would rather be planning out peace conferences with no agenda, no attendees, and no hope for success.

George Mitchell, perhaps the least effective Middle East envoy ever (maybe the least effective envoy to any region of the world), was interviewed by Charlie Rose. The interview will air in full tonight, but Politico has this tidbit:

“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time,” Mitchell tells Rose. “We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

“I want to emphasize, political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth so that when the Palestinian state is created, it is capable of functioning effectively from day one,” Mitchell said.

What is he talking about, really? He has a predetermined time frame for how long the negotiations should last, but there’s no one at the bargaining table and no Palestinian leader invested with the authority or political will to make a deal. And the Israeli government is, at best, wary of the Obama team, which spent a year trying to stuff a unilateral settlement freeze down its throat. Contrast Mitchell’s surreal obsession with conferences and time lines with what is really going on, as this report makes clear:

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests. “Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran,” Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. “They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland.”

Doesn’t sound as though the Palestinians are ready for the bargaining table, does it? But Mitchell is not to be dissuaded by the lack of will or of bargaining parties. He’s got it down pat: the process has to include “political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth.” Earth-shaking and revolutionary! Well, if you’ve been dozing off for 20 years or so and missed the entire failed “peace process,” this would seem innovative.

It’s useful when Mitchell goes on like this, however. When he does, one comes to fully appreciate just how divorced from reality he and the administration are. Back in November, even Thomas Friedman could see that the peace process has become a farce:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen.

Months later Mitchell is still playacting. Meanwhile, the real Middle East crisis — the steady progress of Iran’s march toward inclusion in the club of nuclear powers — grinds on. And while Mitchell has been blathering on, Iran has been busy:

Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Well, you see why the striped pants set at Foggy Bottom and the frequent-flier champ Mitchell would rather be planning out peace conferences with no agenda, no attendees, and no hope for success.

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Friedman’s Call for War

Let me get this straight: did Thomas Friedman just call for a literal civil war within the Arab and Muslim world, for the forces of moderation to rise up and physically destroy the jihadists once and for all?

His column in Tuesday’s New York Times is not fully clear on how violent he wants it. At first he talks about the problem of “Virtual Afghanistan,” the spread of anti-West ideas and the recruitment of jihadists via the Internet. “We don’t need more NATO allies to kill more Taliban and Al Qaeda. We need more Arab and Muslim allies to kill their extremist ideas, which, thanks to the Virtual Afghanistan, are now being spread farther than ever before.” That sounds like the Friedman we know.

But then something weird happens. Judge for yourself:

Only Arabs and Muslims can fight the war of ideas within Islam. We had a civil war in America in the mid-19th century because we had a lot of people who believed bad things — namely that you could enslave people because of the color of their skin. We defeated those ideas and the individuals, leaders and institutions that propagated them, and we did it with such ferocity that five generations later some of their offspring still have not forgiven the North.

Islam needs the same civil war. It has a violent minority that believes bad things: that it is O.K. to not only murder non-Muslims — “infidels,” who do not submit to Muslim authority — but to murder Muslims as well who will not accept the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate.

Friedman starts with the “war of ideas within Islam,” uses the American Civil War as an example, and then goes on to focus on which ideas are legitimate in the Arab-Muslim world and which are not, and on how many fatwas have been issued against al-Qaeda. As though he hadn’t just said anything shocking.

Hello? The American Civil War was not only a battle of ideas. The “ferocity” he refers to, the lingering antipathy against the North today, was not because Lincoln issued a fatwa or recruited columnists in the South over the Internet or wrote a bestselling book. There was horrific, physical destruction involved. Is he saying that Islam “needs” a moderate-Islamic General Sherman to scorch the earth of Saudi-funded madrasses? Literally?

Because if he doesn’t mean it literally, the metaphor suddenly makes no sense. Certain ideas are deemed illegitimate in the Muslim world because simply expressing them can get you killed. Violence is a crucial component in the equation — that’s what it means not to be part of the democratic world. So if moderate voices are to turn violent against the extremists — even if the violence is not literal but only in the form of condemnation, stopping their funding, pursuing a “war of ideas,” and so forth — first you need to remove the threat of literal violence and create a free environment in which ideas can be aired without fear. But for that you need a much bigger change than just calling for the voices of moderation to wake up. There’s a good reason why they’re asleep in the first place.

