Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tony Blair

RE: RE: Imposed Arrogance

Bibi’s response to the Obami’s imposed peace-deal trial balloon? No way. This should come as no surprise:

Israel will not accept a Middle East peace agreement that is forced on it by external forces, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said in private meetings in recent days, sources said Wednesday.

Netanyahu reportedly told close aides that “it won’t work and it won’t be acceptable if a settlement is forced on us,” stressing the need to ensure proper security arrangements as part of any future peace deal.

For that end, the PM reportedly said, Israel would have to retain a military presence along its eastern border with Jordan, adding that any agreement that doesn’t allow for those measure will not be accepted.

And on the Jerusalem building issue, Bibi isn’t caving either. “Also Wednesday, in a press conference in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said differences with Washington over a disputed construction project in East Jerusalem were yet to be resolved, signaling a continued deadlock in the U.S. push to restart Mideast peace talks.” He says the U.S. and Israel are working to close the gap. (Perhaps they can have proximity talks with Tony Blair as the interlocutor?)

So where does this leave the Obami? To stamp their feet and send George Mitchell shuttling back and forth between fruitless meetings with the two sides? If one ever needed proof that the peace process can be not only a waste of time but also counterproductive, this is it.

Meanwhile, with all those former national-security advisers in the building, do we think the Obami asked them for advice on getting out of their dead-end Iran policy? It doesn’t appear so from the news reports, and that speaks volumes about the misplaced priorities of a foreign-policy team that is increasing divorced from reality.

Bibi’s response to the Obami’s imposed peace-deal trial balloon? No way. This should come as no surprise:

Israel will not accept a Middle East peace agreement that is forced on it by external forces, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said in private meetings in recent days, sources said Wednesday.

Netanyahu reportedly told close aides that “it won’t work and it won’t be acceptable if a settlement is forced on us,” stressing the need to ensure proper security arrangements as part of any future peace deal.

For that end, the PM reportedly said, Israel would have to retain a military presence along its eastern border with Jordan, adding that any agreement that doesn’t allow for those measure will not be accepted.

And on the Jerusalem building issue, Bibi isn’t caving either. “Also Wednesday, in a press conference in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said differences with Washington over a disputed construction project in East Jerusalem were yet to be resolved, signaling a continued deadlock in the U.S. push to restart Mideast peace talks.” He says the U.S. and Israel are working to close the gap. (Perhaps they can have proximity talks with Tony Blair as the interlocutor?)

So where does this leave the Obami? To stamp their feet and send George Mitchell shuttling back and forth between fruitless meetings with the two sides? If one ever needed proof that the peace process can be not only a waste of time but also counterproductive, this is it.

Meanwhile, with all those former national-security advisers in the building, do we think the Obami asked them for advice on getting out of their dead-end Iran policy? It doesn’t appear so from the news reports, and that speaks volumes about the misplaced priorities of a foreign-policy team that is increasing divorced from reality.

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Obami Pushing Israel to Act Unilaterally?

The Obami are promising another round of sanctions aimed at Iran. This will be the fourth round, and we should not, judging from press reports, expect them to be “crippling.” As Bill Kristol noted on Fox News Sunday:

The only things that can stop the Iranian nuclear program are — would be the success of the green movement in Iran, which the Obama administration has done nothing to help and remains incredibly indifferent to and standoffish to on the one hand, or military action on the other, which the Obama administration seems uninterested in doing and I’m afraid is setting up a situation where Israel will feel it has to act.

The abject lack of seriousness from the Obama administration — its disinclination to even suggest the use of force or to aid the Green Movement in any meaningful way — has not gone unnoticed either here or in Israel. At the AIPAC conference, the contrast between Hillary Clinton’s platitudinous “unacceptable” formulation and Tony Blair’s “whatever it takes” phraseology was hard to ignore. And, as Kristol points out, even doves in Israel like Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, are talking about the need for an Israeli strike on Iran this year, absent the implementation of “crippling sanctions.” (“An Israeli military campaign against Iran’s nuclear installations is likely to cripple that country’s nuclear project for a number of years. The retaliation against Israel would be painful, but bearable.”)

We can speculate as to whether the Obami’s assault on Netanyahu over the Jerusalem housing permit was meant to stymie Israel’s plans for such action. If so, this is yet another gross error in judgment by the Obami, who have an exaggerated sense of their own ability to bully those who interfere with their plans. As fraught with peril as an Israeli military operation might be and as unseemly as it might be for the U.S. to stand idly by – ignoring its role as leader of the West and shrinking from its international responsibilities – Israel, if faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and a recalcitrant U.S. administration, will have no choice but to act in its own defense. Netanyahu said it clearly last month, no doubt to put the administration as well as the mullahs on notice. (“The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.”)

By publicly savaging the Israeli government and making apparent just how not solid is the current relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the Obami are encouraging, not dissuading, the Israeli government to take matters into its own hands. Given the treatment by the Obama administration, what Israeli government could place its trust and the fate of the Jewish state in the Obami’s hands? It would be foolish and irresponsible — and the Israelis are neither. And once again we see that the folly-ridden Obama Middle East policy — engagement with Iran, renunciation of force, clubbing its closest ally — is creating a more dangerous and volatile world for the U.S. and its allies.

The Obami are promising another round of sanctions aimed at Iran. This will be the fourth round, and we should not, judging from press reports, expect them to be “crippling.” As Bill Kristol noted on Fox News Sunday:

The only things that can stop the Iranian nuclear program are — would be the success of the green movement in Iran, which the Obama administration has done nothing to help and remains incredibly indifferent to and standoffish to on the one hand, or military action on the other, which the Obama administration seems uninterested in doing and I’m afraid is setting up a situation where Israel will feel it has to act.

The abject lack of seriousness from the Obama administration — its disinclination to even suggest the use of force or to aid the Green Movement in any meaningful way — has not gone unnoticed either here or in Israel. At the AIPAC conference, the contrast between Hillary Clinton’s platitudinous “unacceptable” formulation and Tony Blair’s “whatever it takes” phraseology was hard to ignore. And, as Kristol points out, even doves in Israel like Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, are talking about the need for an Israeli strike on Iran this year, absent the implementation of “crippling sanctions.” (“An Israeli military campaign against Iran’s nuclear installations is likely to cripple that country’s nuclear project for a number of years. The retaliation against Israel would be painful, but bearable.”)

We can speculate as to whether the Obami’s assault on Netanyahu over the Jerusalem housing permit was meant to stymie Israel’s plans for such action. If so, this is yet another gross error in judgment by the Obami, who have an exaggerated sense of their own ability to bully those who interfere with their plans. As fraught with peril as an Israeli military operation might be and as unseemly as it might be for the U.S. to stand idly by – ignoring its role as leader of the West and shrinking from its international responsibilities – Israel, if faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and a recalcitrant U.S. administration, will have no choice but to act in its own defense. Netanyahu said it clearly last month, no doubt to put the administration as well as the mullahs on notice. (“The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.”)

