Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. government

WikiLeaks and Consequences

When all is said and done regarding the WikiLeaks diplomatic-cable data dump, two things may be of special note. One is that on the day of the promised dump, WikiLeaks is suffering a massive but relatively low-tech cyber attack. Experts observe that the U.S. government has more sophisticated ways to commit cyber-sabotage; it’s not clear who would be doing this, or why.

The other noteworthy aspect of the event is the topic Max Boot discusses: the complicity of the mainstream media in publicizing the WikiLeaks gambit and creating buzz about it. I certainly agree that the media organizations have behaved as irresponsibly as Max outlines. And it’s worth reflecting, if only briefly, on the ambulance-chasing level to which they seem to have descended in a professional sense.

The New York Times’s top “revelation” from the cables is a case in point. The authors inform us breathlessly that the U.S. has been secretly pressing Pakistan to better secure the high-enriched uranium at a research-reactor complex. But who could be surprised by this? The New York Times itself published an extensive report in 2007 on America’s detailed, hands-on efforts to improve nuclear security in Pakistan. In April 2010, during President Obama’s nuclear-security summit, the Times documented the unique concern among Western leaders with the new research reactors being built in Pakistan. The UN is pressing Pakistan to place the new reactors under IAEA supervision. Nuclear security in Pakistan has been a major topic for pundits and diplomats for quite a while now. The U.S. has made it the focus of a key bilateral project since 9/11. The surprise — especially for faithful readers of the New York Times — would be if America were not actively working to make Pakistan’s high-enriched uranium more secure.

A free press has often meant an adversarial press, and that in itself is not inherently bad. But an adversarial posture is justified by the constructiveness of its goals. There is a noticeably sophomoric element in the mainstream media’s cooperation with WikiLeaks: an indiscriminate enthusiasm for anything that’s being kept secret by the authorities, regardless of its objective value as information. We can only hope that the New York Times editorial staff will eventually make use of its own archives to put today’s uninteresting parade of revelations in context.

I would disagree with Max on one thing. The worth of the latest WikiLeaks dump is greater than zero — and greater even than its value in notifying us about Qaddafi’s voluptuous Ukrainian nurse. Its true value lies in confirming what hawks and conservatives have been saying about global security issues. China’s role in missile transfers from North Korea to Iran; Syria’s determined arming of Hezbollah; Iran’s use of Red Crescent vehicles to deliver weapons to terrorists; Obama’s strong-arming of foreign governments to accept prisoners from Guantanamo — these are things many news organizations are reporting prominently only because they have been made known through a WikiLeaks dump. In the end, WikiLeaks’s most enduring consequences may be the unintended ones.

When all is said and done regarding the WikiLeaks diplomatic-cable data dump, two things may be of special note. One is that on the day of the promised dump, WikiLeaks is suffering a massive but relatively low-tech cyber attack. Experts observe that the U.S. government has more sophisticated ways to commit cyber-sabotage; it’s not clear who would be doing this, or why.

The other noteworthy aspect of the event is the topic Max Boot discusses: the complicity of the mainstream media in publicizing the WikiLeaks gambit and creating buzz about it. I certainly agree that the media organizations have behaved as irresponsibly as Max outlines. And it’s worth reflecting, if only briefly, on the ambulance-chasing level to which they seem to have descended in a professional sense.

The New York Times’s top “revelation” from the cables is a case in point. The authors inform us breathlessly that the U.S. has been secretly pressing Pakistan to better secure the high-enriched uranium at a research-reactor complex. But who could be surprised by this? The New York Times itself published an extensive report in 2007 on America’s detailed, hands-on efforts to improve nuclear security in Pakistan. In April 2010, during President Obama’s nuclear-security summit, the Times documented the unique concern among Western leaders with the new research reactors being built in Pakistan. The UN is pressing Pakistan to place the new reactors under IAEA supervision. Nuclear security in Pakistan has been a major topic for pundits and diplomats for quite a while now. The U.S. has made it the focus of a key bilateral project since 9/11. The surprise — especially for faithful readers of the New York Times — would be if America were not actively working to make Pakistan’s high-enriched uranium more secure.

A free press has often meant an adversarial press, and that in itself is not inherently bad. But an adversarial posture is justified by the constructiveness of its goals. There is a noticeably sophomoric element in the mainstream media’s cooperation with WikiLeaks: an indiscriminate enthusiasm for anything that’s being kept secret by the authorities, regardless of its objective value as information. We can only hope that the New York Times editorial staff will eventually make use of its own archives to put today’s uninteresting parade of revelations in context.

I would disagree with Max on one thing. The worth of the latest WikiLeaks dump is greater than zero — and greater even than its value in notifying us about Qaddafi’s voluptuous Ukrainian nurse. Its true value lies in confirming what hawks and conservatives have been saying about global security issues. China’s role in missile transfers from North Korea to Iran; Syria’s determined arming of Hezbollah; Iran’s use of Red Crescent vehicles to deliver weapons to terrorists; Obama’s strong-arming of foreign governments to accept prisoners from Guantanamo — these are things many news organizations are reporting prominently only because they have been made known through a WikiLeaks dump. In the end, WikiLeaks’s most enduring consequences may be the unintended ones.

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Center for Constitutional Rights: What It Means to Hate America

There is appropriate horror being expressed today all over the blogosphere about the statement released by the radical leftist group called the Center for Constitutional Rights on the verdict in the Ghailani trial: “CCR questions the ability of anyone who is Muslim to receive a truly fair trial in any American judicial forum post-9/11,” it says. “However, on balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal criminal trials are far superior to military commissions for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit evidence obtained by torture. If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani’s acquittal on 284 counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him.”

The astounding and vicious vulgarity of the sentiments expressed here — no Muslim can get a fair trial, anyone dissatisfied with the fact that a man who confessed to his role in the murder of 224 people has been acquitted of those killings should be more upset that the person who killed those people was treated roughly by agents of the U.S. government — tells you everything you need to know about the Center for Constitutional Rights. Atop a CCR website posting by a member of the organization’s board denouncing the guilty verdict and sentencing of Lynne Stewart, a lawyer who served as a courier for terrorist messages sent through her from her imprisoned client to his network, is a quote from Karl Marx: “At all times throughout history the ideology of the ruling class is the ruling ideology.” That same item described Stewart’s client, the “blind sheikh” Abdel Rahman, as “was the leading oppositionist to the U.S.-sponsored Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt,” whereas in fact what he did was oversee the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

The Lynne Stewart monstrousness is of a piece with the monstrous work done by CCR altogether. It is run by Michael Ratner, who conveniently espouses a hate-America and evils-of-capitalism philosophy even as he swims in his own family’s real estate billions. (His brother Bruce is, among other things, the Machiavellian developer of Atlantic Yards, the Brooklyn megaproject.) It is, and I say this advisedly, an evil organization. In the guise of protecting civil liberties, it uses the American legal system to attack the American political system and the American way of life. Its approach is to offer aggressively self-righteous defenses of the morally indefensible — i.e., the logic that says a waterboard is worse than a killing — in a classic bait-and-switch according to which any form of state action against anyone is unacceptable unless that person happens to be a cop, a soldier, or an official of the U.S. government, in which case he is guilty until proven innocent.

So while I share the disgust expressed by Benjamin Wittes, Tom Joscelyn, and others, it just seems all in a day’s work for the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization whose loathing of America is exceeded only by its masterful exploitation and manipulation of America’s blessings.

There is appropriate horror being expressed today all over the blogosphere about the statement released by the radical leftist group called the Center for Constitutional Rights on the verdict in the Ghailani trial: “CCR questions the ability of anyone who is Muslim to receive a truly fair trial in any American judicial forum post-9/11,” it says. “However, on balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal criminal trials are far superior to military commissions for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit evidence obtained by torture. If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani’s acquittal on 284 counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him.”