So, Mr. Friedman, which is it? A literal civil war, like the one America endured? Or a figurative one, which you call on others to wage, bravely and at high cost, with little hope of victory?

Let me get this straight: did Thomas Friedman just call for a literal civil war within the Arab and Muslim world, for the forces of moderation to rise up and physically destroy the jihadists once and for all?

His column in Tuesday’s New York Times is not fully clear on how violent he wants it. At first he talks about the problem of “Virtual Afghanistan,” the spread of anti-West ideas and the recruitment of jihadists via the Internet. “We don’t need more NATO allies to kill more Taliban and Al Qaeda. We need more Arab and Muslim allies to kill their extremist ideas, which, thanks to the Virtual Afghanistan, are now being spread farther than ever before.” That sounds like the Friedman we know.

But then something weird happens. Judge for yourself:

Only Arabs and Muslims can fight the war of ideas within Islam. We had a civil war in America in the mid-19th century because we had a lot of people who believed bad things — namely that you could enslave people because of the color of their skin. We defeated those ideas and the individuals, leaders and institutions that propagated them, and we did it with such ferocity that five generations later some of their offspring still have not forgiven the North.

Islam needs the same civil war. It has a violent minority that believes bad things: that it is O.K. to not only murder non-Muslims — “infidels,” who do not submit to Muslim authority — but to murder Muslims as well who will not accept the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate.

Friedman starts with the “war of ideas within Islam,” uses the American Civil War as an example, and then goes on to focus on which ideas are legitimate in the Arab-Muslim world and which are not, and on how many fatwas have been issued against al-Qaeda. As though he hadn’t just said anything shocking.

Hello? The American Civil War was not only a battle of ideas. The “ferocity” he refers to, the lingering antipathy against the North today, was not because Lincoln issued a fatwa or recruited columnists in the South over the Internet or wrote a bestselling book. There was horrific, physical destruction involved. Is he saying that Islam “needs” a moderate-Islamic General Sherman to scorch the earth of Saudi-funded madrasses? Literally?

Because if he doesn’t mean it literally, the metaphor suddenly makes no sense. Certain ideas are deemed illegitimate in the Muslim world because simply expressing them can get you killed. Violence is a crucial component in the equation — that’s what it means not to be part of the democratic world. So if moderate voices are to turn violent against the extremists — even if the violence is not literal but only in the form of condemnation, stopping their funding, pursuing a “war of ideas,” and so forth — first you need to remove the threat of literal violence and create a free environment in which ideas can be aired without fear. But for that you need a much bigger change than just calling for the voices of moderation to wake up. There’s a good reason why they’re asleep in the first place.

So, Mr. Friedman, which is it? A literal civil war, like the one America endured? Or a figurative one, which you call on others to wage, bravely and at high cost, with little hope of victory?

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The Real Problem with U.S. Involvement

Writing in today’s Jerusalem Post, Liat Collins offers a pertinent observation on Thomas Friedman’s proposal that America stop pushing Israeli-Palestinian peace. Friedman argued that American intervention functions as “Novocain” for the parties: “We relieve all the political pain from the Arab and Israeli decision-makers by creating the impression in the minds of their publics that something serious is happening.”

But as Collins noted, “the pain, however, has tended to come with the peace process itself. … No Israeli — Left, Right or Center — can forget the exploding buses and cafes causing the sort of pain that Novocaine can never cure. … And the consequences of pulling out from Gaza and the security zone in Lebanon can, of course, still be felt today: No other country has had to resort to creating a rocket-proof indoor playground a la Sderot or a missile-proof emergency room such as was recently inaugurated at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital.”

And that is the real problem with U.S. involvement in the “peace process”: not only, as Friedman correctly noted, has it wasted time, energy, and diplomatic capital that could have been better employed elsewhere; it has actually made peace less likely.

Clearly, the terror produced by every territorial concession since 1993 has decreased the Israelis’ appetite for such concessions. But even more important, U.S. involvement has reduced Palestinian willingness to make necessary concessions.

