Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. government

Democracy and the Egyptian Education System

According to a newly released study, Egyptian youth are less prepared for democracy than their Tunisian peers, the Jerusalem Post reported today.

The report, by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), found that the curriculum taught in Egyptian classrooms “lower[s] the chances for the emergence of a liberal democratic government”:

“A comparative report shows that the Egyptian people have not been taught the importance of democracy and accepting others,” the report explains. “While school textbooks in Egypt urge tolerance towards Copts and call for religious moderation and peace, they deny the existence of the State of Israel and contain anti-Jewish material. … The Egyptian curriculum emphasizes self-sacrifice for the sake of the homeland and war narratives, rather than peace.”

The anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism taught in Egyptian schools could certainly have an impact on the country’s democratic development — but the U.S. isn’t blameless in this situation. This is exactly the type of cultural reform that the U.S. could have pushed for years ago.

And despite the problems that the intolerance in the education system may cause down the line, there’s not much that can be done to change the culture at the moment. Does this mean that Egyptians don’t deserve a shot at democracy as much as Tunisians do? Of course not. But it’s just one more example of how unprepared the U.S. government was for regime change in Egypt.

According to a newly released study, Egyptian youth are less prepared for democracy than their Tunisian peers, the Jerusalem Post reported today.

The report, by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), found that the curriculum taught in Egyptian classrooms “lower[s] the chances for the emergence of a liberal democratic government”:

“A comparative report shows that the Egyptian people have not been taught the importance of democracy and accepting others,” the report explains. “While school textbooks in Egypt urge tolerance towards Copts and call for religious moderation and peace, they deny the existence of the State of Israel and contain anti-Jewish material. … The Egyptian curriculum emphasizes self-sacrifice for the sake of the homeland and war narratives, rather than peace.”

The anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism taught in Egyptian schools could certainly have an impact on the country’s democratic development — but the U.S. isn’t blameless in this situation. This is exactly the type of cultural reform that the U.S. could have pushed for years ago.

And despite the problems that the intolerance in the education system may cause down the line, there’s not much that can be done to change the culture at the moment. Does this mean that Egyptians don’t deserve a shot at democracy as much as Tunisians do? Of course not. But it’s just one more example of how unprepared the U.S. government was for regime change in Egypt.

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State Dept: Turkey’s Report on Flotilla ‘Independent and Credible’

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has —

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission. Read More

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has —

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission.

What we do know is that the Israeli investigation was headed by a former Supreme Court justice and supervised by foreign observers, while Ankara’s commission was an internal government investigation closed to observers. So not so much with the independence either.

Of course, the U.S. government has an obligation to maintain ties with NATO member Turkey. We’ve got nukes there, among other interests. But Turkey’s report is going to be cited to formally condemn Israel in international forums, just like the Goldstone Report is still being cited in ostensibly binding resolutions. Turkey is already trying to mainstream its lies from the other direction, in the form of a vicious anti-Jewish film of the kind not seen on the Continent since the 1940s. The cross-pollination between anti-Semitic venom and international “findings” is a real one — Durban I and II have proved as much — and the Turkish claim is not a “contradictory point of view” or a “valid perspective.” It’s a blood libel.

Eventually, the U.S. will have to decide whether it wants to stop anti-Semitic invective of the kind found in the Turkish report from becoming an international resolution. If it does, U.S. diplomats will need to state the truth, as demonstrated by everything from videos to Turkish journalists on the Mavi Marmara: terrorist supporters backed by the Turkish government attempted to break a legal blockade imposed on a terrorist group seeking a UN member’s annihilation, and those terrorists’ supporters ambushed troops who attempted to nonviolently intercept them. U.S. diplomats will also have to insist that implying otherwise is simply untenable.

Saying the opposite now, even in an attempt to kick the can down the road, will make that task awkward.

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Is All Criticism of Israel Out of Bounds?

That’s what Chas Freeman claimed during a panel discussion with Steve Clemons this week. In an attempt to defend himself against charges that he’s an “Israel-basher,” Freeman argued that anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government is labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

“I think we have a very sad situation in this country … in which any criticism of, whatever it is, that the current government of Israel is doing, is immediately cited as evidence of anti-Israel bias, or anti-Semitism,” said Freeman.

This is a false argument. There is nothing biased or anti-Semitic about criticizing or disagreeing with Israeli policy. But the criticism can become biased or anti-Semitic when it’s disproportionate, dishonest, or consistently one-sided.

Freeman gives a perfect example of this when he launches into his theory about how the Israel lobby has a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy:

The United States essentially has disqualified itself as a mediator. I say that with great sadness, because I believe on many occasions we had opportunities to go for peace, I think there has been an implicit promise of peace on many occasions and we did not do that. We cannot play the role of mediator because of the political hammerlock that the right wing in Israel through its supporters here exercises in our politics. We are simply biased.

If someone’s analysis of the Middle East conflict is derived from the deeply paranoid theory that the U.S. government policy is controlled by a group of American citizens acting as Israeli foreign agents, then the term “Israel-basher” sounds like a pretty fair characterization.

That’s what Chas Freeman claimed during a panel discussion with Steve Clemons this week. In an attempt to defend himself against charges that he’s an “Israel-basher,” Freeman argued that anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government is labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

“I think we have a very sad situation in this country … in which any criticism of, whatever it is, that the current government of Israel is doing, is immediately cited as evidence of anti-Israel bias, or anti-Semitism,” said Freeman.

This is a false argument. There is nothing biased or anti-Semitic about criticizing or disagreeing with Israeli policy. But the criticism can become biased or anti-Semitic when it’s disproportionate, dishonest, or consistently one-sided.