The astounding and vicious vulgarity of the sentiments expressed here — no Muslim can get a fair trial, anyone dissatisfied with the fact that a man who confessed to his role in the murder of 224 people has been acquitted of those killings should be more upset that the person who killed those people was treated roughly by agents of the U.S. government — tells you everything you need to know about the Center for Constitutional Rights. Atop a CCR website posting by a member of the organization’s board denouncing the guilty verdict and sentencing of Lynne Stewart, a lawyer who served as a courier for terrorist messages sent through her from her imprisoned client to his network, is a quote from Karl Marx: “At all times throughout history the ideology of the ruling class is the ruling ideology.” That same item described Stewart’s client, the “blind sheikh” Abdel Rahman, as “was the leading oppositionist to the U.S.-sponsored Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt,” whereas in fact what he did was oversee the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

The Lynne Stewart monstrousness is of a piece with the monstrous work done by CCR altogether. It is run by Michael Ratner, who conveniently espouses a hate-America and evils-of-capitalism philosophy even as he swims in his own family’s real estate billions. (His brother Bruce is, among other things, the Machiavellian developer of Atlantic Yards, the Brooklyn megaproject.) It is, and I say this advisedly, an evil organization. In the guise of protecting civil liberties, it uses the American legal system to attack the American political system and the American way of life. Its approach is to offer aggressively self-righteous defenses of the morally indefensible — i.e., the logic that says a waterboard is worse than a killing — in a classic bait-and-switch according to which any form of state action against anyone is unacceptable unless that person happens to be a cop, a soldier, or an official of the U.S. government, in which case he is guilty until proven innocent.

So while I share the disgust expressed by Benjamin Wittes, Tom Joscelyn, and others, it just seems all in a day’s work for the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization whose loathing of America is exceeded only by its masterful exploitation and manipulation of America’s blessings.

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But What If the Markets Won’t Go Along?

Those darn markets have minds of their own. The Fed’s scheme to print cash and buy $600 billion in bonds aims to drive up the price of bonds and drive down yields (interest rates). Fewer bonds, higher prices, and lower yields. But the markets have rebelled, and investors have dumped bonds, thereby driving bond prices down and yields up — the exact opposite of what the Fed intended. Oops. This report explains:

Bucking the Federal Reserve’s efforts to push interest rates lower, investors are selling off U.S. government debt, driving rates in many cases to their highest levels in more than three months.

The Fed’s $600 billion program to buy Treasury bonds began late last week and is kicking into high gear this week, with the central bank buying up tens of billions of dollars of debt. …

The trend is a potential problem for the economy and the Fed. Rates had fallen sharply for months in anticipation of a Fed buying program, and in a short time much of that effect has been lost, spelling an unwelcome rise in borrowing costs throughout the economy.

That could throw a wrench in what the Fed is trying to accomplish: to use low rates to encourage more borrowing and risk-taking by consumers, businesses and investors, thereby reviving growth.

This may be a blip, or it may be a sign that investors are now wary of holding USD-denominated assets. After all, if the Fed is going to devalue the currency, why not get into other assets that will hold their value?

What this does show is that the Fed is playing with fire, trying a gambit with many unintended consequences. (“Still, the recent move in rates has been jarring, raising some market worries that the Fed’s program might be ineffective or backfiring. That could damage the Fed’s credibility and raise borrowing costs broadly.”) When the new Congress convenes, oversight hearings should explore whether Helicopter Ben’s plan has the potential to deliver more harm rather help — both to the economy and the Fed’s reputation.

Those darn markets have minds of their own. The Fed’s scheme to print cash and buy $600 billion in bonds aims to drive up the price of bonds and drive down yields (interest rates). Fewer bonds, higher prices, and lower yields. But the markets have rebelled, and investors have dumped bonds, thereby driving bond prices down and yields up — the exact opposite of what the Fed intended. Oops. This report explains:

Bucking the Federal Reserve’s efforts to push interest rates lower, investors are selling off U.S. government debt, driving rates in many cases to their highest levels in more than three months.

The Fed’s $600 billion program to buy Treasury bonds began late last week and is kicking into high gear this week, with the central bank buying up tens of billions of dollars of debt. …

The trend is a potential problem for the economy and the Fed. Rates had fallen sharply for months in anticipation of a Fed buying program, and in a short time much of that effect has been lost, spelling an unwelcome rise in borrowing costs throughout the economy.

That could throw a wrench in what the Fed is trying to accomplish: to use low rates to encourage more borrowing and risk-taking by consumers, businesses and investors, thereby reviving growth.

This may be a blip, or it may be a sign that investors are now wary of holding USD-denominated assets. After all, if the Fed is going to devalue the currency, why not get into other assets that will hold their value?

What this does show is that the Fed is playing with fire, trying a gambit with many unintended consequences. (“Still, the recent move in rates has been jarring, raising some market worries that the Fed’s program might be ineffective or backfiring. That could damage the Fed’s credibility and raise borrowing costs broadly.”) When the new Congress convenes, oversight hearings should explore whether Helicopter Ben’s plan has the potential to deliver more harm rather help — both to the economy and the Fed’s reputation.

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Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan

Just as important as the battle against Taliban militants is the struggle against corrupt officials in the Afghan government, who undermine public confidence and drive Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. U.S. forces know how to carry out security operations. Cleaning up corruption is much harder. How is that struggle going?

The short answer is that it’s too early to tell. There are some positive signs, to be sure, including the fact that General Petraeus has appointed H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest general officers in the entire Army — to run an anti-corruption task force. And today comes word, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article, that “Afghan prosecutors are planning to indict nearly two dozen current and former senior officials — the current mining minister among them — on allegations of taking bribes and stealing government funds.” Those prosecutions are certainly welcome, although it is unclear what impact they will have, since most of the targets are former, not current, officials, and thus by definition hardly members of President Karzai’s inner circle.

It is a small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. For an indication of what’s needed, think back to 2004, when Karzai, with the strong aid and encouragement of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, succeeded in forcing warlord Ismail Khan out of his fiefdom in Herat. This was one of the bravest and most impressive challenges that Karzai has ever mounted against the power brokers and warlords who exercise such a baleful influence on events in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in recent years Karzai has been more focused on making common cause with abusive politicians than confronting them. This is due in part to his own weakness, and in part to the lack of support from the United States. Khalilzad was a friend of Karzai’s — someone Karzai felt he could count on. Karzai hasn’t had a similar relationship with any ambassador since; his relationship with Karl Eikenberry, the current ambassador, is said to be particularly tense. Karzai has faced public sniping from the Obama administration, which (however justified) has led to a loss of confidence on his part and a tendency to reach accommodation with some of the most corrupt characters in Afghanistan.

To deal corruption a real blow, Karzai will need to remove a major power broker, such as his own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. That doesn’t necessarily mean criminal prosecution; Ahmed Wali could simply be sent as ambassador to the Seychelles.

But for something dramatic like that to happen, Karzai will need to have more support from, and more confidence in, the U.S. government than he currently does. And the U.S. government, in turn, will have to make a common determination that fighting corruption is actually a real priority. At the moment, too many officials regard it as more important to reach a modus vivendi with the powers that be. There are always practical, short-term arguments for such dealmaking, but the long-run consequence is to squander the trust of the Afghan people, which is our most important asset in the war against the Taliban.

Just as important as the battle against Taliban militants is the struggle against corrupt officials in the Afghan government, who undermine public confidence and drive Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. U.S. forces know how to carry out security operations. Cleaning up corruption is much harder. How is that struggle going?

The short answer is that it’s too early to tell. There are some positive signs, to be sure, including the fact that General Petraeus has appointed H.R. McMaster — one of the brightest general officers in the entire Army — to run an anti-corruption task force. And today comes word, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article, that “Afghan prosecutors are planning to indict nearly two dozen current and former senior officials — the current mining minister among them — on allegations of taking bribes and stealing government funds.” Those prosecutions are certainly welcome, although it is unclear what impact they will have, since most of the targets are former, not current, officials, and thus by definition hardly members of President Karzai’s inner circle.

It is a small step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. For an indication of what’s needed, think back to 2004, when Karzai, with the strong aid and encouragement of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, succeeded in forcing warlord Ismail Khan out of his fiefdom in Herat. This was one of the bravest and most impressive challenges that Karzai has ever mounted against the power brokers and warlords who exercise such a baleful influence on events in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in recent years Karzai has been more focused on making common cause with abusive politicians than confronting them. This is due in part to his own weakness, and in part to the lack of support from the United States. Khalilzad was a friend of Karzai’s — someone Karzai felt he could count on. Karzai hasn’t had a similar relationship with any ambassador since; his relationship with Karl Eikenberry, the current ambassador, is said to be particularly tense. Karzai has faced public sniping from the Obama administration, which (however justified) has led to a loss of confidence on his part and a tendency to reach accommodation with some of the most corrupt characters in Afghanistan.