Over the past 16 years, “U.S. involvement” has largely become synonymous with pressing Israel for more concessions — both because Israel is seen as “the stronger party,” with more to give, and because it is far more vulnerable than are the Palestinians to U.S. pressure, given America’s status as Israel’s only ally. Palestinians have thus become convinced that they don’t need to make concessions; they can wait for Washington to deliver Israel on a platter.

For instance, Palestinians would be more likely to fight terror if they thought future withdrawals depended on it. But they don’t, and for good reason: the world has never demanded an end to terror as the price of further withdrawals; instead, it has consistently pressed Israel to keep withdrawing despite the terror. Under those circumstances, why bother fighting terror?

Similarly, Israel is routinely pressed to make upfront negotiating concessions: just last week, for instance, Hillary Clinton reportedly demanded that guidelines for renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks promise “a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and in Jerusalem,” meaning that Israel would have to fully concede two of the three core issues before talks can even begin (Jerusalem declined). But Washington has never demanded that Palestinians cede even an obvious deal breaker like the “right of return” upfront; this is always left to future negotiations.

As long as the Palestinians think they can rely on Washington to “deliver” Israel, they will never feel a need to make concessions themselves. And until they do, no deal will be possible.

Barack Obama isn’t likely to heed Friedman’s advice, but perhaps his successor will be wiser. The “peace process” will undoubtedly still be around.

Writing in today’s Jerusalem Post, Liat Collins offers a pertinent observation on Thomas Friedman’s proposal that America stop pushing Israeli-Palestinian peace. Friedman argued that American intervention functions as “Novocain” for the parties: “We relieve all the political pain from the Arab and Israeli decision-makers by creating the impression in the minds of their publics that something serious is happening.”

But as Collins noted, “the pain, however, has tended to come with the peace process itself. … No Israeli — Left, Right or Center — can forget the exploding buses and cafes causing the sort of pain that Novocaine can never cure. … And the consequences of pulling out from Gaza and the security zone in Lebanon can, of course, still be felt today: No other country has had to resort to creating a rocket-proof indoor playground a la Sderot or a missile-proof emergency room such as was recently inaugurated at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital.”

And that is the real problem with U.S. involvement in the “peace process”: not only, as Friedman correctly noted, has it wasted time, energy, and diplomatic capital that could have been better employed elsewhere; it has actually made peace less likely.

Clearly, the terror produced by every territorial concession since 1993 has decreased the Israelis’ appetite for such concessions. But even more important, U.S. involvement has reduced Palestinian willingness to make necessary concessions.

Over the past 16 years, “U.S. involvement” has largely become synonymous with pressing Israel for more concessions — both because Israel is seen as “the stronger party,” with more to give, and because it is far more vulnerable than are the Palestinians to U.S. pressure, given America’s status as Israel’s only ally. Palestinians have thus become convinced that they don’t need to make concessions; they can wait for Washington to deliver Israel on a platter.

For instance, Palestinians would be more likely to fight terror if they thought future withdrawals depended on it. But they don’t, and for good reason: the world has never demanded an end to terror as the price of further withdrawals; instead, it has consistently pressed Israel to keep withdrawing despite the terror. Under those circumstances, why bother fighting terror?

Similarly, Israel is routinely pressed to make upfront negotiating concessions: just last week, for instance, Hillary Clinton reportedly demanded that guidelines for renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks promise “a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and in Jerusalem,” meaning that Israel would have to fully concede two of the three core issues before talks can even begin (Jerusalem declined). But Washington has never demanded that Palestinians cede even an obvious deal breaker like the “right of return” upfront; this is always left to future negotiations.

As long as the Palestinians think they can rely on Washington to “deliver” Israel, they will never feel a need to make concessions themselves. And until they do, no deal will be possible.

Barack Obama isn’t likely to heed Friedman’s advice, but perhaps his successor will be wiser. The “peace process” will undoubtedly still be around.