Freeman gives a perfect example of this when he launches into his theory about how the Israel lobby has a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy:

The United States essentially has disqualified itself as a mediator. I say that with great sadness, because I believe on many occasions we had opportunities to go for peace, I think there has been an implicit promise of peace on many occasions and we did not do that. We cannot play the role of mediator because of the political hammerlock that the right wing in Israel through its supporters here exercises in our politics. We are simply biased.

If someone’s analysis of the Middle East conflict is derived from the deeply paranoid theory that the U.S. government policy is controlled by a group of American citizens acting as Israeli foreign agents, then the term “Israel-basher” sounds like a pretty fair characterization.

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Rand Paul Calls for End to Foreign Aid

Sen. Rand Paul appears to be following in his father, Ron Paul’s, footsteps. The newly elected libertarian senator told Wolf Blitzer that he wants the U.S. to end all foreign aid, including aid to Israel, during an interview on Wednesday.

“When you send foreign aid, you actually [send] quite a bit to Israel’s enemies. Islamic nations around Israel get quite a bit of foreign aid, too,” said Paul. “You have to ask yourself, are we funding an arms race on both sides?”

Israel has become increasingly prosperous, and as far back as 1996, at the start of his first term as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a gradual end to all U.S. economic aid, though the need for military assistance has, if anything, become more imperative since then.

And it’s not unreasonable to say that the criteria for countries receiving foreign aid should be reviewed. But it’s utterly wrong to say that cutting off foreign aid completely would somehow benefit the United States and its allies.

The U.S. doesn’t give financial assistance to foreign countries out of a moral imperative; it does so because these contributions support U.S. national-security interests.

Unstable nations that are mired in poverty are more likely to become breeding grounds for terrorist organizations, so foreign aid can help in that regard. More important, foreign aid is an excellent — and relatively cheap way — of purchasing international influence. The U.S. government can provide or withhold financial aid at any time based on a country’s behavior.

Paul clearly hasn’t been able to grasp this concept. While foreign countries may be getting money, what the U.S. gets in return is much more valuable.

Sen. Rand Paul appears to be following in his father, Ron Paul’s, footsteps. The newly elected libertarian senator told Wolf Blitzer that he wants the U.S. to end all foreign aid, including aid to Israel, during an interview on Wednesday.

“When you send foreign aid, you actually [send] quite a bit to Israel’s enemies. Islamic nations around Israel get quite a bit of foreign aid, too,” said Paul. “You have to ask yourself, are we funding an arms race on both sides?”

Israel has become increasingly prosperous, and as far back as 1996, at the start of his first term as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a gradual end to all U.S. economic aid, though the need for military assistance has, if anything, become more imperative since then.

And it’s not unreasonable to say that the criteria for countries receiving foreign aid should be reviewed. But it’s utterly wrong to say that cutting off foreign aid completely would somehow benefit the United States and its allies.

The U.S. doesn’t give financial assistance to foreign countries out of a moral imperative; it does so because these contributions support U.S. national-security interests.

Unstable nations that are mired in poverty are more likely to become breeding grounds for terrorist organizations, so foreign aid can help in that regard. More important, foreign aid is an excellent — and relatively cheap way — of purchasing international influence. The U.S. government can provide or withhold financial aid at any time based on a country’s behavior.

Paul clearly hasn’t been able to grasp this concept. While foreign countries may be getting money, what the U.S. gets in return is much more valuable.

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Irrelevance Is a Choice

The Obama administration is making policy with its effective silence on the events in Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt. As Rick and Max both pointed out, Obama last night said nothing that mattered about these portentous developments. Hillary Clinton’s State Department has been notable only for its meaningless bromides. Clinton herself crowned a week of ineffectual gestures by expressing the “hope” today “that it will be the people of Lebanon themselves, not outside forces, that will sustain the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.”

We’ve been watching the Hezbollah train wreck unfold for nearly two weeks now, and the U.S. government is doing nothing. It doesn’t even matter if there are minor things being done in secret somewhere: the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are the kinds of events that cry out for public statements of U.S. policy, interests, and intention. The most important thing our president can do is frame the issues of freedom, consensual government, and national self-determination as strategic interests of the United States and the community of nations.

These are not abstractions we are dealing with. It’s not as if the locations in question are distant from global tradeways. They are hardly irrelevant to the security of our allies or the worldwide threat of Islamist terrorism. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the aspirants to regional leadership with the potential of countering Iran’s influence, have stepped back from Lebanon to regroup. Their prospects have, until now, always depended on a reliably dominant and interested posture from the United States — but that condition is absent today. Their abandonment of the unity-government process in Lebanon is an even more significant development than Hezbollah’s outmaneuvering of France and the last-minute, Sarkozy-sponsored “contact group.”

I’m not sure the Obama administration understands what many in the blogosphere have already seen: that a geopolitical transformation is underway — one more fundamental than any we have seen since 1945. There was always a likelihood that modern Arab peoples would rise up against their despotic leaders. And we have known for years what Hezbollah was up to in Lebanon. But it was not and is not inevitable that their dramas would play out without intervention from or reference to the United States. That aspect of the events is our president’s choice.

“Smart power” — diplomacy, rhetoric, engagement, aid, the forming of coalitions, the leveraging of the UN, the dispatching of singular individuals as envoys and inspirational leaders — these measures are exactly what is called for in the current circumstances. U.S. leadership in the Lebanese crisis — which would have benefited from common goals with France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — could have signaled Hezbollah that the time was not ripe for a summary action. A similar principle applies to Tunisia and Egypt; engagement and the guarding of our interests could be quite effective without having a military character.