By publicly savaging the Israeli government and making apparent just how not solid is the current relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the Obami are encouraging, not dissuading, the Israeli government to take matters into its own hands. Given the treatment by the Obama administration, what Israeli government could place its trust and the fate of the Jewish state in the Obami’s hands? It would be foolish and irresponsible — and the Israelis are neither. And once again we see that the folly-ridden Obama Middle East policy — engagement with Iran, renunciation of force, clubbing its closest ally — is creating a more dangerous and volatile world for the U.S. and its allies.

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Sanctions That Nibble

At AIPAC this week, Hillary Clinton promised not “crippling” sanctions against Iran but rather sanctions that would “bite.” That appears to be an overstatement. This report explains:

The U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran in order to win support from Russia and China for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Among provisions removed from the original draft resolution the U.S. sent to key allies last month were sanctions aimed at choking off Tehran’s access to international banking services and capital markets, and closing international airspace and waters to Iran’s national air cargo and shipping lines, according to the people.

This is pathetic. The problem, of course, is that engagement did not, as promised, sell Russia and China on crippling sanctions that might actually have had some impact on the mullahs. (“The disclosure of weakened proposals came as U.S. officials sought to persuade Russia and China to back measures against Iran in a conference call on Wednesday among the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the first such meeting including China since mid-January.”) So we begin the process of watering down and then watering down some more the economic measures that are the Obami’s sole means now — they have in effect taken military force off the table and are uninterested in regime change – of persuading the mullahs to put aside their nuclear ambitions.

The report explains:

The current resolution still would target major power centers in Iran, in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s elite military force, according to a person familiar with the draft. It would also stiffen a broad range of existing sanctions, including the search and seizure of suspicious cargo bound for Iran through international waters and a ban on states offering financial assistance or credits for trade with Iran. If approved, they would be the most stringent measures Iran has faced.

Yet the original U.S. draft would have gone much further. The cargo sanctions initially named Iran Air and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and demand a blanket ban of their airplanes and ships from other countries’ airspace or territorial waters. The revised version calls for interdiction only of shipments that would evade already-existing sanctions.

The earlier resolution would have made it difficult for Iran to insure imports and exports of oil and other essential commodities, by barring foreign insurers from serving international transport contracts from Iran. … The previous draft would also have barred Iran’s access to international capital markets by prohibiting foreign investment in Iranian bonds.

This has been the flaw in the entire sanctions strategy from the get-go. By the time something is negotiated, watered down, implemented, and its results assessed, it is too little and too late. In the process we reveal ourselves to be unserious and uncommitted to doing “whatever it takes” (Tony Blair’s formulation but certainly not the Obami’s) to prevent the revolutionary Islamic state from acquiring nuclear weapons. We are, it seems, inching ever closer to pronouncement of a full-blown “containment” approach — the inevitable alternative after the Obami have frittered away time and credibility and forsworn military action and regime change. The “unacceptable” is about to become reality.

At AIPAC this week, Hillary Clinton promised not “crippling” sanctions against Iran but rather sanctions that would “bite.” That appears to be an overstatement. This report explains:

The U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran in order to win support from Russia and China for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Among provisions removed from the original draft resolution the U.S. sent to key allies last month were sanctions aimed at choking off Tehran’s access to international banking services and capital markets, and closing international airspace and waters to Iran’s national air cargo and shipping lines, according to the people.

This is pathetic. The problem, of course, is that engagement did not, as promised, sell Russia and China on crippling sanctions that might actually have had some impact on the mullahs. (“The disclosure of weakened proposals came as U.S. officials sought to persuade Russia and China to back measures against Iran in a conference call on Wednesday among the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the first such meeting including China since mid-January.”) So we begin the process of watering down and then watering down some more the economic measures that are the Obami’s sole means now — they have in effect taken military force off the table and are uninterested in regime change – of persuading the mullahs to put aside their nuclear ambitions.

The report explains:

The current resolution still would target major power centers in Iran, in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s elite military force, according to a person familiar with the draft. It would also stiffen a broad range of existing sanctions, including the search and seizure of suspicious cargo bound for Iran through international waters and a ban on states offering financial assistance or credits for trade with Iran. If approved, they would be the most stringent measures Iran has faced.

Yet the original U.S. draft would have gone much further. The cargo sanctions initially named Iran Air and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and demand a blanket ban of their airplanes and ships from other countries’ airspace or territorial waters. The revised version calls for interdiction only of shipments that would evade already-existing sanctions.

The earlier resolution would have made it difficult for Iran to insure imports and exports of oil and other essential commodities, by barring foreign insurers from serving international transport contracts from Iran. … The previous draft would also have barred Iran’s access to international capital markets by prohibiting foreign investment in Iranian bonds.

This has been the flaw in the entire sanctions strategy from the get-go. By the time something is negotiated, watered down, implemented, and its results assessed, it is too little and too late. In the process we reveal ourselves to be unserious and uncommitted to doing “whatever it takes” (Tony Blair’s formulation but certainly not the Obami’s) to prevent the revolutionary Islamic state from acquiring nuclear weapons. We are, it seems, inching ever closer to pronouncement of a full-blown “containment” approach — the inevitable alternative after the Obami have frittered away time and credibility and forsworn military action and regime change. The “unacceptable” is about to become reality.

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RE: Israel Is Not Stopping Obama from Stopping Iran

Jonathan, the administration really needs to keep its excuses straight. Hillary at AIPAC said the Obami had to go nuts because Israel was showing “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and because the housing announcement “undermines America’s unique ability to play a role – an essential role, I might add — in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.” Now from Hirsh we hear it’s because it makes Obama look less effective on Iran. (But kicking its allies in the shins will restore that effectiveness and credibility?)

Whatever the question, the answer for this crew is: it’s Israel’s fault.

And who sounds most determined in denying Iran a nuclear weapon? Compare this. Tony Blair:

Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear-weapons capability. They must know that we will do whatever it takes to stop them getting it. The danger is if they suspect for a moment we might allow such a thing. We cannot and will not.

Hillary Clinton:

We are working with our partners in the United Nations on new Security Council sanctions that will show Iran’s leaders that there are real consequences for their intransigence, that the only choice is to live up to their international obligations. Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite. It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring these weapons.

It probably Israel’s fault Hillary gave such a weak speech.

Jonathan, the administration really needs to keep its excuses straight. Hillary at AIPAC said the Obami had to go nuts because Israel was showing “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and because the housing announcement “undermines America’s unique ability to play a role – an essential role, I might add — in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.” Now from Hirsh we hear it’s because it makes Obama look less effective on Iran. (But kicking its allies in the shins will restore that effectiveness and credibility?)

Whatever the question, the answer for this crew is: it’s Israel’s fault.