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Thomas Friedman on Leverage

Thomas Friedman begins an entirely sensible column with this observation:

Barack Obama is getting painfully close to tying himself in knots with all his explanations of the conditions under which he would unconditionally talk with America’s foes, like Iran. His latest clarification was that there is a difference between “preparations” and “preconditions” for negotiations with bad guys. Such hair-splitting word games do not inspire confidence, and they play right into the arms of his critics. The last place he wants to look uncertain is on national security.

Friedman argues, as he has before, that negotiation with rouge states should follow not proceed acquisition of leverage by the U.S. and its allies. So what should we make of a candidate who thinks the opposite, that his mere presence before the likes of Castro and Ahmejinedad would be productive, would melt their hearts and persuade them of the errors of their ways?

Friedman advises:

Mr. Obama would do himself a big favor by shifting his focus from the list of enemy leaders he would talk with to the list of things he would do as president to generate more leverage for America, so no matter who we have to talk with the advantage will be on our side of the table. That’s what matters.

But that seems entirely out of character and contrary to all of Obama’s pronouncements to date. He opposes measures which would pressure rogue states or their surrogates. He wants to roll back key sanctions against Cuba. He shushes Hillary Clinton, who announced in no uncertain terms that she would “obliterate” Iran if it destroyed Israel with a nuclear attack. He strenuously opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And, of course, his plan to evacuate Iraq immediately is not the type of display of national fortitude designed to impress Iran, Syria or any other state or group in the Middle East.

Indeed he often gets Friedman’s formulation exactly backwards, as with North Korea. The Council on Foreign Relations reminds us: “Within weeks of Pyongyang’s nuclear test, Obama appeared on Meet the Press and said the United States had no leverage over North Korea because of Washington’s refusal to hold bilateral negotiations. ” No, Friedman would patiently remind him, get the leverage first - it makes diplomatic talks potentially successful and does not result from negotiations.

So I think it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, for Obama to take Friedman’s advice.

Thomas Friedman begins an entirely sensible column with this observation:

Barack Obama is getting painfully close to tying himself in knots with all his explanations of the conditions under which he would unconditionally talk with America’s foes, like Iran. His latest clarification was that there is a difference between “preparations” and “preconditions” for negotiations with bad guys. Such hair-splitting word games do not inspire confidence, and they play right into the arms of his critics. The last place he wants to look uncertain is on national security.

Friedman argues, as he has before, that negotiation with rouge states should follow not proceed acquisition of leverage by the U.S. and its allies. So what should we make of a candidate who thinks the opposite, that his mere presence before the likes of Castro and Ahmejinedad would be productive, would melt their hearts and persuade them of the errors of their ways?

Friedman advises:

Mr. Obama would do himself a big favor by shifting his focus from the list of enemy leaders he would talk with to the list of things he would do as president to generate more leverage for America, so no matter who we have to talk with the advantage will be on our side of the table. That’s what matters.

But that seems entirely out of character and contrary to all of Obama’s pronouncements to date. He opposes measures which would pressure rogue states or their surrogates. He wants to roll back key sanctions against Cuba. He shushes Hillary Clinton, who announced in no uncertain terms that she would “obliterate” Iran if it destroyed Israel with a nuclear attack. He strenuously opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And, of course, his plan to evacuate Iraq immediately is not the type of display of national fortitude designed to impress Iran, Syria or any other state or group in the Middle East.

Indeed he often gets Friedman’s formulation exactly backwards, as with North Korea. The Council on Foreign Relations reminds us: “Within weeks of Pyongyang’s nuclear test, Obama appeared on Meet the Press and said the United States had no leverage over North Korea because of Washington’s refusal to hold bilateral negotiations. ” No, Friedman would patiently remind him, get the leverage first - it makes diplomatic talks potentially successful and does not result from negotiations.

So I think it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, for Obama to take Friedman’s advice.

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Re: Friedman’s New Cold War

Gordon, I think you’re wrong about Thomas Friedman. Despite my massive disagreements with Friedman on other subjects, I do think it’s productive to focus on Iran as our opponent in a new Cold War. (In fact, I advanced a similar thesis over a year ago.)