But instead of smart power, there is simply a void. The nature of democratic leadership is to act visibly, openly, and persuasively; if there are no visible actions being taken, there is no leadership. The cost of this feckless inaction will be very high, but there has been nothing dictating our posture of disengagement. Each step of the way, it has been a choice.

The Obama administration is making policy with its effective silence on the events in Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt. As Rick and Max both pointed out, Obama last night said nothing that mattered about these portentous developments. Hillary Clinton’s State Department has been notable only for its meaningless bromides. Clinton herself crowned a week of ineffectual gestures by expressing the “hope” today “that it will be the people of Lebanon themselves, not outside forces, that will sustain the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.”

We’ve been watching the Hezbollah train wreck unfold for nearly two weeks now, and the U.S. government is doing nothing. It doesn’t even matter if there are minor things being done in secret somewhere: the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are the kinds of events that cry out for public statements of U.S. policy, interests, and intention. The most important thing our president can do is frame the issues of freedom, consensual government, and national self-determination as strategic interests of the United States and the community of nations.

These are not abstractions we are dealing with. It’s not as if the locations in question are distant from global tradeways. They are hardly irrelevant to the security of our allies or the worldwide threat of Islamist terrorism. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the aspirants to regional leadership with the potential of countering Iran’s influence, have stepped back from Lebanon to regroup. Their prospects have, until now, always depended on a reliably dominant and interested posture from the United States — but that condition is absent today. Their abandonment of the unity-government process in Lebanon is an even more significant development than Hezbollah’s outmaneuvering of France and the last-minute, Sarkozy-sponsored “contact group.”

I’m not sure the Obama administration understands what many in the blogosphere have already seen: that a geopolitical transformation is underway — one more fundamental than any we have seen since 1945. There was always a likelihood that modern Arab peoples would rise up against their despotic leaders. And we have known for years what Hezbollah was up to in Lebanon. But it was not and is not inevitable that their dramas would play out without intervention from or reference to the United States. That aspect of the events is our president’s choice.

“Smart power” — diplomacy, rhetoric, engagement, aid, the forming of coalitions, the leveraging of the UN, the dispatching of singular individuals as envoys and inspirational leaders — these measures are exactly what is called for in the current circumstances. U.S. leadership in the Lebanese crisis — which would have benefited from common goals with France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — could have signaled Hezbollah that the time was not ripe for a summary action. A similar principle applies to Tunisia and Egypt; engagement and the guarding of our interests could be quite effective without having a military character.

But instead of smart power, there is simply a void. The nature of democratic leadership is to act visibly, openly, and persuasively; if there are no visible actions being taken, there is no leadership. The cost of this feckless inaction will be very high, but there has been nothing dictating our posture of disengagement. Each step of the way, it has been a choice.

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USAID: Mend It, Don’t End It

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

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Lebanon: Too Quiet?

As the situation goes from bad to worse in Lebanon, there are odd little signs. Chief among them are the comments made by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal when he quit the Saudis’ mediation effort in Beirut on Wednesday. Saying the situation was dangerous, he told Al-Arabiya: “If the situation reaches full separation and (regional) partition, this means the end of Lebanon as a state that has this model of peaceful cohabitation between religions and ethnicities.”

These words have meaning. It’s arresting enough that the Saudis have pulled out; they have been particularly assiduous about diplomacy in Lebanon, overlaying repeated bromides about unity and cohabitation on their campaign to retain Sunni Arab influence there. Pulling out of the mediation effort with bridge-burning rhetoric is uncharacteristic of the Saudis to an even greater degree. Meanwhile, envoys from Turkey and Qatar also suspended their mediation efforts on Thursday, announcing that they needed to consult with their governments. All things being equal, these pullouts don’t make sense. The parties in question have a history of intensive prior engagement in Lebanon, particularly in the 2006 and 2008 crises. Nothing suggests they are suddenly content to leave Lebanon’s fate to Syria and Hezbollah.

But all things may not be equal. It’s quite possible that the regional nations are not losing their interest in Lebanon: they are losing their interest in the mediation process with the unity government. The Turks and the Sunni Arabs may not agree on all their strategic objectives, but they can see what is obvious: that the unity government of Lebanon has become, in key ways, a convenience for Hezbollah and Iran. Its perpetual weakness gives Hezbollah latitude, while at the same time making the commitment of other governments to it a net disadvantage for their long-term goals.

Nothing in Lebanon changes quickly. There is a prospect for a new unity government, with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt joining Hezbollah in backing perennial prime-minister-of-convenience Omar Karami. Karami’s stints as a figurehead have lasted only a few months each time, but the fiction of business as usual in Lebanon could persist for a while; it may even involve some passing interest in Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal for a multi-party contact group.

The words of Saud al-Faisal, however, are the most striking feature of the current crisis. Set next to the news that the chief of the Lebanese armed forces has been in Syria this week, consulting directly with Bashar al-Assad on military cooperation, they have an ominous ring. Any alternative to the status quo in Lebanon will involve foreign arms taking on Hezbollah. With regional nations abandoning the mediation effort, and the Saudi statement implying that something other than the unity-government construct is in prospect, the commitment to the status quo is looking weak.

The U.S. government might still play a decisive role, but the conditions are not propitious. The timing of Ambassador Robert Ford’s arrival in Syria — this week — makes it more likely that the U.S. will simply be seen as endorsing a Syrian-backed deal to install Omar Karami as prime minister. That move — a convenience to buy time — would merely put the status quo on life support. With no U.S. plan to prevent Hezbollah and Iran from exploiting the status quo in Lebanon, the other nations of the region are planning for a future beyond it.