And who sounds most determined in denying Iran a nuclear weapon? Compare this. Tony Blair:

Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear-weapons capability. They must know that we will do whatever it takes to stop them getting it. The danger is if they suspect for a moment we might allow such a thing. We cannot and will not.

Hillary Clinton:

We are working with our partners in the United Nations on new Security Council sanctions that will show Iran’s leaders that there are real consequences for their intransigence, that the only choice is to live up to their international obligations. Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite. It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring these weapons.

It probably Israel’s fault Hillary gave such a weak speech.

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Gordon Brown: Stand-up Guy

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hasn’t had an easy time of it since finally succeeding Tony Blair in 2007. The dour Scotsman has suffered from the fallout of his Labour party’s having been in power too long to retain the public’s goodwill. His reputation as an expert on financial issues turned out to be a liability rather than an asset when the global economy went in the tank in 2008. And to top it all off, he now has an alliance partner in Washington in Barack Obama, whose contempt for the United Kingdom and its government, as well as the whole concept of the “special relationship” with Britain, is not exactly a secret.

Brown is facing an election sometime this spring, which no one thinks he can win — even though his Conservative opponent David Cameron seems to be losing popularity as he tries to coast into office by simply not being Brown. So when he was called today before the commission investigating Britain’s decision to go to war alongside the United States in Iraq, Brown might have thrown both the Americans and his former boss and rival Blair under the bus and tried to curry favor with a British electorate, which seems to view the war and the close ties between the U.S. and the Blair government with equal disdain.

But if Brown is going down, he’s not doing it like an anti-American weasel. He told the Chilcot Commission that the decision to go to war in Iraq “was the right decision made for the right reasons.” Though he later said that he thought the Americans hadn’t planned adequately for the rebuilding of the country (no kidding) and also made it clear that he was not included in most of the high-level conversations about the war, he stuck by the decision made by Blair and didn’t give any ground to those who have tried to argue that the former prime minister made inappropriate promises of support to George W. Bush.

History, and not the leftist propaganda that has dominated the media discussion of Iraq in both the United States and Britain in recent years on this issue, will be the ultimate judge of the rightness of the decision to liberate Iraq. Many mistakes were made and many lives were lost. But though the testimonies of both Blair and Brown were different in tone — with Blair emphasizing the morality of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, while Brown stuck to the legal questions of the Iraqi dictator’s flouting of UN resolutions — both reaffirmed the just nature of the war. Whether or not Brown is reelected, and there are plenty of good reasons for the British to throw Labour out — it must be stipulated that he conducted himself as an American ally today. If Brown is on the way out, let’s just hope David Cameron proves to be as faithful a friend to the United States as were Blair and Brown. And let’s also hope that Barack Obama treats him better than he has treated Brown.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hasn’t had an easy time of it since finally succeeding Tony Blair in 2007. The dour Scotsman has suffered from the fallout of his Labour party’s having been in power too long to retain the public’s goodwill. His reputation as an expert on financial issues turned out to be a liability rather than an asset when the global economy went in the tank in 2008. And to top it all off, he now has an alliance partner in Washington in Barack Obama, whose contempt for the United Kingdom and its government, as well as the whole concept of the “special relationship” with Britain, is not exactly a secret.

Brown is facing an election sometime this spring, which no one thinks he can win — even though his Conservative opponent David Cameron seems to be losing popularity as he tries to coast into office by simply not being Brown. So when he was called today before the commission investigating Britain’s decision to go to war alongside the United States in Iraq, Brown might have thrown both the Americans and his former boss and rival Blair under the bus and tried to curry favor with a British electorate, which seems to view the war and the close ties between the U.S. and the Blair government with equal disdain.

But if Brown is going down, he’s not doing it like an anti-American weasel. He told the Chilcot Commission that the decision to go to war in Iraq “was the right decision made for the right reasons.” Though he later said that he thought the Americans hadn’t planned adequately for the rebuilding of the country (no kidding) and also made it clear that he was not included in most of the high-level conversations about the war, he stuck by the decision made by Blair and didn’t give any ground to those who have tried to argue that the former prime minister made inappropriate promises of support to George W. Bush.

History, and not the leftist propaganda that has dominated the media discussion of Iraq in both the United States and Britain in recent years on this issue, will be the ultimate judge of the rightness of the decision to liberate Iraq. Many mistakes were made and many lives were lost. But though the testimonies of both Blair and Brown were different in tone — with Blair emphasizing the morality of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, while Brown stuck to the legal questions of the Iraqi dictator’s flouting of UN resolutions — both reaffirmed the just nature of the war. Whether or not Brown is reelected, and there are plenty of good reasons for the British to throw Labour out — it must be stipulated that he conducted himself as an American ally today. If Brown is on the way out, let’s just hope David Cameron proves to be as faithful a friend to the United States as were Blair and Brown. And let’s also hope that Barack Obama treats him better than he has treated Brown.

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No George Bush When It Comes to Our Allies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blair, Israel, and the Global Struggle

In a weekend interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Haaretz asked why British public opinion is “the most anti-Israel” in Europe. “Look, there’s criticism everywhere,” Blair responded. “But that’s partly because people don’t understand how difficult this situation is when you come under attack, your civilians come under attack, and you’re a democratic government and you’re expected to respond.”

Even by itself, that’s a remarkable statement: the problem, according to Blair, is not Israel’s actions; it’s that other Western countries, not facing the same daily assaults, refuse to recognize that if they did, they might respond similarly.

Even more remarkable, however, is the next sentence: “I mean, we face this [situation] continually. We face it now, actually, in places like Afghanistan.”

In short, Westerners should understand Israel because they’re in the same boat: their own armies are causing civilian casualties “in places like Afghanistan” for the exact same reasons.

So why do many Westerners either refuse to see the parallels or regard their own armies’ behavior with similar incomprehension and outrage? In Blair’s view, the heart of the problem is that too many Westerners fail to understand that they face a determined enemy waging a long-term global struggle, not a series of discrete, unrelated local conflicts.

“People sometimes say to me, no, it’s not really Iraq, it’s Afghanistan,” he said. “Someone else will say, no it’s Pakistan, and someone else will say it’s Iraq, and someone else will say it’s Yemen. But actually it’s all of these because in different ways, they represent different challenges that are unified by one single movement with a single ideology. And this is going to be resolved, in my view, over a long period of time. But what is important is that wherever it is fighting us, we’re prepared to fight back … unfortunately, we can’t say: ‘Look, let’s concentrate it here, but not here, and here, and here,’ because that’s not the way this thing’s working. …

“There is a unifying theme, in my view, between what’s happened in countries like our own country with terrorist activity, and what’s happening in places like Yemen or Afghanistan or Somalia or, I’m afraid, other countries. The key to understanding this is [that] this is a global movement with a global ideology and it is one struggle. It’s one struggle with many different arenas. …

“Personally I think we will defeat this terrorism when we understand it is one battle, one struggle.”