To deal corruption a real blow, Karzai will need to remove a major power broker, such as his own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. That doesn’t necessarily mean criminal prosecution; Ahmed Wali could simply be sent as ambassador to the Seychelles.

But for something dramatic like that to happen, Karzai will need to have more support from, and more confidence in, the U.S. government than he currently does. And the U.S. government, in turn, will have to make a common determination that fighting corruption is actually a real priority. At the moment, too many officials regard it as more important to reach a modus vivendi with the powers that be. There are always practical, short-term arguments for such dealmaking, but the long-run consequence is to squander the trust of the Afghan people, which is our most important asset in the war against the Taliban.

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Helicopter Ben Is at It Again

Ben Bernanke is nicknamed “Helicopter Ben” for his propensity to dump dollars into the economy — the equivalent of dropping greenbacks out of a helicopter. He’s at it again, in yet another attempt to add liquidity to an economy already soaked with cash. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The Federal Reserve, in a dramatic effort to rev up a “disappointingly slow” economic recovery, said it will buy $600 billion of U.S. government bonds over the next eight months to drive down interest rates and encourage more borrowing and growth.

Many outside the Fed, and some inside, see the move as a “Hail Mary” pass by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He embraced highly unconventional policies during the financial crisis to ward off a financial-system collapse. But a year and a half later, he confronts an economy hobbled by high unemployment, a gridlocked political system and the threat of a Japan-like period of deflation, or a debilitating fall in consumer prices.

In other words, the Fed will print money and buy up bonds, thereby pushing up the cost of bonds (supply and demand at work) and pushing down their yield. “The Fed hopes that will result in lower interest rates for homeowners, consumers and businesses, which in turn will encourage more of them to borrow, spend and invest. The Fed figures it will also drive investors into stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier investments offering higher returns.”

Well, gosh, if it was that easy, why not print a trillion dollars or three? Well, the scheme, as you might imagine, has its risks.

The first, of course, is inflation. The Fed says not to worry, because the economy is limp. There is “so much spare capacity in the economy—including an unemployment rate at 9.6%, a real-estate landscape littered with more than 14 million unoccupied homes, and manufacturers operating with 28% of their productive capacity going unused.” Umm. But that suggests that the problem isn’t lack of liquidity (the banks are sitting on piles of cash). Moreover, the Fed will eventually, as they say, need to take the punch bowl away from the party — that is, jack up interest rates to shut off inflation as the economy gathers steam.

By the way, have you noticed commodity prices going up? Oh, yes:

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. And food makers and retailers including McDonald’s Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kroger Co. have begun to signal that they’ll try to make consumers shoulder more of the higher costs for ingredients.

The problem will get worse. As we flood the economy with dollars, we devalue our currency, making the price of imported goods, including oil — have you noticed pump prices lately? — more expensive. It has already begun, in fact. “Crude oil futures shot higher on Thursday on the back of a weaker dollar following the Federal Reserve’s decision to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy.” That’s what happens when you drive the value of the dollar downward.

The risk of creating new speculative bubbles is real, and our trading partners are none too pleased about the Fed’s move. (“U.S. trading partners, particularly in the developing world, openly worry that the Fed’s money pumping is creating inflation in their own economies and a risk of asset-price bubbles. … In recent weeks, China, India, Australia and others have pushed their own interest rates higher to tamp down inflation forces.”)

You can understand why some regard this as a “Hail Mary.” Maybe it will work, maybe not. And maybe it will make things worse. But in the meantime, the most obvious  steps — reducing the cost of capital and labor, lessening the regulatory burden on employers, and getting our fiscal house in order — go unaddressed. On that front, the new Congress and the president should get cracking. Betting on Helicopter Ben to rescue the economy is the riskiest proposition of them all.

Ben Bernanke is nicknamed “Helicopter Ben” for his propensity to dump dollars into the economy — the equivalent of dropping greenbacks out of a helicopter. He’s at it again, in yet another attempt to add liquidity to an economy already soaked with cash. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The Federal Reserve, in a dramatic effort to rev up a “disappointingly slow” economic recovery, said it will buy $600 billion of U.S. government bonds over the next eight months to drive down interest rates and encourage more borrowing and growth.

Many outside the Fed, and some inside, see the move as a “Hail Mary” pass by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He embraced highly unconventional policies during the financial crisis to ward off a financial-system collapse. But a year and a half later, he confronts an economy hobbled by high unemployment, a gridlocked political system and the threat of a Japan-like period of deflation, or a debilitating fall in consumer prices.

In other words, the Fed will print money and buy up bonds, thereby pushing up the cost of bonds (supply and demand at work) and pushing down their yield. “The Fed hopes that will result in lower interest rates for homeowners, consumers and businesses, which in turn will encourage more of them to borrow, spend and invest. The Fed figures it will also drive investors into stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier investments offering higher returns.”

Well, gosh, if it was that easy, why not print a trillion dollars or three? Well, the scheme, as you might imagine, has its risks.

The first, of course, is inflation. The Fed says not to worry, because the economy is limp. There is “so much spare capacity in the economy—including an unemployment rate at 9.6%, a real-estate landscape littered with more than 14 million unoccupied homes, and manufacturers operating with 28% of their productive capacity going unused.” Umm. But that suggests that the problem isn’t lack of liquidity (the banks are sitting on piles of cash). Moreover, the Fed will eventually, as they say, need to take the punch bowl away from the party — that is, jack up interest rates to shut off inflation as the economy gathers steam.

By the way, have you noticed commodity prices going up? Oh, yes:

An inflationary tide is beginning to ripple through America’s supermarkets and restaurants, threatening to end the tamest year of food pricing in nearly two decades.

Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. And food makers and retailers including McDonald’s Corp., Kellogg Co. and Kroger Co. have begun to signal that they’ll try to make consumers shoulder more of the higher costs for ingredients.

The problem will get worse. As we flood the economy with dollars, we devalue our currency, making the price of imported goods, including oil — have you noticed pump prices lately? — more expensive. It has already begun, in fact. “Crude oil futures shot higher on Thursday on the back of a weaker dollar following the Federal Reserve’s decision to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy.” That’s what happens when you drive the value of the dollar downward.

The risk of creating new speculative bubbles is real, and our trading partners are none too pleased about the Fed’s move. (“U.S. trading partners, particularly in the developing world, openly worry that the Fed’s money pumping is creating inflation in their own economies and a risk of asset-price bubbles. … In recent weeks, China, India, Australia and others have pushed their own interest rates higher to tamp down inflation forces.”)

You can understand why some regard this as a “Hail Mary.” Maybe it will work, maybe not. And maybe it will make things worse. But in the meantime, the most obvious  steps — reducing the cost of capital and labor, lessening the regulatory burden on employers, and getting our fiscal house in order — go unaddressed. On that front, the new Congress and the president should get cracking. Betting on Helicopter Ben to rescue the economy is the riskiest proposition of them all.

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Shot Trying to Escape?

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

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A Letter to Gary Ackerman

A reader sends in an open letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman that will run in the Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, the Queens Tribune, the Great Neck Record, Manhasset Press, Roslyn News, and Port Washington News. The letter reads:

We are deeply troubled by your support for and endorsement by J Street, which claims to be a “Pro-Israel lobby,” but advocates radical policies that include having the U.S. government pressure Israel in ways that would undermine the security of the Jewish State.

How far outside the mainstream is J Street? It actively challenges AIPAC and other pro-Israel supporters in Washington and on college campuses. During the war in Gaza, J Street equated the IDF to Hamas and later on even tried to facilitate the promotion of the biased U.N. ‘Goldstone’ report that falsely and outrageously accuses Israel of war crimes.

Who appointed the radicals at J Street to be arbiters of Israel’s national security? Why are you, Congressman Ackerman, lending your name to this effort and taking money raised by J Street for you?

Despite years of denial, we now know that J Street has been secretly funded by billionaire George Soros, a notorious antagonist of the Jewish state. Your involvement with this duplicitous group is incompatible with your expressions of support for the security of the State of Israel.

Your continued affiliation with J Street is unacceptable to your constituents who care about Israel’s well being. We call upon you to disassociate yourself from this group.

The letter is signed by 40 pro-Israel constituents of the NY-5. Are you getting the sense that J Streeters will have a hard time — if they are still around in 2012 — getting candidates to accept endorsements and money? The group certainly is more trouble than it is worth.