As the situation goes from bad to worse in Lebanon, there are odd little signs. Chief among them are the comments made by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal when he quit the Saudis’ mediation effort in Beirut on Wednesday. Saying the situation was dangerous, he told Al-Arabiya: “If the situation reaches full separation and (regional) partition, this means the end of Lebanon as a state that has this model of peaceful cohabitation between religions and ethnicities.”

These words have meaning. It’s arresting enough that the Saudis have pulled out; they have been particularly assiduous about diplomacy in Lebanon, overlaying repeated bromides about unity and cohabitation on their campaign to retain Sunni Arab influence there. Pulling out of the mediation effort with bridge-burning rhetoric is uncharacteristic of the Saudis to an even greater degree. Meanwhile, envoys from Turkey and Qatar also suspended their mediation efforts on Thursday, announcing that they needed to consult with their governments. All things being equal, these pullouts don’t make sense. The parties in question have a history of intensive prior engagement in Lebanon, particularly in the 2006 and 2008 crises. Nothing suggests they are suddenly content to leave Lebanon’s fate to Syria and Hezbollah.

But all things may not be equal. It’s quite possible that the regional nations are not losing their interest in Lebanon: they are losing their interest in the mediation process with the unity government. The Turks and the Sunni Arabs may not agree on all their strategic objectives, but they can see what is obvious: that the unity government of Lebanon has become, in key ways, a convenience for Hezbollah and Iran. Its perpetual weakness gives Hezbollah latitude, while at the same time making the commitment of other governments to it a net disadvantage for their long-term goals.

Nothing in Lebanon changes quickly. There is a prospect for a new unity government, with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt joining Hezbollah in backing perennial prime-minister-of-convenience Omar Karami. Karami’s stints as a figurehead have lasted only a few months each time, but the fiction of business as usual in Lebanon could persist for a while; it may even involve some passing interest in Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal for a multi-party contact group.

The words of Saud al-Faisal, however, are the most striking feature of the current crisis. Set next to the news that the chief of the Lebanese armed forces has been in Syria this week, consulting directly with Bashar al-Assad on military cooperation, they have an ominous ring. Any alternative to the status quo in Lebanon will involve foreign arms taking on Hezbollah. With regional nations abandoning the mediation effort, and the Saudi statement implying that something other than the unity-government construct is in prospect, the commitment to the status quo is looking weak.

The U.S. government might still play a decisive role, but the conditions are not propitious. The timing of Ambassador Robert Ford’s arrival in Syria — this week — makes it more likely that the U.S. will simply be seen as endorsing a Syrian-backed deal to install Omar Karami as prime minister. That move — a convenience to buy time — would merely put the status quo on life support. With no U.S. plan to prevent Hezbollah and Iran from exploiting the status quo in Lebanon, the other nations of the region are planning for a future beyond it.

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The Beginning of the End of Swiss ‘Active Neutrality’?

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

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The FBI Thought AIPAC’s Rosen Was a Spy for Israel

The Washington Times reported today that the FBI believed that former AIPAC lobbyist Steven Rosen was a spy for Israel when it got a warrant to search his office in 2004. The evidence? Rosen was allegedly taking notes during meetings with U.S. officials and then passing the information along to other officials. So basically, he was being a lobbyist. Which makes sense, since that was his job.

But that logic didn’t seem to faze the FBI, which used the information to portray Rosen as an Israeli agent in order to embark on what sounds like a fishing expedition. “Based upon my training and experience as an counterintelligence investigator, I believe Rosen is collecting U.S. government sensitive and classified information, not only as part of his employment at AIPAC, but as an agent of [Israel],” FBI agent Eric Lurie wrote in the affidavit for the warrant.

Of course, FBI officials never actually found any evidence of spying during their searches, and Rosen was never charged with espionage.

“The FBI followed me around for five years, they searched my office and searched my home, and they never found any classified documents, because there were none to find,” Rosen told the Times.

Which raises a troubling question — why was the FBI so eager to go after an AIPAC official for activities that seem typical for the job description of a lobbyist?

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told the Times that some segments of the intelligence community are still highly suspicious of Israeli intelligence-gathering, even decades after the convicted of Jonathan Pollard.

“I believe this goes back to this notion that there was a second Pollard and it was bigger than Pollard,” Foxman said. “I would rather they pursue this, come up with nothing, rather than not be given the opportunity to pursue it and saying, ‘if only they let us, we would find something.'”

I agree with Foxman that the officials should have the opportunity to carry on these searches, because it may help debunk this illogical suspicion. But I also find it concerning that the FBI can harass someone for years based on flimsy evidence simply because of a connection to Israel.

The Washington Times reported today that the FBI believed that former AIPAC lobbyist Steven Rosen was a spy for Israel when it got a warrant to search his office in 2004. The evidence? Rosen was allegedly taking notes during meetings with U.S. officials and then passing the information along to other officials. So basically, he was being a lobbyist. Which makes sense, since that was his job.

But that logic didn’t seem to faze the FBI, which used the information to portray Rosen as an Israeli agent in order to embark on what sounds like a fishing expedition. “Based upon my training and experience as an counterintelligence investigator, I believe Rosen is collecting U.S. government sensitive and classified information, not only as part of his employment at AIPAC, but as an agent of [Israel],” FBI agent Eric Lurie wrote in the affidavit for the warrant.

Of course, FBI officials never actually found any evidence of spying during their searches, and Rosen was never charged with espionage.