Blair never explicitly mentions Israel as a front in this global battle, but his linkage of Israel’s situation with the one “we face … in places like Afghanistan” makes the implication clear. And the conclusion, while similarly inexplicit, is equally clear: were the West to acknowledge its enemy’s true nature, its view of Israel might change.

Since no current Western leader exhibits anything like Blair’s moral clarity, that’s unlikely to happen soon. But given the nature of the enemy, it almost certainly will happen someday. Hence, rather than capitulating to its enemies, Israel’s goal, like Britain’s in World War II, must be to hold fast until then.

In a weekend interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Haaretz asked why British public opinion is “the most anti-Israel” in Europe. “Look, there’s criticism everywhere,” Blair responded. “But that’s partly because people don’t understand how difficult this situation is when you come under attack, your civilians come under attack, and you’re a democratic government and you’re expected to respond.”

Even by itself, that’s a remarkable statement: the problem, according to Blair, is not Israel’s actions; it’s that other Western countries, not facing the same daily assaults, refuse to recognize that if they did, they might respond similarly.

Even more remarkable, however, is the next sentence: “I mean, we face this [situation] continually. We face it now, actually, in places like Afghanistan.”

In short, Westerners should understand Israel because they’re in the same boat: their own armies are causing civilian casualties “in places like Afghanistan” for the exact same reasons.

So why do many Westerners either refuse to see the parallels or regard their own armies’ behavior with similar incomprehension and outrage? In Blair’s view, the heart of the problem is that too many Westerners fail to understand that they face a determined enemy waging a long-term global struggle, not a series of discrete, unrelated local conflicts.

“People sometimes say to me, no, it’s not really Iraq, it’s Afghanistan,” he said. “Someone else will say, no it’s Pakistan, and someone else will say it’s Iraq, and someone else will say it’s Yemen. But actually it’s all of these because in different ways, they represent different challenges that are unified by one single movement with a single ideology. And this is going to be resolved, in my view, over a long period of time. But what is important is that wherever it is fighting us, we’re prepared to fight back … unfortunately, we can’t say: ‘Look, let’s concentrate it here, but not here, and here, and here,’ because that’s not the way this thing’s working. …

“There is a unifying theme, in my view, between what’s happened in countries like our own country with terrorist activity, and what’s happening in places like Yemen or Afghanistan or Somalia or, I’m afraid, other countries. The key to understanding this is [that] this is a global movement with a global ideology and it is one struggle. It’s one struggle with many different arenas. …

“Personally I think we will defeat this terrorism when we understand it is one battle, one struggle.”

Blair never explicitly mentions Israel as a front in this global battle, but his linkage of Israel’s situation with the one “we face … in places like Afghanistan” makes the implication clear. And the conclusion, while similarly inexplicit, is equally clear: were the West to acknowledge its enemy’s true nature, its view of Israel might change.

Since no current Western leader exhibits anything like Blair’s moral clarity, that’s unlikely to happen soon. But given the nature of the enemy, it almost certainly will happen someday. Hence, rather than capitulating to its enemies, Israel’s goal, like Britain’s in World War II, must be to hold fast until then.

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On a Letter from London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Europe to Step Up?

For quite a while — for decades, in fact — it has been fashionable to predict the eclipse of American power. What’s changed over the years is the identity of the country that would knock us off the top perch. In the 1930s and for a long time afterward progressive opinion viewed the Soviet Union as the power that would rise to dominance. Then it was Japan. Now it’s China. But another popular claimant for the top spot has also been Europe, especially since European integration has gotten tighter over the course of the last decade. Many pundits expect — and no doubt hope — that the EU will supplant the U.S. as the world’s most influential actor. There are many problems with this analysis but not the least of them is the EU itself, which shows no desire to wield substantial military power and can’t even achieve much policy coherence to make use of the hard and soft power at its disposal.

The latest evidence of this chronic shortcoming is the selection of the EU’s leadership under its new constitution. As the New York Times notes, “The combination of Belgium’s prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, for the bloc’s presidential post and Catherine Ashton, the European commissioner for trade, who is British, as foreign policy chief leaves the Union without the high-profile leadership for which many had yearned.”

It would have been a very different situation if Tony Blair had been chosen for the top spot and if, say, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, had been chosen as the foreign-policy representative. They would have been a high-profile duo who could have maximized European power. So why choose instead two unknowns of little stature or influence? One suspects that the Europeans chose Van Rompuy and Ashton precisely because they are unlikely to threaten national prerogatives over foreign policy. For all their talk of unity and their actions to achieve some in economic policy, European states remain intensely nationalistic when it comes to the core prerogatives of a nation-state, such as defense and foreign policy. They have little desire to subcontract out those responsibilities to bureaucrats in Brussels. As long as that remains the dominant attitude on the continent — and it shows little sign of changing — the nations of the EU will never achieve the aggregate power that, in theory, the size of their population and economy (both larger than those of the U.S.) would entitle them.

For quite a while — for decades, in fact — it has been fashionable to predict the eclipse of American power. What’s changed over the years is the identity of the country that would knock us off the top perch. In the 1930s and for a long time afterward progressive opinion viewed the Soviet Union as the power that would rise to dominance. Then it was Japan. Now it’s China. But another popular claimant for the top spot has also been Europe, especially since European integration has gotten tighter over the course of the last decade. Many pundits expect — and no doubt hope — that the EU will supplant the U.S. as the world’s most influential actor. There are many problems with this analysis but not the least of them is the EU itself, which shows no desire to wield substantial military power and can’t even achieve much policy coherence to make use of the hard and soft power at its disposal.

The latest evidence of this chronic shortcoming is the selection of the EU’s leadership under its new constitution. As the New York Times notes, “The combination of Belgium’s prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, for the bloc’s presidential post and Catherine Ashton, the European commissioner for trade, who is British, as foreign policy chief leaves the Union without the high-profile leadership for which many had yearned.”

It would have been a very different situation if Tony Blair had been chosen for the top spot and if, say, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, had been chosen as the foreign-policy representative. They would have been a high-profile duo who could have maximized European power. So why choose instead two unknowns of little stature or influence? One suspects that the Europeans chose Van Rompuy and Ashton precisely because they are unlikely to threaten national prerogatives over foreign policy. For all their talk of unity and their actions to achieve some in economic policy, European states remain intensely nationalistic when it comes to the core prerogatives of a nation-state, such as defense and foreign policy. They have little desire to subcontract out those responsibilities to bureaucrats in Brussels. As long as that remains the dominant attitude on the continent — and it shows little sign of changing — the nations of the EU will never achieve the aggregate power that, in theory, the size of their population and economy (both larger than those of the U.S.) would entitle them.