A reader sends in an open letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman that will run in the Jewish Week, the Long Island Jewish World, the Queens Tribune, the Great Neck Record, Manhasset Press, Roslyn News, and Port Washington News. The letter reads:

We are deeply troubled by your support for and endorsement by J Street, which claims to be a “Pro-Israel lobby,” but advocates radical policies that include having the U.S. government pressure Israel in ways that would undermine the security of the Jewish State.

How far outside the mainstream is J Street? It actively challenges AIPAC and other pro-Israel supporters in Washington and on college campuses. During the war in Gaza, J Street equated the IDF to Hamas and later on even tried to facilitate the promotion of the biased U.N. ‘Goldstone’ report that falsely and outrageously accuses Israel of war crimes.

Who appointed the radicals at J Street to be arbiters of Israel’s national security? Why are you, Congressman Ackerman, lending your name to this effort and taking money raised by J Street for you?

Despite years of denial, we now know that J Street has been secretly funded by billionaire George Soros, a notorious antagonist of the Jewish state. Your involvement with this duplicitous group is incompatible with your expressions of support for the security of the State of Israel.

Your continued affiliation with J Street is unacceptable to your constituents who care about Israel’s well being. We call upon you to disassociate yourself from this group.

The letter is signed by 40 pro-Israel constituents of the NY-5. Are you getting the sense that J Streeters will have a hard time — if they are still around in 2012 — getting candidates to accept endorsements and money? The group certainly is more trouble than it is worth.

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Get Your GM Stock!

Get out your checkbook — GM’s IPO is just around the corner. This report explains:

The Treasury is seeking to sell roughly $6 billion to $8 billion of its GM stock through the IPO, with other sellers taking the entire deal to a total of roughly $10 billion to $12 billion.

The government paid $40 billion for its stake, and risks political fallout if the share price sinks due to releasing too many shares at once on the market. That could send a signal the Obama administration won’t recoup its investment.

Yes, contrary to the administration’s spin, there is a strong likelihood of the shareholders not even coming close to getting their money back. In the short term, the numbers could look particularly grim:

Linda Killian, a principal of Renaissance Capital LLC in Greenwich, Conn., which specializes in IPO research, estimates GM’s valuation at $50 billion to $70 billion, yet added that the chances of the government breaking even are “low.”

Because the IPO should take place at a discount to the market price, the government is likely to show a big loss in realized proceeds on its sales on IPO day. If the IPO is priced at the $50 billion level, that would equate to a U.S. loss of approximately 38% on the first batch of shares it sells.

But not to worry; the former car czar, Steve Rattner (who’s about to enter a settlement regarding a kickback arrangement with the New York State pension fund and “accept a multi-year ban from the securities industry and pay a fine of more than $5 million”), says that our losses will only be in the “single-digit” billions. I’ll hang on to that rosy scenario.

The real problem is that GM is not all that attractive so long as it remains a subsidiary of Obama, Inc.

“Would I jump at the GM deal? Probably not,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank in Chicago. He said the “overhang of government ownership” results in a “management straitjacket” that could require GM executives to “get permission every time they want to extend a bonus to somebody.”

Robert Pavlik, a senior partner at investment advisers Banyan Partners LLC in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said he “wouldn’t put my clients’ money into it” because GM still carries the “stigma” of both bankruptcy and government ownership as well as recent top-management turnover.

“What’s going to drive their sales? The Chevrolet Volt? I think that’s going to turn out to be more of a publicity stunt than anything else,” Mr. Pavlik said.

This raises at least two troubling issues. First, the UAW is also going to get some of its (that is, its members’) money back in the IPO. It has a 17.5 percent stake in the company. So where is that money going — directly into the pension plan, or is the union taking some off the top? You know, for political contributions, union bosses’ salaries, and the upkeep of its swank golf course.

But the bigger issue is this: by stepping into the car business, the government is now in the position of hawking GM stock, singing the praises of the GM Volt, and persuading investors to put their money in this company as opposed to other businesses. There is something unseemly in all that. The administration finds itself in a classic case of conflict of interest. On the one hand, it is the federal regulator/pension guarantor/SEC monitor, and on the other, it is running the GM “road show” to sell, sell, sell GM. It is the natural and inevitable result of a move that should have never been made — namely, the injection of the U.S. government into the car industry.

All of that, plus the potential for billions in losses, should remind us why the Obama car bailout is a lemon.

Get out your checkbook — GM’s IPO is just around the corner. This report explains:

The Treasury is seeking to sell roughly $6 billion to $8 billion of its GM stock through the IPO, with other sellers taking the entire deal to a total of roughly $10 billion to $12 billion.

The government paid $40 billion for its stake, and risks political fallout if the share price sinks due to releasing too many shares at once on the market. That could send a signal the Obama administration won’t recoup its investment.

Yes, contrary to the administration’s spin, there is a strong likelihood of the shareholders not even coming close to getting their money back. In the short term, the numbers could look particularly grim:

Linda Killian, a principal of Renaissance Capital LLC in Greenwich, Conn., which specializes in IPO research, estimates GM’s valuation at $50 billion to $70 billion, yet added that the chances of the government breaking even are “low.”

Because the IPO should take place at a discount to the market price, the government is likely to show a big loss in realized proceeds on its sales on IPO day. If the IPO is priced at the $50 billion level, that would equate to a U.S. loss of approximately 38% on the first batch of shares it sells.

But not to worry; the former car czar, Steve Rattner (who’s about to enter a settlement regarding a kickback arrangement with the New York State pension fund and “accept a multi-year ban from the securities industry and pay a fine of more than $5 million”), says that our losses will only be in the “single-digit” billions. I’ll hang on to that rosy scenario.

The real problem is that GM is not all that attractive so long as it remains a subsidiary of Obama, Inc.

“Would I jump at the GM deal? Probably not,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank in Chicago. He said the “overhang of government ownership” results in a “management straitjacket” that could require GM executives to “get permission every time they want to extend a bonus to somebody.”

Robert Pavlik, a senior partner at investment advisers Banyan Partners LLC in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said he “wouldn’t put my clients’ money into it” because GM still carries the “stigma” of both bankruptcy and government ownership as well as recent top-management turnover.

“What’s going to drive their sales? The Chevrolet Volt? I think that’s going to turn out to be more of a publicity stunt than anything else,” Mr. Pavlik said.

This raises at least two troubling issues. First, the UAW is also going to get some of its (that is, its members’) money back in the IPO. It has a 17.5 percent stake in the company. So where is that money going — directly into the pension plan, or is the union taking some off the top? You know, for political contributions, union bosses’ salaries, and the upkeep of its swank golf course.

But the bigger issue is this: by stepping into the car business, the government is now in the position of hawking GM stock, singing the praises of the GM Volt, and persuading investors to put their money in this company as opposed to other businesses. There is something unseemly in all that. The administration finds itself in a classic case of conflict of interest. On the one hand, it is the federal regulator/pension guarantor/SEC monitor, and on the other, it is running the GM “road show” to sell, sell, sell GM. It is the natural and inevitable result of a move that should have never been made — namely, the injection of the U.S. government into the car industry.

All of that, plus the potential for billions in losses, should remind us why the Obama car bailout is a lemon.

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The Farce That Is ‘Reset’

Josh Rogin reports:

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government’s gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country’s  democracy, according to Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

“We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken by the people by the authorities,” Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. “The power has replaced all institutions … like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That’s already obvious for everyone.”

What’s his complaint? Well, the Obama team has tossed democracy and human rights under the bus, as they have in the case of every despotic regime:

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

“We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia … we would like these friends just to open their mouths …”

It is hear-no-evil, see-no-evil time:

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties. …

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC’s Mike McFaul and the Kremlin’s Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration’s approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.”

“This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that’s imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Kasyanov said.

Aside from the moral failing and the projection of weakness it conveys to Russia, China, Iran, and the rest, it hasn’t worked in any meaningful way. What have we gotten from Russia? Agreement on Swiss cheese sanctions that haven’t stopped the mullahs’ nuclear program. And that’s it.

It is easy to “reset” relations with an authoritarian state by appeasing and avoiding conflict. But that doesn’t further our interests, and it reveals Obama’s and Hillary’s newfound appreciation for human rights to be nothing more than spin. Unfortunately, it is almost a year until the next Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps it can go to a Russian dissident next time, and thereafter a human rights activist from one of the many countries Obama has cowered before.