“The FBI followed me around for five years, they searched my office and searched my home, and they never found any classified documents, because there were none to find,” Rosen told the Times.

Which raises a troubling question — why was the FBI so eager to go after an AIPAC official for activities that seem typical for the job description of a lobbyist?

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told the Times that some segments of the intelligence community are still highly suspicious of Israeli intelligence-gathering, even decades after the convicted of Jonathan Pollard.

“I believe this goes back to this notion that there was a second Pollard and it was bigger than Pollard,” Foxman said. “I would rather they pursue this, come up with nothing, rather than not be given the opportunity to pursue it and saying, ‘if only they let us, we would find something.'”

I agree with Foxman that the officials should have the opportunity to carry on these searches, because it may help debunk this illogical suspicion. But I also find it concerning that the FBI can harass someone for years based on flimsy evidence simply because of a connection to Israel.

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RE: The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

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Iran Nuclear Sabotage Helps Delay Inevitable

Outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s recent assessment that Iran won’t be able to build a bomb until 2015 appears to be further evidence that the sabotage campaign against the Iranian nuclear facilities is working beautifully. At the Washington Post, David Ignatius has the same impression:

What’s increasingly clear is that low-key weapons — covert sabotage and economic sanctions — are accomplishing many of the benefits of military action, without the costs. It’s a devious approach — all the more so because it’s accompanied by near-constant U.S. proposals of diplomatic dialogue — but in that sense, it matches Iran’s own operating style of pursuing multiple options at once.

Officials won’t discuss the clandestine program of cyberattack and other sabotage being waged against the Iranian nuclear program. Yet we see the effects – in crashing centrifuges and reduced operations of the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz — but don’t understand the causes. That’s the way covert action is supposed to work.

Sabotage operations include the widely publicized Stuxnet virus, which has wreaked havoc on Iran’s facilities. But there have also been other less-reported operations that have helped slow the nuclear process. Over the summer, the New Republic’s Eli Lake reported that several Western countries had launched an extensive clandestine program aimed at undermining Iranian nuclear efforts:

Michael Adler, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, put it this way: “It seems to be clear that there is an active and imaginative sabotage program from several Western nations as well as Israel involving booby-trapping equipment which the Iranians are procuring, tricking black-market smugglers, cyber-operations, and recruiting scientists.” Three current U.S. government officials confirmed that sabotage operations have been a key part of American plans to slow down the Iranian program—and that they are continuing under Obama.

Of course, so far these operations have been able only to delay, not prevent, Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And while they help buy the U.S. more time to consider whether to take military action, obviously the decision can’t be put off forever.

Outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s recent assessment that Iran won’t be able to build a bomb until 2015 appears to be further evidence that the sabotage campaign against the Iranian nuclear facilities is working beautifully. At the Washington Post, David Ignatius has the same impression:

What’s increasingly clear is that low-key weapons — covert sabotage and economic sanctions — are accomplishing many of the benefits of military action, without the costs. It’s a devious approach — all the more so because it’s accompanied by near-constant U.S. proposals of diplomatic dialogue — but in that sense, it matches Iran’s own operating style of pursuing multiple options at once.

Officials won’t discuss the clandestine program of cyberattack and other sabotage being waged against the Iranian nuclear program. Yet we see the effects – in crashing centrifuges and reduced operations of the Iranian enrichment facility at Natanz — but don’t understand the causes. That’s the way covert action is supposed to work.

Sabotage operations include the widely publicized Stuxnet virus, which has wreaked havoc on Iran’s facilities. But there have also been other less-reported operations that have helped slow the nuclear process. Over the summer, the New Republic’s Eli Lake reported that several Western countries had launched an extensive clandestine program aimed at undermining Iranian nuclear efforts:

Michael Adler, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, put it this way: “It seems to be clear that there is an active and imaginative sabotage program from several Western nations as well as Israel involving booby-trapping equipment which the Iranians are procuring, tricking black-market smugglers, cyber-operations, and recruiting scientists.” Three current U.S. government officials confirmed that sabotage operations have been a key part of American plans to slow down the Iranian program—and that they are continuing under Obama.

Of course, so far these operations have been able only to delay, not prevent, Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And while they help buy the U.S. more time to consider whether to take military action, obviously the decision can’t be put off forever.

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WikiLeaks Debunks History for Stupid People

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

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The Left’s Ornery Adolescents

Why are those Americans who are most distrustful of the U.S. government, and so eager to undermine it, the same ones who are most desperate to give it control over their own lives? Michael Moore has made a big P.R. show of his pledge to pay Julian Assange’s bail. “WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions,” he writes, and puts the U.S. government on notice: “You simply can’t be trusted.” Moore offers advice to those of us who see something wrong with Assange. “[A]ll I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey.” Right. Instead, you should be naïve about how government works when it decides to take control of your health care, regulate your business, and spend your earnings. Moore, you may have forgotten, calls for the U.S. government to provide “free, universal health care for life” for “every resident of the United States” and demands that “pharmaceutical companies … be strictly regulated like a public utility.” That’s the old anti–Big Brother spirit.

When men like Michael Moore are not calling for the government to be undermined and defied, they’re petitioning for it to chauffeur them to the movies, cook their meals, and tuck them into bed. One news cycle finds HBO’s Bill Maher telling America not to allow the government to inject “a disease into your arm” in the form of a vaccine and that “I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.” The next, he’s calling for “Medicare for all” and lamenting the absence of a fully government-run health-care system that would operate like the U.S. postal service.