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Re: Clinton, McCain, and Obama: “We Stand United”

As Gordon has noted, today’s joint statement on Darfur, by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, places pressure on the next president to address the ongoing slaughter in Darfur come January. Let’s hope the conflict remains a “Day 1 issue”. For as Gordon also pointed out, nowhere in today’s statement, do the candidates refer to a specific plan to end the violence.

They used the term “unstinting resolve,” which would be assuring if countless issued statements on Darfur were not already riddled with such diplospeak. This August 2007 joint statement on Darfur from Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy called for “quick and decisive action.” This January 2007 joint statement issued by the World Health Organization and various UN departments speaks of “solid guarantees.” This joint statement on Darfur from back in 2004 signed by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and his New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff calls on governments to act “immediately and effectively.” This 2006 joint statement from Tony Blair and Chair of the African Union, Alpha Konare “strongly urge[d]” militias to stop fighting.

Yet, despite all these pleas, the UN has continued to defer to China, while the U.S. has continued to comply with the world’s request for multilateralism. Which means that nothing has been done. So it’s important to remember that, once upon a time, a genuine Darfur proposal was on the table: Senators John McCain and Bob Dole laid out a six-step course of action in 2006, including the establishment of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone.

Since then, global inaction has led to the slaying of untold numbers of innocents. We know that John McCain has long felt the urgent need to be forceful and decisive about the massacre in Darfur. It remains to be seen if Hillary and Obama feel the same, or are content to pen scathing reviews of the Sudanese government, its Chinese and Russian sponsors, and the Janjaweed militias.

As Gordon has noted, today’s joint statement on Darfur, by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, places pressure on the next president to address the ongoing slaughter in Darfur come January. Let’s hope the conflict remains a “Day 1 issue”. For as Gordon also pointed out, nowhere in today’s statement, do the candidates refer to a specific plan to end the violence.

They used the term “unstinting resolve,” which would be assuring if countless issued statements on Darfur were not already riddled with such diplospeak. This August 2007 joint statement on Darfur from Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy called for “quick and decisive action.” This January 2007 joint statement issued by the World Health Organization and various UN departments speaks of “solid guarantees.” This joint statement on Darfur from back in 2004 signed by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and his New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff calls on governments to act “immediately and effectively.” This 2006 joint statement from Tony Blair and Chair of the African Union, Alpha Konare “strongly urge[d]” militias to stop fighting.

Yet, despite all these pleas, the UN has continued to defer to China, while the U.S. has continued to comply with the world’s request for multilateralism. Which means that nothing has been done. So it’s important to remember that, once upon a time, a genuine Darfur proposal was on the table: Senators John McCain and Bob Dole laid out a six-step course of action in 2006, including the establishment of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone.

Since then, global inaction has led to the slaying of untold numbers of innocents. We know that John McCain has long felt the urgent need to be forceful and decisive about the massacre in Darfur. It remains to be seen if Hillary and Obama feel the same, or are content to pen scathing reviews of the Sudanese government, its Chinese and Russian sponsors, and the Janjaweed militias.

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Bomb Rangoon — With Aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brownout

Things are looking bad for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The man who spent ten years plotting, complaining about and backstabbing his boss Tony Blair has now achieved the lowest approval ratings for a Prime Minister in the history of polling on the subject. 55% of Labour’s own supporters believe that their party will have a better chance of winning the country’s next general election (which will have to be held on or before June 3, 2010) if Brown steps down to make way for a new leader. Brown also trails David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, and even the leader of the third-party Liberal Democrats, in approval ratings.

Brown’s fall from grace has been sweet to witness. For so long he believed that the job of Prime Minister was rightfully his, yanked away by a conniving Tony Blair. Now, it seems that the tactics he used to launch an internal coup against Blair two years ago are coming back to haunt him from all sides. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, a Conservative MP asked Brown

As you are the only person in the House with experience of unseating a sitting Prime Minister, what is your own estimate as to how long you’ve got?

Even Tony Blair’s opponents in the left wing of the Labor Party respected him for his political cunning and ability to mainstream Labour into a workable political majority. Brown can’t even accomplish that, and has earned the enmity of many within his own ranks for his recent decision to eliminate the 10 percent income tax rate for the country’s lowest-income citizens, a decision that would have forced over 5 million people into a tax bracket of 20 percent, double what they’re used to paying. Brown had to amend the policy change after a backbench revolt among his party.

I was in London a few weeks ago and attended Prime Minister’s Questions, where I witnessed Conservative leader David Cameron lay into Brown, telling the Prime Minister that he was “a loser, not a leader.” This was a stunning rebuke, even by the normally heated standards of British parliamentary debate. Somewhere from the political depths you could hear Tony Blair laughing, not least because he delivered a similar rhetorical sting to then-Prime Minister John Major in 1995: “I lead my party. He follows his.”

Things are looking bad for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The man who spent ten years plotting, complaining about and backstabbing his boss Tony Blair has now achieved the lowest approval ratings for a Prime Minister in the history of polling on the subject. 55% of Labour’s own supporters believe that their party will have a better chance of winning the country’s next general election (which will have to be held on or before June 3, 2010) if Brown steps down to make way for a new leader. Brown also trails David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, and even the leader of the third-party Liberal Democrats, in approval ratings.

Brown’s fall from grace has been sweet to witness. For so long he believed that the job of Prime Minister was rightfully his, yanked away by a conniving Tony Blair. Now, it seems that the tactics he used to launch an internal coup against Blair two years ago are coming back to haunt him from all sides. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, a Conservative MP asked Brown

As you are the only person in the House with experience of unseating a sitting Prime Minister, what is your own estimate as to how long you’ve got?

Even Tony Blair’s opponents in the left wing of the Labor Party respected him for his political cunning and ability to mainstream Labour into a workable political majority. Brown can’t even accomplish that, and has earned the enmity of many within his own ranks for his recent decision to eliminate the 10 percent income tax rate for the country’s lowest-income citizens, a decision that would have forced over 5 million people into a tax bracket of 20 percent, double what they’re used to paying. Brown had to amend the policy change after a backbench revolt among his party.

I was in London a few weeks ago and attended Prime Minister’s Questions, where I witnessed Conservative leader David Cameron lay into Brown, telling the Prime Minister that he was “a loser, not a leader.” This was a stunning rebuke, even by the normally heated standards of British parliamentary debate. Somewhere from the political depths you could hear Tony Blair laughing, not least because he delivered a similar rhetorical sting to then-Prime Minister John Major in 1995: “I lead my party. He follows his.”

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Streisand in Jerusalem

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

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Silence on Zimbabwe

For the past several days, the trouble in Zimbabwe has been a major international news story. This is not usually the case. Zimbabwe, like most of Africa, is often relegated to page A17–that is, if it even makes it into the paper. Yet when a democratic election turns sour, and the dictator in charge succeeds in stealing it, and the threat of violence hangs in the air, people around the world start to notice. The post-election situation in Zimbabwe has remained on the homepage of The New York Times since Sunday, though that paper’s tenacious coverage of the election aftermath will certainly be affected now that its southern Africa correspondent was arrested late Thursday evening with a group of foreign journalists. Every major news outlet–even cable news!–has devoted some time to Zimbabwe these past few days.