As with Iran engagement, our reset policy provides ample evidence that when you sacrifice human rights, you get precious little in return. As the world becomes less free and stable, the U.S. loses the respect of friends and foes alike.

Josh Rogin reports:

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government’s gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country’s  democracy, according to Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

“We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken by the people by the authorities,” Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. “The power has replaced all institutions … like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That’s already obvious for everyone.”

What’s his complaint? Well, the Obama team has tossed democracy and human rights under the bus, as they have in the case of every despotic regime:

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

“We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia … we would like these friends just to open their mouths …”

It is hear-no-evil, see-no-evil time:

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties. …

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC’s Mike McFaul and the Kremlin’s Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration’s approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.”

“This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that’s imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Kasyanov said.

Aside from the moral failing and the projection of weakness it conveys to Russia, China, Iran, and the rest, it hasn’t worked in any meaningful way. What have we gotten from Russia? Agreement on Swiss cheese sanctions that haven’t stopped the mullahs’ nuclear program. And that’s it.

It is easy to “reset” relations with an authoritarian state by appeasing and avoiding conflict. But that doesn’t further our interests, and it reveals Obama’s and Hillary’s newfound appreciation for human rights to be nothing more than spin. Unfortunately, it is almost a year until the next Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps it can go to a Russian dissident next time, and thereafter a human rights activist from one of the many countries Obama has cowered before.

As with Iran engagement, our reset policy provides ample evidence that when you sacrifice human rights, you get precious little in return. As the world becomes less free and stable, the U.S. loses the respect of friends and foes alike.

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Investigating Mahmoud Karzai

It’s good to read that federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Mahmoud Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, who, like his siblings, became an instant millionaire when his brother took power. Mahmoud is actually a U.S. citizen, so he is especially vulnerable to American law enforcement. But I have a question and a caveat to offer.

First, I don’t understand why the New York Times is reporting that the NSA is wiretapping Mahmoud. NSA surveillance is one of the most closely held secrets in the U.S. government, so why was it leaked? Possibly to put pressure on Mahmoud, but, if anything, it simply alerts him to be more discreet in his communications. Perhaps someone more savvy in the ways of law enforcement can tell me what’s going on with the leak.

Now the caveat: the goal should not be to throw Mahmoud into jail. The goal should be to apply leverage on his brother, the president, to help clean up Afghan politics. Investigating Mahmoud is a great way to pressure his brother, but actually indicting him and trying to convict him could backfire by making Hamid more intransigent. It is vitally important that this criminal probe be coordinated at the highest levels of the administration with General Petraeus’s headquarters and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to make sure that all the U.S. government actors are on the same page here. Unfortunately, given the Justice Department’s tradition of independence, I suspect that kind of coordination to only happen at the cabinet or even presidential level. Prosecutions, in general, should be made strictly on the merits of the case, but this is a case that is intimately wrapped up with an American war effort in which 100,000 American lives are at risk. Therefore, ordinary law-enforcement concerns need to be subordinated to larger strategic imperatives.

It’s good to read that federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Mahmoud Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, who, like his siblings, became an instant millionaire when his brother took power. Mahmoud is actually a U.S. citizen, so he is especially vulnerable to American law enforcement. But I have a question and a caveat to offer.

First, I don’t understand why the New York Times is reporting that the NSA is wiretapping Mahmoud. NSA surveillance is one of the most closely held secrets in the U.S. government, so why was it leaked? Possibly to put pressure on Mahmoud, but, if anything, it simply alerts him to be more discreet in his communications. Perhaps someone more savvy in the ways of law enforcement can tell me what’s going on with the leak.

Now the caveat: the goal should not be to throw Mahmoud into jail. The goal should be to apply leverage on his brother, the president, to help clean up Afghan politics. Investigating Mahmoud is a great way to pressure his brother, but actually indicting him and trying to convict him could backfire by making Hamid more intransigent. It is vitally important that this criminal probe be coordinated at the highest levels of the administration with General Petraeus’s headquarters and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to make sure that all the U.S. government actors are on the same page here. Unfortunately, given the Justice Department’s tradition of independence, I suspect that kind of coordination to only happen at the cabinet or even presidential level. Prosecutions, in general, should be made strictly on the merits of the case, but this is a case that is intimately wrapped up with an American war effort in which 100,000 American lives are at risk. Therefore, ordinary law-enforcement concerns need to be subordinated to larger strategic imperatives.

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The CIA’s Self-Fulfilling Premises in Afghanistan

Dexter Filkins has a good dispatch from Afghanistan — or as the headline dubs it, “Corrupt-istan.” He (correctly, in my opinion) criticizes all too many senior U.S. officials for their condescending attitude toward governance in Afghanistan:

Since 2001, one of the unquestioned premises of American and NATO policy has been that ordinary Afghans don’t view public corruption in quite the same way that Americans and others do in the West. Diplomats, military officers and senior officials flying in from Washington often say privately that while public graft is pernicious, there is no point in trying to abolish it — and that trying to do so could destroy the very government the West has helped to build.

Filkins notes that this has become a self-fulfilling premise with the CIA, for example, “putting on its payroll some of the most disputable members of Mr. Karzai’s government.” But ordinary Afghans turn out to be just as disgusted by widespread corruption as ordinary Americans would be. Writes Filkins:

Ahmed Shah Hakimi, who runs a currency exchange in Kabul, had just finished explaining some of the shadowy dealings of the business and political elite when he stopped in disgust.

“There are 50 of them,” Mr. Hakimi said. “The corrupt ones. All the Afghans know who they are.”

“Why do the Americans support them?” he asked.

Mr. Hakimi, a shrewd businessman, seemed genuinely perplexed.

“What the Americans need to do is take these Afghans and put them on a plane and fly them to America — and then crash the plane into a mountain,” Mr. Hakimi said. “Kill them all.”

Hakimi’s attitude is, indeed, widespread in Afghanistan. There is little of the “tolerance” for corruption that senior American officials seem to think is prevalent. Instead, corruption is driving more and more Afghans into the arms of the Taliban, who claim to crack down on immorality. That makes it imperative to reduce the runaway graft that is fueled by Western money. General David Petraeus realizes that; he is bent on reducing the power of what his aides call, according to Filkins, ”the MAN” — short for “malign actor network.” But other U.S. agencies, especially the CIA, are working at cross-purposes by empowering the “MAN.” There needs to be greater cohesion from the top of the administration to make sure that all agencies of the U.S. government work together to push Afghanistan in the right direction.

Dexter Filkins has a good dispatch from Afghanistan — or as the headline dubs it, “Corrupt-istan.” He (correctly, in my opinion) criticizes all too many senior U.S. officials for their condescending attitude toward governance in Afghanistan:

Since 2001, one of the unquestioned premises of American and NATO policy has been that ordinary Afghans don’t view public corruption in quite the same way that Americans and others do in the West. Diplomats, military officers and senior officials flying in from Washington often say privately that while public graft is pernicious, there is no point in trying to abolish it — and that trying to do so could destroy the very government the West has helped to build.

Filkins notes that this has become a self-fulfilling premise with the CIA, for example, “putting on its payroll some of the most disputable members of Mr. Karzai’s government.” But ordinary Afghans turn out to be just as disgusted by widespread corruption as ordinary Americans would be. Writes Filkins:

Ahmed Shah Hakimi, who runs a currency exchange in Kabul, had just finished explaining some of the shadowy dealings of the business and political elite when he stopped in disgust.

“There are 50 of them,” Mr. Hakimi said. “The corrupt ones. All the Afghans know who they are.”

“Why do the Americans support them?” he asked.

Mr. Hakimi, a shrewd businessman, seemed genuinely perplexed.

“What the Americans need to do is take these Afghans and put them on a plane and fly them to America — and then crash the plane into a mountain,” Mr. Hakimi said. “Kill them all.”

Hakimi’s attitude is, indeed, widespread in Afghanistan. There is little of the “tolerance” for corruption that senior American officials seem to think is prevalent. Instead, corruption is driving more and more Afghans into the arms of the Taliban, who claim to crack down on immorality. That makes it imperative to reduce the runaway graft that is fueled by Western money. General David Petraeus realizes that; he is bent on reducing the power of what his aides call, according to Filkins, ”the MAN” — short for “malign actor network.” But other U.S. agencies, especially the CIA, are working at cross-purposes by empowering the “MAN.” There needs to be greater cohesion from the top of the administration to make sure that all agencies of the U.S. government work together to push Afghanistan in the right direction.