At the Nation, progressive totem Tom Hayden penned an article titled “WikiLeaks vs. The Empire,” defending Assange on the grounds that “the closed doors of power need to be open to public review” and noting that “the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us.” Oh, and about that secretive and untrustworthy “Empire”? Hayden wants to put it in charge of the health care of all Americans, naturally.

This paradoxical political posturing resembles nothing so much as middle-class adolescent rebellion. Troubled kids protest their parents’ dangerous values, their authoritarianism, their materialism, and the moral hypocrisy that keeps the whole farcical delusion afloat. But most of all, they protest the piddling allowance on which no self-respecting 13-year-old old can be expected to keep himself in the latest combat-based video games, faddish clothes, and instantly gratifying gadgetry.

The troubled kids of the left distrust the extraordinary powers wielded by their leaders in the name of safety and well-being — but it’s also a real bummer that the government won’t assert more power to keep us safe and well.

Why are those Americans who are most distrustful of the U.S. government, and so eager to undermine it, the same ones who are most desperate to give it control over their own lives? Michael Moore has made a big P.R. show of his pledge to pay Julian Assange’s bail. “WikiLeaks, God bless them, will save lives as a result of their actions,” he writes, and puts the U.S. government on notice: “You simply can’t be trusted.” Moore offers advice to those of us who see something wrong with Assange. “[A]ll I ask is that you not be naive about how the government works when it decides to go after its prey.” Right. Instead, you should be naïve about how government works when it decides to take control of your health care, regulate your business, and spend your earnings. Moore, you may have forgotten, calls for the U.S. government to provide “free, universal health care for life” for “every resident of the United States” and demands that “pharmaceutical companies … be strictly regulated like a public utility.” That’s the old anti–Big Brother spirit.

When men like Michael Moore are not calling for the government to be undermined and defied, they’re petitioning for it to chauffeur them to the movies, cook their meals, and tuck them into bed. One news cycle finds HBO’s Bill Maher telling America not to allow the government to inject “a disease into your arm” in the form of a vaccine and that “I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.” The next, he’s calling for “Medicare for all” and lamenting the absence of a fully government-run health-care system that would operate like the U.S. postal service.

At the Nation, progressive totem Tom Hayden penned an article titled “WikiLeaks vs. The Empire,” defending Assange on the grounds that “the closed doors of power need to be open to public review” and noting that “the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us.” Oh, and about that secretive and untrustworthy “Empire”? Hayden wants to put it in charge of the health care of all Americans, naturally.

This paradoxical political posturing resembles nothing so much as middle-class adolescent rebellion. Troubled kids protest their parents’ dangerous values, their authoritarianism, their materialism, and the moral hypocrisy that keeps the whole farcical delusion afloat. But most of all, they protest the piddling allowance on which no self-respecting 13-year-old old can be expected to keep himself in the latest combat-based video games, faddish clothes, and instantly gratifying gadgetry.

The troubled kids of the left distrust the extraordinary powers wielded by their leaders in the name of safety and well-being — but it’s also a real bummer that the government won’t assert more power to keep us safe and well.

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WikiLeaks, Treason, and Plot

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime. Read More

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime.

But we should note that the military already has an elaborate set of rules for information security. The problem in this case, if Manning’s own account is valid, is that some of those rules were not being enforced in his work facility in Iraq. There is nothing unusual about junior personnel having access to secret information; intelligence analysts need it to do their jobs. But Manning says he took writable CDs into a secure area and pretended to listen to music from them while copying files to them on a secret-level computer. Everything about this is a breach of sound security policy, and the military is well aware of that.

I signed a dozen oaths in my 20 years in Naval Intelligence to never do — on pain of severe penalties — what Bradley Manning is charged with doing. The rules to prevent it have long been in place. The apparent systemic failures in this case were the poor IT security at Manning’s former command and the inattention of supervisors to the red flags in Manning’s personnel profile, such as his propensity to get into fights with other soldiers. Better application of prudent policy guidelines could well have prevented the whole incident.

Expanding government supervision and control of the Internet, however, would be a disproportionate and mistargeted response. As with gunpowder, the inherent nature of the tool can’t be altered; it can only be made the pretext for restrictions and limitations on the human users. And as with 17th-century England’s prohibitions on the ownership of gunpowder by Catholics, such regulatory prophylaxis invites invidious application.

Criminalizing the role of Julian Assange, meanwhile, could easily carry unintended consequences. We in the liberal nations are not always aligned against the disclosers of government secrets. Should Iran or Cuba be able to demand extradition of a foreigner who publishes their governments’ secrets? Should Russia or China? There is the real danger of a misapplied remedy here. Bluster from our senators is about as close as we need to get to making bad law on the basis of a hard case.

The gunpowder analogy isn’t perfect. But the last two lines of the Gunpowder Plot ditty frame the correct priority for addressing the WikiLeaks Plot:

I see no reason why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

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A Performance That Will Live in Infamy

I’m not sure I could have gotten through the Obama press conference just now without John’s bracing live-blog posts. I have to say, the president’s political performance was the most partisan I have seen from an American chief executive. The references to the needs of the people were perfunctory and disordered, at best. The cast of President Obama’s rhetoric was entirely in the mold of the bruised ideologue.

I don’t recall Obama ever coming off in a national forum quite so much like a leftist community organizer. In demonizing his political opponents, lecturing his base, and vowing to fight on in a long struggle, Obama appeared to be channeling his political roots in radical activism. He evoked an activist street fighter on the steps of city hall more than a president of the United States. The president is our head of government but also our head of state: a ceremonial symbol of national unity. One of his chief duties is to be happy about that.