Everyone except, that is, the publications and blogs of the American Left. Browse through the left-wing blogs and the major left-wing magazines like The Nation or The American Prospect, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find much, if anything, on the crisis in Zimbabwe. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that many on the American Left were early supporters of Mugabe and did not really come around to condemning him until it became fashionable to do so, i.e. around 2000, when he began stealing privately-owned farms and the international media took a renewed interest in the dictator. A second reason is that America in general, and George W. Bush in particular, cannot be blamed for what’s going on in Zimbabwe. And so the very real theft of a democratic election isn’t worth writing about. Indeed, Mugabe’s rhetoric about the imperialist aggression of Tony Blair and George W. Bush must be appealing to certain segments of the left blogosphere. The rest, I guess, is silence.

For the past several days, the trouble in Zimbabwe has been a major international news story. This is not usually the case. Zimbabwe, like most of Africa, is often relegated to page A17–that is, if it even makes it into the paper. Yet when a democratic election turns sour, and the dictator in charge succeeds in stealing it, and the threat of violence hangs in the air, people around the world start to notice. The post-election situation in Zimbabwe has remained on the homepage of The New York Times since Sunday, though that paper’s tenacious coverage of the election aftermath will certainly be affected now that its southern Africa correspondent was arrested late Thursday evening with a group of foreign journalists. Every major news outlet–even cable news!–has devoted some time to Zimbabwe these past few days.

Everyone except, that is, the publications and blogs of the American Left. Browse through the left-wing blogs and the major left-wing magazines like The Nation or The American Prospect, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find much, if anything, on the crisis in Zimbabwe. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that many on the American Left were early supporters of Mugabe and did not really come around to condemning him until it became fashionable to do so, i.e. around 2000, when he began stealing privately-owned farms and the international media took a renewed interest in the dictator. A second reason is that America in general, and George W. Bush in particular, cannot be blamed for what’s going on in Zimbabwe. And so the very real theft of a democratic election isn’t worth writing about. Indeed, Mugabe’s rhetoric about the imperialist aggression of Tony Blair and George W. Bush must be appealing to certain segments of the left blogosphere. The rest, I guess, is silence.

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Re: Blair’s a Yale Man Now

Ted Bromund’s analysis of the benefits that Tony Blair will bring to Yale is well taken.  However, the former British Prime Minister’s sudden retreat to New Haven might represent something far more politically significant.  After all, Blair is currently serving as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East, which means his official purpose is to promote the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace—a job that could probably keep one employed forever.  By serving notice after barely eight months on the job, is the once-optimistic Blair signaling that Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects are nil?          

If so, this pessimism might be gaining traction within the Bush administration.  Today, the White House announced that, next week, Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank to discuss “issues of mutual interest.”  Just as Blair will soon be conspicuously absent from the Middle East, the word “peace” was conspicuously absent from Cheney’s press release . . .

Ted Bromund’s analysis of the benefits that Tony Blair will bring to Yale is well taken.  However, the former British Prime Minister’s sudden retreat to New Haven might represent something far more politically significant.  After all, Blair is currently serving as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East, which means his official purpose is to promote the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace—a job that could probably keep one employed forever.  By serving notice after barely eight months on the job, is the once-optimistic Blair signaling that Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects are nil?          

If so, this pessimism might be gaining traction within the Bush administration.  Today, the White House announced that, next week, Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the West Bank to discuss “issues of mutual interest.”  Just as Blair will soon be conspicuously absent from the Middle East, the word “peace” was conspicuously absent from Cheney’s press release . . .

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Blair’s a Yale Man Now

Frankly, my initial reaction, as a Yale lecturer, on hearing that Tony Blair will spend 2008-09 at Yale as the Howland Distinguished Fellow (he’ll be teaching a seminar on “faith and globalization”) was that it puts us one up on Harvard. My second was to predict to myself that while Blair will receive a rapturous reception from the students, a few of his faculty colleagues will likely be no more than civil. This new position will not make Blair any better liked by his enemies at home, among whom his interest in matters of faith was almost as unpopular as his friendship with President Bush. Indeed, the two were often linked. The comment forums of the various British newspapers are already lighting up with predictable abuse, and the tinfoil hat brigade is asserting various implausible connections between the university, assorted multinationals, President Bush, Blair, and, inevitably, the Iraq War.

Blair’s choice of seminar subject must be seen in light of the fact that, later in the year, he will launch the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which will promote interfaith dialogue and understanding between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. But it’s possible to doubt his thesis that the central problem in the Middle East is the relationship between the “Abrahamic religions,” as he prefers to call them. The real problem, I’d say, is that the Middle East is largely ruled by dictators who see no law larger than themselves.

But Blair’s arrival is a contribution nonetheless. Over fifty years ago, William F. Buckley decried the retreat of faith at Yale. By the late 1990′s, it was no longer discussed here in any serious way: indeed, it was simply never mentioned. Since 9/11, interest in faith as a force in human affairs has begun to return at Yale. Blair’s seminar marks a further, higher-profile reinforcement of that vital trend. Even if you disagree with his diagnosis of the Middle East, he will be teaching the young and eager about things that truly matter.

Welcome to Yale, Mr. Prime Minister.

Frankly, my initial reaction, as a Yale lecturer, on hearing that Tony Blair will spend 2008-09 at Yale as the Howland Distinguished Fellow (he’ll be teaching a seminar on “faith and globalization”) was that it puts us one up on Harvard. My second was to predict to myself that while Blair will receive a rapturous reception from the students, a few of his faculty colleagues will likely be no more than civil. This new position will not make Blair any better liked by his enemies at home, among whom his interest in matters of faith was almost as unpopular as his friendship with President Bush. Indeed, the two were often linked. The comment forums of the various British newspapers are already lighting up with predictable abuse, and the tinfoil hat brigade is asserting various implausible connections between the university, assorted multinationals, President Bush, Blair, and, inevitably, the Iraq War.

Blair’s choice of seminar subject must be seen in light of the fact that, later in the year, he will launch the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which will promote interfaith dialogue and understanding between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. But it’s possible to doubt his thesis that the central problem in the Middle East is the relationship between the “Abrahamic religions,” as he prefers to call them. The real problem, I’d say, is that the Middle East is largely ruled by dictators who see no law larger than themselves.

But Blair’s arrival is a contribution nonetheless. Over fifty years ago, William F. Buckley decried the retreat of faith at Yale. By the late 1990′s, it was no longer discussed here in any serious way: indeed, it was simply never mentioned. Since 9/11, interest in faith as a force in human affairs has begun to return at Yale. Blair’s seminar marks a further, higher-profile reinforcement of that vital trend. Even if you disagree with his diagnosis of the Middle East, he will be teaching the young and eager about things that truly matter.