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‘Clearing’ Afghanistan’s Financial System

It is axiomatic in counterinsurgency warfare that things get worse before they get better. Immediately after troops enter an insurgent-infested area, there is much hard fighting before peace can be restored. Thus it would be a mistake to see the immediate spike in casualties as a sign of failure. The same is true in the realm of nation-building, where it may be necessary to force a crisis in order to resolve a corrosive problem.

Those thoughts are prompted by news that the Afghan Central Bank has seized control of Afghanistan’s largest private financial institution, Kabul Bank. Its management has long been a scandal, with all sorts of shady money transfers and loans involving well-connected political players funneling Afghanistan’s scant wealth to offshore accounts in Dubai. Its ousted chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, is a major backer of President Karzai, while two of the bank’s largest investors have familiar names — Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, and Haseen Fahim, brother of Vice President (and notorious warlord) Mohammad Fahim.

Kabul Bank is at the center of a web of suspect relationships that also involve New Ansari, an Islamic money-transfer firm (hawala), and the country’s other major bank, Afghan United. There are persistent rumors that they are linked to both the Taliban and drug traffickers — a charge they naturally deny. All have been propped up by years of foreign aid; all the salaries that are paid to Afghan government employees, for instance, and that come primarily from the U.S. government are funneled through electronic-money transfers to Kabul Bank. This is supposed to decrease corruption by cutting the risk that cash will go astray, but it has had the perverse effect of floating a rotten institution.

The trick now will be to unravel the problems without causing a run on the banks and the collapse of a fragile financial system. I have no idea whether that will be possible to do, but I do know that it would have been impossible to leave these institutions to run as they did. Sooner or later, the whole rickety structure would have come tumbling down. It is to the credit of the Afghan officials, including President Karzai, that with American encouragement, they have moved to address this festering mess. The next few weeks and months won’t be pretty, however, because what we are seeing is, in financial terms, the “clear” phase of what in counterinsurgency operations is known as “clear, hold, and build.”

It is axiomatic in counterinsurgency warfare that things get worse before they get better. Immediately after troops enter an insurgent-infested area, there is much hard fighting before peace can be restored. Thus it would be a mistake to see the immediate spike in casualties as a sign of failure. The same is true in the realm of nation-building, where it may be necessary to force a crisis in order to resolve a corrosive problem.

Those thoughts are prompted by news that the Afghan Central Bank has seized control of Afghanistan’s largest private financial institution, Kabul Bank. Its management has long been a scandal, with all sorts of shady money transfers and loans involving well-connected political players funneling Afghanistan’s scant wealth to offshore accounts in Dubai. Its ousted chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, is a major backer of President Karzai, while two of the bank’s largest investors have familiar names — Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, and Haseen Fahim, brother of Vice President (and notorious warlord) Mohammad Fahim.

Kabul Bank is at the center of a web of suspect relationships that also involve New Ansari, an Islamic money-transfer firm (hawala), and the country’s other major bank, Afghan United. There are persistent rumors that they are linked to both the Taliban and drug traffickers — a charge they naturally deny. All have been propped up by years of foreign aid; all the salaries that are paid to Afghan government employees, for instance, and that come primarily from the U.S. government are funneled through electronic-money transfers to Kabul Bank. This is supposed to decrease corruption by cutting the risk that cash will go astray, but it has had the perverse effect of floating a rotten institution.

The trick now will be to unravel the problems without causing a run on the banks and the collapse of a fragile financial system. I have no idea whether that will be possible to do, but I do know that it would have been impossible to leave these institutions to run as they did. Sooner or later, the whole rickety structure would have come tumbling down. It is to the credit of the Afghan officials, including President Karzai, that with American encouragement, they have moved to address this festering mess. The next few weeks and months won’t be pretty, however, because what we are seeing is, in financial terms, the “clear” phase of what in counterinsurgency operations is known as “clear, hold, and build.”

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Funding Corruption in Afghanistan

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times‘s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission. That won’t require eliminating corruption — truly a mission impossible. But it should be possible to reduce corruption from the current, off-the-charts levels to more socially acceptable norms. In fact, this is the most urgent priority for NATO forces. To achieve that objective, President Obama will have to make sure that all U.S. government agencies and officials are on board. So far, as the Salehi scandal shows, that hasn’t been the case.

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times‘s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission. That won’t require eliminating corruption — truly a mission impossible. But it should be possible to reduce corruption from the current, off-the-charts levels to more socially acceptable norms. In fact, this is the most urgent priority for NATO forces. To achieve that objective, President Obama will have to make sure that all U.S. government agencies and officials are on board. So far, as the Salehi scandal shows, that hasn’t been the case.

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It Could Be Worse: The Mullahs’ Ground Zero Mosque

Here is the mosque-building crowd that the leftist punditocracy is defending:

The developers behind the Islamic center planned for a site near Ground Zero won’t rule out accepting financing from the Mideast — including from Saudi Arabia and Iran — as they begin searching for $100 million needed to build the project. The religious organization and the development company behind the center declined to say how much of the $100 million needed to build the facility has already been raised. …

“We’ll look at all available options within the United States to start. We’re hoping to fund this predominately from domestic donors. That can be everything from institutions all the way down to personal [contributors],” said [spokesman Oz] Sultan.

When asked if they would then turn to foreign donors, Sultan replied, “I can’t comment on that.”

Pressed on whether the developers were willlng to rule out accepting donations from the governments of Saudi Arabia or Iran, he repeated, “I can’t comment on that.”

It is hard to see how the mosque builders could be promoters of religious reconciliation if they’d take money from Saudi Wahhabists or the despots of Iran. Maybe they are, you know, trying to make a different sort of statement, pitching to potential donors that they, too, can have a piece of the edifice at Ground Zero. Would they sell naming rights? (The Ahmadinejad Social Hall. The Anwar al-Awlaki Courtyard.) The possibilities are endless.

And none of the chest-beaters preening over their devotion to “tolerance” – not Obama, Bloomberg, Pelosi, and certainly not the left blogosphere — thought to inquire about the very issue that concerned so many of the  mosque opponents. Now we face the prospect that a mosque will be built on Ground Zero by those who sponsor jihadist attacks:

Fifteen of the 19 [9-11] terrorists were Saudi Arabian and funding from that country could further anger those already opposed to the mosque. Many mosques in the U.S. have been funded in part with Saudi money. Iran has been designated a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government.

Maybe David Axelrod and crew “missed” the issue, or maybe no one can raise concerns about exactly which Muslims the president is fawning over at the moment. He’s not one for inconvenient news, so after a while it would be human nature for staff to avoid raising issues, however basic and obvious, with a president insistent on making grand gestures, the facts be damned.

The controversy is indeed beginning to worsen the president’s already diminished standing with the voters. Wait until the voters hear that Iran and Saudi Arabia may be paying for the Ground Zero mosque.

Here is the mosque-building crowd that the leftist punditocracy is defending:

The developers behind the Islamic center planned for a site near Ground Zero won’t rule out accepting financing from the Mideast — including from Saudi Arabia and Iran — as they begin searching for $100 million needed to build the project. The religious organization and the development company behind the center declined to say how much of the $100 million needed to build the facility has already been raised. …

“We’ll look at all available options within the United States to start. We’re hoping to fund this predominately from domestic donors. That can be everything from institutions all the way down to personal [contributors],” said [spokesman Oz] Sultan.

When asked if they would then turn to foreign donors, Sultan replied, “I can’t comment on that.”

Pressed on whether the developers were willlng to rule out accepting donations from the governments of Saudi Arabia or Iran, he repeated, “I can’t comment on that.”

It is hard to see how the mosque builders could be promoters of religious reconciliation if they’d take money from Saudi Wahhabists or the despots of Iran. Maybe they are, you know, trying to make a different sort of statement, pitching to potential donors that they, too, can have a piece of the edifice at Ground Zero. Would they sell naming rights? (The Ahmadinejad Social Hall. The Anwar al-Awlaki Courtyard.) The possibilities are endless.