As a partisan performance, Obama’s today didn’t stop with the relatively benign Democrat-versus-Republican divide. It recalled the European political sense in which partisanship is narrowly based on ethnicity or ideology, and opposes the putative complacency of all social compacts and central authorities. I suspect that one of the most difficult things for Obama himself, as well as for the more radical in his political base, is coming to grips with the truth that some homage must still be paid to the traditional compact of the U.S. government with its people. It was not, in fact, politically possible for Obama or the Democrats in Congress to imperil the finances of the middle class with a quixotic standoff over raising tax rates on the wealthy.

The people are, by and large, middle-class householders with no interest in suffering to make ideological points. The source of Obama’s peculiar dissonance in American politics is that he doesn’t feel, in his gut, that that is a good thing.

I’m not sure I could have gotten through the Obama press conference just now without John’s bracing live-blog posts. I have to say, the president’s political performance was the most partisan I have seen from an American chief executive. The references to the needs of the people were perfunctory and disordered, at best. The cast of President Obama’s rhetoric was entirely in the mold of the bruised ideologue.

I don’t recall Obama ever coming off in a national forum quite so much like a leftist community organizer. In demonizing his political opponents, lecturing his base, and vowing to fight on in a long struggle, Obama appeared to be channeling his political roots in radical activism. He evoked an activist street fighter on the steps of city hall more than a president of the United States. The president is our head of government but also our head of state: a ceremonial symbol of national unity. One of his chief duties is to be happy about that.

As a partisan performance, Obama’s today didn’t stop with the relatively benign Democrat-versus-Republican divide. It recalled the European political sense in which partisanship is narrowly based on ethnicity or ideology, and opposes the putative complacency of all social compacts and central authorities. I suspect that one of the most difficult things for Obama himself, as well as for the more radical in his political base, is coming to grips with the truth that some homage must still be paid to the traditional compact of the U.S. government with its people. It was not, in fact, politically possible for Obama or the Democrats in Congress to imperil the finances of the middle class with a quixotic standoff over raising tax rates on the wealthy.

The people are, by and large, middle-class householders with no interest in suffering to make ideological points. The source of Obama’s peculiar dissonance in American politics is that he doesn’t feel, in his gut, that that is a good thing.

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More Long-Term Repercussions of WikiLeaks

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

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David Brooks’s Unconvincing Defense of His Employer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The New York Times in the Age of Gawker

In a previous post on WikiLeaks, I suggested that if the New York Times is serious about its commitment to openness, it should publish its own deliberations for all to see. A further thought occurred to me: What, I ask myself, would I have done if I were the editor of a major publication that had been given access to a trove of stolen New York Times documents? I suppose it depends on what was in them. If they revealed malfeasance at the Times (e.g., deliberate publication of false information or providing coverage in return for payoffs or rampant plagiarism), I would probably publish them.

But there is nothing like that in the documents WikiLeaks has so far uncovered. They provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others — but not the U.S. government. At least as far as I know. What then would I do with documents of great gossip value but little news value? I suppose it depends on which publication I worked for. If it were a gossip site like Gawker, no doubt I would gleefully publish the Times documents for sheer embarrassment value — and to get attention for myself. But what if I were the editor of a responsible, serious news organ? Then I would return the documents to Times editor Bill Keller on the principle that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” In days past, the Times fancied itself the most responsible and serious of publications. Today, alas, it seems to have sunk to the level of Gawker.

In a previous post on WikiLeaks, I suggested that if the New York Times is serious about its commitment to openness, it should publish its own deliberations for all to see. A further thought occurred to me: What, I ask myself, would I have done if I were the editor of a major publication that had been given access to a trove of stolen New York Times documents? I suppose it depends on what was in them. If they revealed malfeasance at the Times (e.g., deliberate publication of false information or providing coverage in return for payoffs or rampant plagiarism), I would probably publish them.

But there is nothing like that in the documents WikiLeaks has so far uncovered. They provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others — but not the U.S. government. At least as far as I know. What then would I do with documents of great gossip value but little news value? I suppose it depends on which publication I worked for. If it were a gossip site like Gawker, no doubt I would gleefully publish the Times documents for sheer embarrassment value — and to get attention for myself. But what if I were the editor of a responsible, serious news organ? Then I would return the documents to Times editor Bill Keller on the principle that “gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” In days past, the Times fancied itself the most responsible and serious of publications. Today, alas, it seems to have sunk to the level of Gawker.

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Challenge to the New York Times: Publish Your Internal Correspondence

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks. Read More

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks.

Actually, let’s make our document request broader: the Times should share with the world all its internal correspondence going back years. That would include, of course, memos that disclose the identity of anonymous sources, including sources who may have risked their lives to reveal information to Times reporters. Of course, just as it does with government documents, we would give the Times the privilege of redacting a few names and facts — at least in a few of the versions that are published on the Internet.

My suspicion — call it a hunch — is that the Times won’t accept my modest suggestion. Their position, in effect, is “secrecy for me but not for thee.” But why? Can the Times editors possibly argue with a straight face that their deliberations are more important and more privileged than the work of our soldiers and diplomats? No doubt the editors can see all the damage that releasing their own documents would do — it would have a chilling effect on internal discourse and on the willingness of sources to share information with Times reporters. But they seem blind to the fact that precisely the same damage is being done to the United States government with consequences potentially far more momentous.