Welcome to Yale, Mr. Prime Minister.

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Wanting Blair Back

Tony Blair saved the British Labor Party from self-destruction. He rescued its future when he became leader in 1994, and moved it away from its constitutional socialism to the type of New Democrat-style centrist-liberalism championed by Bill Clinton. It was largely Blair’s modernization of the party—pulling it away from the domineering control of the country’s obstinate labor unions—that was responsible for its landslide victory in 1997 and for its continuing governance of the country today.

But by the time Tony Blair resigned last year, his approval ratings had sunk and his friends were few. The conventional wisdom reads that Blair’s support for the Iraq War and his closeness to President Bush is to blame. This may be true, and if it is, it says much about the British electorate, seeing that their country has not seen an international statesman of Blair’s character since Churchill.

Michael Gove, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a prolific writer, had a piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal arguing that for all of Blair’s faults, his successor Gordon Brown’s mishandling of several key foreign policy issues ought to make Laborites pine for the old days. Brown has made clear his attempt to distance himself from Blair’s freedom agenda, appointing individuals like Mark Malloch Brown to key Foreign Office posts and deploying his international development secretary to Washington to warn against dependence on “military might.” Most ridiculous have been the British government’s secret attempts to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan—a rebel force conducting an insurgency against a coalition force comprising 8,000 British servicemen—allegations that Brown has denied. It’s hard not to agree with Gove’s conclusion:

And so Mr. Blair’s judgment has been vindicated on another issue as well—his succession. We can all understand now why he tried, for as long as possible, to avoid handing over power to his flawed No. 2.

Tony Blair saved the British Labor Party from self-destruction. He rescued its future when he became leader in 1994, and moved it away from its constitutional socialism to the type of New Democrat-style centrist-liberalism championed by Bill Clinton. It was largely Blair’s modernization of the party—pulling it away from the domineering control of the country’s obstinate labor unions—that was responsible for its landslide victory in 1997 and for its continuing governance of the country today.

But by the time Tony Blair resigned last year, his approval ratings had sunk and his friends were few. The conventional wisdom reads that Blair’s support for the Iraq War and his closeness to President Bush is to blame. This may be true, and if it is, it says much about the British electorate, seeing that their country has not seen an international statesman of Blair’s character since Churchill.

Michael Gove, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a prolific writer, had a piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal arguing that for all of Blair’s faults, his successor Gordon Brown’s mishandling of several key foreign policy issues ought to make Laborites pine for the old days. Brown has made clear his attempt to distance himself from Blair’s freedom agenda, appointing individuals like Mark Malloch Brown to key Foreign Office posts and deploying his international development secretary to Washington to warn against dependence on “military might.” Most ridiculous have been the British government’s secret attempts to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan—a rebel force conducting an insurgency against a coalition force comprising 8,000 British servicemen—allegations that Brown has denied. It’s hard not to agree with Gove’s conclusion:

And so Mr. Blair’s judgment has been vindicated on another issue as well—his succession. We can all understand now why he tried, for as long as possible, to avoid handing over power to his flawed No. 2.

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Brown Comes A Cropper

On Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported results “among the most devastating for any government in the history of opinion polling”: the proportion of voters satisfied with Gordon Brown as prime minister has fallen to 23 percent. As the New York Times put it yesterday, this is a complete “reversal of fortune” from Brown’s summer dominance. His only consolation is that he has time to recover before he has to call an election in May 2010.

We have seen this movie before. In April 1955, Anthony Eden, the prime minister in waiting since 1951, took over Number 10 from Winston Churchill. Eden won a general election in May 1955, but by January 1957, destroyed by the Suez Crisis, he was out of office, replaced by Harold Macmillan.

Brown’s error was to fail to do the one thing Eden did right: hold (and win) an election soon after coming to power. Tony Blair tripped Brown up by leaving in June: Brown could not have gone to the polls until early October. But Brown made matters worse first by dithering, and then by announcing on October 6 that he had decided against calling an
election. By late September, the Tories were making up ground; since then, they have sprinted ahead.

The parallel is not just between Eden and Brown. The Marquess of Salisbury was followed in 1902 by Arthur Balfour, who lasted only three years. Stanley Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, who left in May 1940. Winston Churchill was followed by Eden, gone in 1957. Harold Macmillan’s successor was Alec Douglas-Home, who survived only a year. Harold Wilson made room in 1976 for James Callaghan, who lost to Thatcher in 1979. Margaret Thatcher dominated the 1980’s, but her heir John Major, though he won victory against the odds in 1992, was routed by Blair in 1997. And now Blair’s heir has run onto the rocks six months after ousting his former leader.

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On Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported results “among the most devastating for any government in the history of opinion polling”: the proportion of voters satisfied with Gordon Brown as prime minister has fallen to 23 percent. As the New York Times put it yesterday, this is a complete “reversal of fortune” from Brown’s summer dominance. His only consolation is that he has time to recover before he has to call an election in May 2010.

We have seen this movie before. In April 1955, Anthony Eden, the prime minister in waiting since 1951, took over Number 10 from Winston Churchill. Eden won a general election in May 1955, but by January 1957, destroyed by the Suez Crisis, he was out of office, replaced by Harold Macmillan.

Brown’s error was to fail to do the one thing Eden did right: hold (and win) an election soon after coming to power. Tony Blair tripped Brown up by leaving in June: Brown could not have gone to the polls until early October. But Brown made matters worse first by dithering, and then by announcing on October 6 that he had decided against calling an
election. By late September, the Tories were making up ground; since then, they have sprinted ahead.

The parallel is not just between Eden and Brown. The Marquess of Salisbury was followed in 1902 by Arthur Balfour, who lasted only three years. Stanley Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, who left in May 1940. Winston Churchill was followed by Eden, gone in 1957. Harold Macmillan’s successor was Alec Douglas-Home, who survived only a year. Harold Wilson made room in 1976 for James Callaghan, who lost to Thatcher in 1979. Margaret Thatcher dominated the 1980’s, but her heir John Major, though he won victory against the odds in 1992, was routed by Blair in 1997. And now Blair’s heir has run onto the rocks six months after ousting his former leader.

Historian David Cannadine has described this pattern in twentieth-century British history as “the village fiddler after Paganini”: a dominant leader followed by a supposedly heavyweight successor who immediately comes a cropper. Why? Bad luck is a political reality, and the Prime Ministerial successors, taken as a group, may simply have been less talented than their predecessors.

But fundamentally, the pattern exists because in parliamentary systems a government can fall with a single vote. Therefore, as Churchill put it, “the loyalties which centre upon number one are enormous. If he trips he must be sustained.” But though a British party will manifest intense loyalty to the leader that puts it into power, it never feels as strongly about his successor.