The bottom line is that Iran is operating on the very same logic that the Soviets did: Expand your country’s power through (a) a totalizing ideology that rejects freedom; (b) massively upgrading your military; (c) fighting proxy wars against America and its allies; (d) technological advancement; (e) justifying the suffering of your people by pointing to the enemy as the real cause–you get the point.

I’m not saying–and neither is Friedman–that Iran can or will ever be a threat of the magnitude that the Soviet Union was, even if it gets nuclear weapons. That’s just silly. What I am saying is that it’s useless to assume that negotiation or appeasement will ever help, and we shouldn’t just wait for Iran to keep accumulating power until it’s stronger and more belligerent.

Gordon, I think you’re wrong about Thomas Friedman. Despite my massive disagreements with Friedman on other subjects, I do think it’s productive to focus on Iran as our opponent in a new Cold War. (In fact, I advanced a similar thesis over a year ago.)

The bottom line is that Iran is operating on the very same logic that the Soviets did: Expand your country’s power through (a) a totalizing ideology that rejects freedom; (b) massively upgrading your military; (c) fighting proxy wars against America and its allies; (d) technological advancement; (e) justifying the suffering of your people by pointing to the enemy as the real cause–you get the point.

I’m not saying–and neither is Friedman–that Iran can or will ever be a threat of the magnitude that the Soviet Union was, even if it gets nuclear weapons. That’s just silly. What I am saying is that it’s useless to assume that negotiation or appeasement will ever help, and we shouldn’t just wait for Iran to keep accumulating power until it’s stronger and more belligerent.

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You Can Spot This One

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a speech yesterday, came out in favor of using a “combination of incentives and pressure to engage Iran.” He spoke favorably of Thomas Friedman’s May 14 column, in which Friedman wrote that

[T]he right question for the next president isn’t whether we talk or don’t talk. It’s whether we have leverage or don’t have leverage. When you have leverage, talk. When you don’t have leverage, get some — by creating economic, diplomatic or military incentives and pressures that the other side finds too tempting or frightening to ignore.

You can see it coming, right? The Post tosses in the line that Barack Obama has “said that talks with Iran on a range of issues might be useful.” The implication is clear: Obama is in the foreign policy mainstream. It’s McCain who’s out to lunch.

Of course, Obama’s proposal to talk at a presidential level with Iran without preconditions is the opposite of what Gates is proposing. The “leverage” which Friedman suggests we get before speaking is nonexistent in Obama’s scheme: he’ll talk to Ahmejinedad personally, regardless of whatever leverage we have aquired.

But be forewarned: that distinction will be utterly glossed over in the debate we are about to have. It’s up to the McCain camp to explain why talking without preconditions (at the Presidential level) is counterproductive without that all important leverage Friedman tells us to go acquire.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a speech yesterday, came out in favor of using a “combination of incentives and pressure to engage Iran.” He spoke favorably of Thomas Friedman’s May 14 column, in which Friedman wrote that

[T]he right question for the next president isn’t whether we talk or don’t talk. It’s whether we have leverage or don’t have leverage. When you have leverage, talk. When you don’t have leverage, get some — by creating economic, diplomatic or military incentives and pressures that the other side finds too tempting or frightening to ignore.

You can see it coming, right? The Post tosses in the line that Barack Obama has “said that talks with Iran on a range of issues might be useful.” The implication is clear: Obama is in the foreign policy mainstream. It’s McCain who’s out to lunch.

Of course, Obama’s proposal to talk at a presidential level with Iran without preconditions is the opposite of what Gates is proposing. The “leverage” which Friedman suggests we get before speaking is nonexistent in Obama’s scheme: he’ll talk to Ahmejinedad personally, regardless of whatever leverage we have aquired.

But be forewarned: that distinction will be utterly glossed over in the debate we are about to have. It’s up to the McCain camp to explain why talking without preconditions (at the Presidential level) is counterproductive without that all important leverage Friedman tells us to go acquire.

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What The Times Was Up To

Max Boot’s post earlier today about the preposterous New York Times story on the relationship between the Pentagon and former-military men-turned-war-pundits was spot on. I think, based on many years of experience working at various newspapers, that there is an explanation for the extreme length — 7800 words — of the story and the fact that it manages to find nothing more than an effort by the Pentagon to get good coverage. The Times thought it was on to something very big, ended up with something very small, and then took what little they had and tried to make a silk purse from the sow’s ear that was reporter David Barstow’s investigation.