The most persuasive argument the Times has made is that “most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides.” That’s true, but that doesn’t eradicate the Times’s responsibility for choosing to act as a press agent and megaphone for WikiLeaks. When in 1942 the Chicago Tribune published an article making clear that the U.S. had broken Japanese codes before the Battle of Midway, other newspapers did not rush to hype the scoop. They let it pass with virtually no notice, and the Japanese may never have become aware of the disclosure. Imagine if a similar attitude were shown today by so-called responsible media organs. How many people would really go to the WikiLeaks website to trawl through hundreds of thousands of memoranda? Some harm would undoubtedly still result from WikiLeaks’s action, but it would be far less than when mainstream media organs amplify Wikileaks’s irresponsible disclosures.

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What to Do About the Failed Bush-Obama Approach to NoKo

If you sense that the international threats are multiplying — from Syria, from Iran, from North Korea — you are right. That suggests that the Obama team’s assertion — that our problems in the world are traceable to insufficiently smart diplomacy by the Bush team — is wrong. The Fox News Sunday roundtable had an enlightening discussion on the North Korean problem:

LIZ CHENEY: … I think that we’ve seen time and time again, North Korea, if they test a nuclear weapon, there are no consequences. If they build a reactor for the Syrians, there are no consequences. And what they’ve learned is that their belligerence, in fact, oftentimes yields from us capitulation and concessions.

I think that it’s time for us to put them back on the terrorist list, and I think it’s time for to us be very direct with China and say, you know, if you really do want to be the world power that you aspire to be, you’ve got to step up to the plate here. You can’t just benefit from the open economic system in the United States, from the open economies around the world. If you really do view yourself as a world power, and you want the rest of the world to you view you that way —

CHRIS WALLACE: But don’t you think we’re saying that?

CHENEY: I don’t know. I don’t think that we are, actually. I think that we’ve been tiptoeing around the Chinese. I think if you look at what happened last July, when we said we were going to have joint military exercises with the South Koreans, the Chinese objected and said don’t do it in the Yellow Sea. We said OK and we moved it. … I think we should be clear to the Chinese that if they don’t step up to the plate and get the North Koreans — they are the North Korean’s largest trading partner, their closer ally. If they do not engage more effectively and directly in getting the North Koreans to stop what they’re doing, the result will be a nuclear proliferation in that neighborhood. … Read More

If you sense that the international threats are multiplying — from Syria, from Iran, from North Korea — you are right. That suggests that the Obama team’s assertion — that our problems in the world are traceable to insufficiently smart diplomacy by the Bush team — is wrong. The Fox News Sunday roundtable had an enlightening discussion on the North Korean problem:

LIZ CHENEY: … I think that we’ve seen time and time again, North Korea, if they test a nuclear weapon, there are no consequences. If they build a reactor for the Syrians, there are no consequences. And what they’ve learned is that their belligerence, in fact, oftentimes yields from us capitulation and concessions.

I think that it’s time for us to put them back on the terrorist list, and I think it’s time for to us be very direct with China and say, you know, if you really do want to be the world power that you aspire to be, you’ve got to step up to the plate here. You can’t just benefit from the open economic system in the United States, from the open economies around the world. If you really do view yourself as a world power, and you want the rest of the world to you view you that way —

CHRIS WALLACE: But don’t you think we’re saying that?

CHENEY: I don’t know. I don’t think that we are, actually. I think that we’ve been tiptoeing around the Chinese. I think if you look at what happened last July, when we said we were going to have joint military exercises with the South Koreans, the Chinese objected and said don’t do it in the Yellow Sea. We said OK and we moved it. … I think we should be clear to the Chinese that if they don’t step up to the plate and get the North Koreans — they are the North Korean’s largest trading partner, their closer ally. If they do not engage more effectively and directly in getting the North Koreans to stop what they’re doing, the result will be a nuclear proliferation in that neighborhood. …

As the conversation unfolds, Juan Williams accuses Cheney and Bill Kristol of “warmongering” — although neither suggested the use of military force. Cheney and Kristol did suggest a change in approach, which plainly doesn’t amount to going to war against North Korea:

CHENEY: Do you think that what we’ve been doing for the last five years has worked? I mean, what we’ve been doing, basically, is saying we’re going to offer carrots to the North Koreans, because we’re going to talk them out of their program, and we’re going to plead with them to stop? And, by the way, we’re going to ignore evidence that they have got an enrichment program going on, which we learned this week they actually do have going on. …

WILLIAMS: But I must say, the Chinese have now said let’s have more six-party talks. The U.S. government, the Obama administration, has refused those talks. They don’t want more talks. They’re being very clear and hard-lined. So, it does not seem to me that your argument that there is somehow softness going on here is in the play at all. What’s going on is we need to find a way to resolve the issue, and the administration, contrary to what Bill had to say, has been demonstrating admirable restraint and not warmongering and saying, oh, yes, go in there and start a fight that you can’t finish.

KRISTOL: I’m not for warmongering. I am for doing whatever you can do through covert action and other — bribes (ph) and everything. … If they’re doing it, more power to them. Just as in Iran, the stocks (ph) and that virus (ph) seems to have slowed down their nuclear program.

As with Iran, what’s going to do more good, all the talks we’ve had, or actually subverting their nuclear program? In North Korea, what would do the most good is trying to find fissures in the military, people who are upset about his 27-year-old son taking over, and bringing down the regime.

So do we continue the failed engagement tactics of the last years of the Bush administration and the first two years of this one, or do we try something new — more direct discussion with China, increased military presence in the region, commitment to regime change in North Korea, and refraining from rewarding North Korea’s bad behavior? Attempts at engagement have failed — spectacularly so. It seems we have little choice but to try something different. And no, it’s not “warmongering” to oppose aggression by our foes.

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