And none of the chest-beaters preening over their devotion to “tolerance” – not Obama, Bloomberg, Pelosi, and certainly not the left blogosphere — thought to inquire about the very issue that concerned so many of the  mosque opponents. Now we face the prospect that a mosque will be built on Ground Zero by those who sponsor jihadist attacks:

Fifteen of the 19 [9-11] terrorists were Saudi Arabian and funding from that country could further anger those already opposed to the mosque. Many mosques in the U.S. have been funded in part with Saudi money. Iran has been designated a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government.

Maybe David Axelrod and crew “missed” the issue, or maybe no one can raise concerns about exactly which Muslims the president is fawning over at the moment. He’s not one for inconvenient news, so after a while it would be human nature for staff to avoid raising issues, however basic and obvious, with a president insistent on making grand gestures, the facts be damned.

The controversy is indeed beginning to worsen the president’s already diminished standing with the voters. Wait until the voters hear that Iran and Saudi Arabia may be paying for the Ground Zero mosque.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

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Exporting the Imam’s Message

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

A sharp-eyed reader e-mails me, observing that, in a way, Obama has already “spoken” on the Ground Zero mosque. She writes that Obama’s “decision to send Imam Rauf on a mission to explain the U.S. to the world is Obama’s comment.” Indeed.

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, along similar lines, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton this week, which reads, in part:

Unfortunately, Imam Feisal’s message, unless he has had a change of heart, is that the United States deserved what she got in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was, in essence, “an accessory to the crime that happened.” In a 60 Minutes interview, when asked why he considered the United States an accessory, Imam Feisal replied, “Because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the U.S.A.” If our State Department gives its imprimatur to this trip, it will also put its imprimatur on the message delivered.

Furthermore, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently in the center of a major controversy concerning the building of a mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, near Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York City. Regardless of one’s opinion of Imam Feisal, or whether the opponents of a mosque near Ground Zero are right or wrong, Imam Feisal has become a symbol of the conflict between Islam and many Americans. Everywhere the imam goes, he will be the symbol of conflict and not of harmony. Even if Imam Feisal does not raise the issue of the Cordoba Mosque, his very presence will raise the issue. In other words, we will be responsible for having exported the debate to the Middle East and the messenger will be the message.

But it is that message which the screeching Ground Zero mosque promoters would rather conceal than illuminate. In a must read column, Cliff May explains that, from Mayor Bloomberg to Peter Beinart (whose intellect cannot bear to be exposed to contrary views, exploding in ad hominem attacks and demanding that his closed universe of semi-informed rhetoric be protected from May’s e-mails), the proponents of the project insist that we all shut up because they really don’t want to face the inconvenient truth of the the views of the imam they are defending:

Among Rauf’s Huffingtonian statements: that American policy was “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11, and that Osama bin Laden was “made in America.”

Rauf will not say whether he views Hamas — which intentionally slaughters civilians, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and advocates the extermination of both Israelis and Jews — as a terrorist organization.

He explains his reticence by saying that “the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.” No, actually, it’s quite simple: Whatever your grievances, you do not express them by murdering other people’s children. Not accepting that proposition does not make you a terrorist. But it disqualifies you as an anti-terrorist and identifies you as an anti-anti-terrorist.

Hardly the messenger of “peace,” Rauf is precisely the wrong sort of messenger to send frolicking abroad:

Rauf also has ties to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), organizations created by the Muslim Brotherhood and named by the U.S. Justice Department as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

A note on the Muslim Brotherhood: It is not a college fraternity. Its founder, Hasan al-Banna, famously said: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood’s American leadership prepared an internal memorandum describing its mission as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.

May argues that what is at work here is the left’s familiar inability to make moral distinctions other than “reflexively regard[ing] those from the Third World as virtuous and those from the West as steeped in blame, shame, and guilt.” And that is very hard to do when you actually examine whether the objects of such affection are virtuous or, rather, are the face of evil in the modern world. No wonder Beinart wants to put his fingers in his ears and hum.

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The Power of Private Security Firms in Afghanistan Must Be Curbed

It’s easy to shake one’s head in dismay at the latest outburst from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. “Karzai Slams Foreign Advisers” reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

And indeed, part of what’s going on here is dismaying — Karzai is throwing a fit over the recent arrest of Mohammad Zia Saleh, one of his national-security aides, on charges of corruption. The arrest was carried out by the Major Crimes Task Force, an Afghan investigative body that gets considerable assistance from Western law-enforcement agencies. Karzai claims that this is a violation of Afghan sovereignty and the constitution, although it is widely believed that he is simply upset that a member of his patronage network has been caught red-handed. The U.S. government is right to try to protect the Major Crimes Task Force and to keep Saleh in jail, although in the future the law enforcers will have to do a better job of laying the political groundwork for such high-profile takedowns.

But Karzai’s latest eruption contains not only cause for concern but also an opportunity that the West should seize. For he fulminated not only against Western advisers but also against the security firms that protect Western interests in Afghanistan:

“The people who are working in private security companies are against Afghan national interest, and their salaries are illegal money. They are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night,” Mr. Karzai said in Saturday’s speech. “If they want to serve Afghanistan they have to join the Afghan police.”

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the proximate cause of this outburst was a road accident in Kabul involving a DynCorp convoy that led to anti-American rioting. But most private security contractors aren’t foreigners. They’re Afghans who work for private security firms that are closely connected to the power structure. Indeed, as this study from the Institute for the Study of War notes, President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, is one of the largest employers of private security forces in the country thanks to his control over firms such as Watan Risk Management and Asia Security Group, which are paid to safeguard NATO supplies.

The gunmen employed by Watan and its ilk routinely terrorize Afghans in ways far more corrosive than anything done by DynCorp; they are also implicated in payoffs to the Taliban. If NATO is going to bring more security to southern Afghanistan, it will have to curb the power of these firms and give more control of the roads to Afghanistan’s lawful security forces. President Karzai’s statements provide a perfect opening to do just that.

It’s easy to shake one’s head in dismay at the latest outburst from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. “Karzai Slams Foreign Advisers” reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

And indeed, part of what’s going on here is dismaying — Karzai is throwing a fit over the recent arrest of Mohammad Zia Saleh, one of his national-security aides, on charges of corruption. The arrest was carried out by the Major Crimes Task Force, an Afghan investigative body that gets considerable assistance from Western law-enforcement agencies. Karzai claims that this is a violation of Afghan sovereignty and the constitution, although it is widely believed that he is simply upset that a member of his patronage network has been caught red-handed. The U.S. government is right to try to protect the Major Crimes Task Force and to keep Saleh in jail, although in the future the law enforcers will have to do a better job of laying the political groundwork for such high-profile takedowns.

But Karzai’s latest eruption contains not only cause for concern but also an opportunity that the West should seize. For he fulminated not only against Western advisers but also against the security firms that protect Western interests in Afghanistan:

“The people who are working in private security companies are against Afghan national interest, and their salaries are illegal money. They are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night,” Mr. Karzai said in Saturday’s speech. “If they want to serve Afghanistan they have to join the Afghan police.”

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the proximate cause of this outburst was a road accident in Kabul involving a DynCorp convoy that led to anti-American rioting. But most private security contractors aren’t foreigners. They’re Afghans who work for private security firms that are closely connected to the power structure. Indeed, as this study from the Institute for the Study of War notes, President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, is one of the largest employers of private security forces in the country thanks to his control over firms such as Watan Risk Management and Asia Security Group, which are paid to safeguard NATO supplies.

The gunmen employed by Watan and its ilk routinely terrorize Afghans in ways far more corrosive than anything done by DynCorp; they are also implicated in payoffs to the Taliban. If NATO is going to bring more security to southern Afghanistan, it will have to curb the power of these firms and give more control of the roads to Afghanistan’s lawful security forces. President Karzai’s statements provide a perfect opening to do just that.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

Bleak: the generic congressional polling numbers for the Democrats.

Appalling: “Two multinational corporations that have earned millions of dollars in U.S. government contracts are conducting business with Iran in violation of the recently signed sanctions law, according to an Iran watchdog group that has provided its research to FoxNews.com. United Against Nuclear Iran, a non-profit devoted to monitoring the rogue nation, claims that the Danish shipping giant Maersk and Komatsu, a Japanese firm that specializes in construction equipment manufacturing, are flouting U.S. law by continuing to do business in Iran.”

Shaky: “The U.S. economy continued to grow during the second quarter, the government reported Friday. But the pace slowed more than economists were expecting, raising concern about growth — or even another recession — in the months ahead. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation’s economic activity, rose at a 2.4% annual rate during the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said. The sluggish pace was down from the upwardly revised 3.7% growth rate in the first quarter, and missed economists’ forecast for a 2.5% increase.”