Occasionally, as in 1957, a party can discard the successor and rally around a new leader: Brown may be forced to make way for a new Labour leader at a time not of his choosing. But such successes are rare. The odds are that Brown, having turned down, will keep going that way and ride his party to defeat.

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The Ruddslide

The Labor Party swept to power in today’s election in Australia, ending eleven years of rule by the center-right coalition led by the Liberals. The result is being called “a Ruddslide.” Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat, will be the nation’s next leader.

The losers in the election were the long-serving John Howard—and George W. Bush. No other national leader—not even Tony Blair—was a stauncher supporter of the American President than the now-defeated Australian prime minister. The two shared a conservative outlook on almost every matter of importance.

“Today Australia has looked to the future,” Rudd said as he claimed victory. So what does his version of the future hold for the United States? Howard famously accepted the job of America’s “deputy sheriff” in the Asia-Pacific region. Canberra under Rudd will move away from Washington. The Labor Party, for instance, will sign the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning President Bush on climate change. More important, Rudd will withdraw Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq (although he will keep about a thousand Australians in supporting positions in that troubled country).

Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and Sinophile, will also move his nation closer to China, which has been fueling Australia’s economic boom by purchasing iron ore and coal in large quantities. The United States already has its problems in Asia, some of them self-inflicted but most caused by the Chinese. The Australian election was not a referendum on the United States, but the ignominious removal of Howard from the scene—it appears that he will be the first sitting prime minister to lose his seat in Parliament since 1929—does mean that Washington can no longer count on an important voice in this critical part of the world.

The Labor Party swept to power in today’s election in Australia, ending eleven years of rule by the center-right coalition led by the Liberals. The result is being called “a Ruddslide.” Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat, will be the nation’s next leader.

The losers in the election were the long-serving John Howard—and George W. Bush. No other national leader—not even Tony Blair—was a stauncher supporter of the American President than the now-defeated Australian prime minister. The two shared a conservative outlook on almost every matter of importance.

“Today Australia has looked to the future,” Rudd said as he claimed victory. So what does his version of the future hold for the United States? Howard famously accepted the job of America’s “deputy sheriff” in the Asia-Pacific region. Canberra under Rudd will move away from Washington. The Labor Party, for instance, will sign the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning President Bush on climate change. More important, Rudd will withdraw Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq (although he will keep about a thousand Australians in supporting positions in that troubled country).

Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and Sinophile, will also move his nation closer to China, which has been fueling Australia’s economic boom by purchasing iron ore and coal in large quantities. The United States already has its problems in Asia, some of them self-inflicted but most caused by the Chinese. The Australian election was not a referendum on the United States, but the ignominious removal of Howard from the scene—it appears that he will be the first sitting prime minister to lose his seat in Parliament since 1929—does mean that Washington can no longer count on an important voice in this critical part of the world.

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BBC Crimes and Misdemeanors

Peter Fincham, the controller for England’s BBC One broadcasting channel, recently resigned. Fincham quit after the “Beeb,” as it is known in the UK, showed a documentary that misleadingly suggested (by juggling images) that Queen Elizabeth had stormed out of a photo session with American photographer Annie Leibovitz. Although leaving any session with Leibovitz, the much-overpraised ex-lover of the late writer Susan Sontag, might merely be a sign of good taste, the Beeb has elsewhere shown a murky relationship with factual accuracy, notably in its wildly biased anti-Israel posturing.

In 2003, the British Ministry of Defense weapons expert David Kelly committed suicide after BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan cited him (falsely, according to Kelly as well as a later public inquiry) as having said that Tony Blair’s government had “sexed up” a report on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion of Iraq. More recently, the BBC’s crimes against accuracy and humanity are most visible in that abomination of a channel known as BBC America, which panders to the lowest imaginable level of viewer, filling its program schedule with miserable fare like a show in which pathetic Brits desperately sell all their belongings in order to purchase a Jacuzzi, or some such. In another program, harridans accuse hapless guests of having filthy homes. BBC America also presents rude English sociopaths as quiz hosts, fashion advisers and chefs, no doubt based on some marketing study that points to execrable Brit multi-millionaires like American Idol’s Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, who have cashed in by following the theory that it is impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the American public. Never mind that BBC-TV contains a matchless archival library of great performances on film by actors like John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Judi Dench, not to mention fascinating classical music concerts and other riches. BBC America offers no culture, none whatsoever, since blatant monetary greed as a cash cow is its only reason for existing.

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Peter Fincham, the controller for England’s BBC One broadcasting channel, recently resigned. Fincham quit after the “Beeb,” as it is known in the UK, showed a documentary that misleadingly suggested (by juggling images) that Queen Elizabeth had stormed out of a photo session with American photographer Annie Leibovitz. Although leaving any session with Leibovitz, the much-overpraised ex-lover of the late writer Susan Sontag, might merely be a sign of good taste, the Beeb has elsewhere shown a murky relationship with factual accuracy, notably in its wildly biased anti-Israel posturing.

In 2003, the British Ministry of Defense weapons expert David Kelly committed suicide after BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan cited him (falsely, according to Kelly as well as a later public inquiry) as having said that Tony Blair’s government had “sexed up” a report on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion of Iraq. More recently, the BBC’s crimes against accuracy and humanity are most visible in that abomination of a channel known as BBC America, which panders to the lowest imaginable level of viewer, filling its program schedule with miserable fare like a show in which pathetic Brits desperately sell all their belongings in order to purchase a Jacuzzi, or some such. In another program, harridans accuse hapless guests of having filthy homes. BBC America also presents rude English sociopaths as quiz hosts, fashion advisers and chefs, no doubt based on some marketing study that points to execrable Brit multi-millionaires like American Idol’s Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, who have cashed in by following the theory that it is impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the American public. Never mind that BBC-TV contains a matchless archival library of great performances on film by actors like John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Judi Dench, not to mention fascinating classical music concerts and other riches. BBC America offers no culture, none whatsoever, since blatant monetary greed as a cash cow is its only reason for existing.

A report in the Guardian last April that BBC America plans to stop showing its unbearable Benny Hill reruns is cold comfort, considering its slew of newly minted trash TV like the brainless Footballers’ Wives, a miserable Brit wannabe fantasy based on ancient American TV trash like Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and The Love Boat.

It is clear from its programming over the years that the dim bulbs in charge of BBC America truly believe that Aaron Spelling is to be worshiped and slavishly imitated. As in the case of Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell, what is vilest in Brit broadcasting all too easily becomes assimilated as part of America’s imbecilic TV scene. Paul Lee, who launched BBC America in 1998, was hired as president of the ABC Family network in 2004, doubtless due to his track record of providing the stupidest, most crassly profitable viewing material imaginable. Until the BBC and BBC America recall that some aspects of British culture are in fact admirable and of permanent interest, it looks like the channels will maintain their TV imitation of Yankee stupidity.

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