I intuit  that this story, which features extensive use of Freedom of Information requests, was originally conceived as an investigation of potentially criminal activity — specifically, whether the Pentagon bribed these men to say things and write things both the Pentagon and the pundits themselves knew to be false. If there were such payments, it would be a requirement in law that the payments would be made on the basis of contracts — like the contracts that Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, two conservative pundits, received from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services respectively to promote legislation.

In the end, however, The story reads like a work of investigative journalism that came up entirely dry.  Perhaps  Barstow was tipped off to something seriously rotten and saw a Pulitzer dangling before him if he could only get chapter and verse. Perhaps someone else at the Times was, and threw the assignment to Barstow. Whatever is the case, there proved to be no there there, and Barstow was left with a huge amount of information with no clear act of wrongdoing.

So he did what is called a “notebook dump,” with the approval and even encouragement of his editors, revealing every single bit of information he uncovered. What began as a possible major scoop ended up as a “thumbsucker,” one of those “this is a cautionary tale about the way the Bush administration tried to spin the public.” Barstow’s endless tale reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs, courted them and served them extremely well, in hopes of getting the kind of coverage that would counteract the nastier stuff written about the Defense Department in the media. The fact that they were treated no better, if I have my guess right, than Thomas Friedman is treated any time his assistant places a phone call informing the pooh-bahs of Washington that the Great Man is deigning to give them an audience goes unremarked.

The honest thing to do in these circumstances is to kill the piece because you didn’t get the goods. That’s the problem with investigative journalism — often, the scandal is too confusing to be described in an exciting way, or it isn’t a scandal at all. But newspapers never kill the piece, because they spent too much money, too much time, and had too much hope to say, “You know what? This just didn’t pan out.”

Max Boot’s post earlier today about the preposterous New York Times story on the relationship between the Pentagon and former-military men-turned-war-pundits was spot on. I think, based on many years of experience working at various newspapers, that there is an explanation for the extreme length — 7800 words — of the story and the fact that it manages to find nothing more than an effort by the Pentagon to get good coverage. The Times thought it was on to something very big, ended up with something very small, and then took what little they had and tried to make a silk purse from the sow’s ear that was reporter David Barstow’s investigation.

I intuit  that this story, which features extensive use of Freedom of Information requests, was originally conceived as an investigation of potentially criminal activity — specifically, whether the Pentagon bribed these men to say things and write things both the Pentagon and the pundits themselves knew to be false. If there were such payments, it would be a requirement in law that the payments would be made on the basis of contracts — like the contracts that Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, two conservative pundits, received from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services respectively to promote legislation.

In the end, however, The story reads like a work of investigative journalism that came up entirely dry.  Perhaps  Barstow was tipped off to something seriously rotten and saw a Pulitzer dangling before him if he could only get chapter and verse. Perhaps someone else at the Times was, and threw the assignment to Barstow. Whatever is the case, there proved to be no there there, and Barstow was left with a huge amount of information with no clear act of wrongdoing.

So he did what is called a “notebook dump,” with the approval and even encouragement of his editors, revealing every single bit of information he uncovered. What began as a possible major scoop ended up as a “thumbsucker,” one of those “this is a cautionary tale about the way the Bush administration tried to spin the public.” Barstow’s endless tale reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs, courted them and served them extremely well, in hopes of getting the kind of coverage that would counteract the nastier stuff written about the Defense Department in the media. The fact that they were treated no better, if I have my guess right, than Thomas Friedman is treated any time his assistant places a phone call informing the pooh-bahs of Washington that the Great Man is deigning to give them an audience goes unremarked.

The honest thing to do in these circumstances is to kill the piece because you didn’t get the goods. That’s the problem with investigative journalism — often, the scandal is too confusing to be described in an exciting way, or it isn’t a scandal at all. But newspapers never kill the piece, because they spent too much money, too much time, and had too much hope to say, “You know what? This just didn’t pan out.”

Read Less




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