Duh: “The problem with Mr. [Oliver] Stone’s ‘Secret History’ goes far beyond the issue of his anti-Semitic screed. The real issue is why a major television network would ask Oliver Stone — a man well known for his belief in preposterous conspiracy theories — to direct a nonfiction film about history.” Well, we all know that lefty Hollywood execs just can’t resist “one more narrative about America’s villainous role in the world and our enemy’s righteous responses.”

Vacuous: The State Department spokesman says something or other about North Korea’s nuclear proliferation, “We don’t see the transparency in that relationship that we’d like to see. North Korea is a serial proliferator. North Korea is engaged in significant illicit activity. Burma, like other countries around the world, has obligations, and we expect Burma to live up to those obligations.” Think that has them shaking in their jackboots?

Huffy: “African-American lawmakers are irate that the Obama administration has promised Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) $1.5 billion in farm aid while claiming it can’t pay a landmark legal settlement with black farmers.” Besides, isn’t it throwing good money after bad to try to rescue Lincoln from her constituents?

Swell: “Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has chosen to go through an ethics trial, like the one lined up for New York Rep. Charles Rangel, rather than accepting charges made by an ethics subcommittee, a source familiar with the process tells POLITICO. … Waters’s case revolves around allegations that she improperly intervened with federal regulators to help a bank that her husband owned stock in and on whose board he once served.”

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Wikibore

From the left, right, and center, we finally have consensus on Afghanistan — or at least the Wikileaks about Afghanistan. In short — as Max ably pointed out yesterday — so what? As the Washington Post editors note:

Though it may represent one of the most voluminous leaks of classified military information in U.S. history, the release by Wikileaks of 92,000 reports on the war in Afghanistan hardly merits the hype offered by the Web site’s founder. …

The Obama administration harshly condemned the release of documents, saying they “could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.” But that, too, seemed an exaggeration. Both Wikileaks and the news organizations said they had withheld documents and other information that might endanger individuals. On the whole, the reports appear likely to add modestly to public understanding of the war. But they are not likely to change many minds.

Bret Stephens was similarly bored by the Wikileaks “revelations”:

Innocent civilians become the tragic casualties of war. Insurgents plant thousands of IEDs. Special-ops teams hunt down insurgents. The Taliban may have a few Stinger missiles. Pakistan plays a double game with the Taliban. The U.S. government can’t keep its secrets. The New York Times has about as much regard for those secrets as a British tabloid has for a starlet’s privacy. The Obama administration blames everything on Bush. Is any of this news? Not exactly.

This is no doubt a downer to the antiwar left, which had hoped this would shock the administration, lawmakers, and the public, accelerating the demand for a quick retreat. But Americans know the war is tough, and are waiting — as they did on Iraq — for the administration to take charge and turn things around. There remains a curious void at the center of the Afghanistan operation — no commanding president to explain, cajole, and inspire. That void is filled with exaggerated news stories, gaffes, and leaks.

It would be helpful if the president — not Robert Gibbs, not Gen. David Petraeus, and not the media feeding frenzy — would set the tone of the debate and explain the stakes. Obama’s diminishing popularity and the impending backlash from an irate public will not make his task easier. Before he and the country are entirely absorbed by the November election, it might be a good idea for Obama to get out in front of the news, and not simply scramble to react to events.

From the left, right, and center, we finally have consensus on Afghanistan — or at least the Wikileaks about Afghanistan. In short — as Max ably pointed out yesterday — so what? As the Washington Post editors note:

Though it may represent one of the most voluminous leaks of classified military information in U.S. history, the release by Wikileaks of 92,000 reports on the war in Afghanistan hardly merits the hype offered by the Web site’s founder. …

The Obama administration harshly condemned the release of documents, saying they “could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.” But that, too, seemed an exaggeration. Both Wikileaks and the news organizations said they had withheld documents and other information that might endanger individuals. On the whole, the reports appear likely to add modestly to public understanding of the war. But they are not likely to change many minds.

Bret Stephens was similarly bored by the Wikileaks “revelations”:

Innocent civilians become the tragic casualties of war. Insurgents plant thousands of IEDs. Special-ops teams hunt down insurgents. The Taliban may have a few Stinger missiles. Pakistan plays a double game with the Taliban. The U.S. government can’t keep its secrets. The New York Times has about as much regard for those secrets as a British tabloid has for a starlet’s privacy. The Obama administration blames everything on Bush. Is any of this news? Not exactly.

This is no doubt a downer to the antiwar left, which had hoped this would shock the administration, lawmakers, and the public, accelerating the demand for a quick retreat. But Americans know the war is tough, and are waiting — as they did on Iraq — for the administration to take charge and turn things around. There remains a curious void at the center of the Afghanistan operation — no commanding president to explain, cajole, and inspire. That void is filled with exaggerated news stories, gaffes, and leaks.

It would be helpful if the president — not Robert Gibbs, not Gen. David Petraeus, and not the media feeding frenzy — would set the tone of the debate and explain the stakes. Obama’s diminishing popularity and the impending backlash from an irate public will not make his task easier. Before he and the country are entirely absorbed by the November election, it might be a good idea for Obama to get out in front of the news, and not simply scramble to react to events.

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Bollinger: Big Government News

I thought this headline might be sardonic: “Journalism Needs Government Help; Media budgets have been decimated as the Internet facilitates a communications revolution. More public funding for news-gathering is the answer.” It’s an op-ed from Columbia University professor Lee Bollinger in the Wall Street Journal, so I was hopeful that we’d get a touch of iconoclastic common sense. My hopes were misplaced. And I wonder whether the Journal editors didn’t decide to publish this on their pages just to show how ludicrous liberal statism has become. First, Bollinger’s complains that “journalism” is failing. (Umm, not the Journal, not Fox News — so it’s really only liberal print publications he’s pining over). So the solution is government funding. We learn:

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens. One idea under consideration is enhanced public funding for journalism.

In other words, taxpayers will be forced to pay for what they won’t watch or read of their own volition. And the journalistic monstrosity will be a merger of PBS and NPR. The result sounds like something George Orwell would have dreamed  up:

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today’s rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China’s CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera. The U.S. government’s international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters.

He insists that these public employees will exercise complete journalistic independence. That’s right. Liberals working for the government will independently make news decisions and report with no hint of bias. But the punchline — or the giveaway, depending on your perspective – is this:

The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let’s demonstrate great journalism’s essential role in a free and dynamic society.

What if viewers and readers, um, don’t think they need what Big Government News is serving up? And how do we know what we “need”? Ah, Bollinger and his fellow Ivy Leaguers will tell us. Such is the state of liberal thinking and the mind of an Ivy League president. Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing: people spend money to send their kids to these places?

I thought this headline might be sardonic: “Journalism Needs Government Help; Media budgets have been decimated as the Internet facilitates a communications revolution. More public funding for news-gathering is the answer.” It’s an op-ed from Columbia University professor Lee Bollinger in the Wall Street Journal, so I was hopeful that we’d get a touch of iconoclastic common sense. My hopes were misplaced. And I wonder whether the Journal editors didn’t decide to publish this on their pages just to show how ludicrous liberal statism has become. First, Bollinger’s complains that “journalism” is failing. (Umm, not the Journal, not Fox News — so it’s really only liberal print publications he’s pining over). So the solution is government funding. We learn:

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens. One idea under consideration is enhanced public funding for journalism.

In other words, taxpayers will be forced to pay for what they won’t watch or read of their own volition. And the journalistic monstrosity will be a merger of PBS and NPR. The result sounds like something George Orwell would have dreamed  up:

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today’s rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China’s CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera. The U.S. government’s international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters.

He insists that these public employees will exercise complete journalistic independence. That’s right. Liberals working for the government will independently make news decisions and report with no hint of bias. But the punchline — or the giveaway, depending on your perspective – is this:

The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let’s demonstrate great journalism’s essential role in a free and dynamic society.

What if viewers and readers, um, don’t think they need what Big Government News is serving up? And how do we know what we “need”? Ah, Bollinger and his fellow Ivy Leaguers will tell us. Such is the state of liberal thinking and the mind of an Ivy League president. Yeah, I’m thinking the same thing: people spend money to send their kids to these places?

Read Less