Commentary Magazine


Topic: UN General Assembly

Putting the ‘Mad’ in Maduro

It’s that time of year when the world’s tyrannies flock to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York with all the predictability of birds flying south for the winter. This year, however, their numbers were noticeably depleted.

True, the fork-tongued Iranian President, Hasan Rouhani, was on hand to deny the Holocaust in one breath, while calling for “time-bound, results-oriented” talks on his country’s nuclear program in another. And the aging Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe gave a vintage performance denouncing the “illegal and filthy sanctions” imposed on his brutal regime. But the Sudanese leader, Omar al Bashir, stayed away, fearful perhaps that he would be arrested on war-crimes charges upon landing in New York. And so did Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, for reasons that will compel us to question whether he has lost his mind.

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It’s that time of year when the world’s tyrannies flock to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York with all the predictability of birds flying south for the winter. This year, however, their numbers were noticeably depleted.

True, the fork-tongued Iranian President, Hasan Rouhani, was on hand to deny the Holocaust in one breath, while calling for “time-bound, results-oriented” talks on his country’s nuclear program in another. And the aging Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe gave a vintage performance denouncing the “illegal and filthy sanctions” imposed on his brutal regime. But the Sudanese leader, Omar al Bashir, stayed away, fearful perhaps that he would be arrested on war-crimes charges upon landing in New York. And so did Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, for reasons that will compel us to question whether he has lost his mind.

As I noted here recently, in the five months since Maduro won the presidency in an election widely regarded as fraudulent, barely a day goes by without him excitedly unveiling some new American plot to unseat him, or assassinate him, or destroy Venezuela’s groaning economy. Despite all these lurking dangers, Maduro nonetheless decided that he would attend and speak at this week’s 68th session of the General Assembly.

Winging his way to New York from a state visit to China, Maduro got as far as Vancouver. Rather than continuing eastwards, he elected to return to Caracas, where he visited a television studio to explain to a national audience why he was home early

One of the alleged plots could have caused violence in New York and the other could have affected his physical safety, Maduro said in a national address carried on television and radio yesterday. 

“The clan, the mafia of Otto Reich and Roger Noriega once again had planned a crazy, terrible provocation that can’t be described in any other way,” Maduro said, referring to two former U.S. officials he frequently accuses of plots against Venezuela.

Reich, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the George W. Bush administration, was accused by Maduro in March this year of planning the assassination of Henrique Capriles, Maduro’s opponent in the presidential election, as part of a plan to engineer a coup against the ruling chavistas. Reich’s rebuttal at the time is worth citing, simply because it is equally applicable now:

Though Maduro’s strategy is not original, it is not as dull-witted as it appears.  With the election in Venezuela scheduled for April 14, less than a month away, every day that the media focus on non–existent conspiracies is one day less that Venezuelans hear there may be a peaceful, honest, and democratic alternative to the Maduro regime.

Every day Venezuelans talk about foreign devils, they don’t discuss shortages of water and electricity, of cornmeal and cooking oil, of soap and diapers, of antibiotics and insulin.  It is one day less to wonder how Caracas became the third most violent city in the world and about the 150,000 Venezuelan victims of homicide in the 14 years of 21st Century Socialism.

Yesterday, Roger Noriega made much the same point as his ostensible partner in crime. “I think Maduro is under more pressure than I am, and his comments reflect that,” Noriega told the Miami Herald. “He needs a boogeyman.”

In Venezuela itself, there is increasing concern that Maduro’s confrontational stance towards the U.S., which imports around 900,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil on a daily basis, will carry negative economic consequences. In response, the Venezuelan regime is now orienting its foreign policy towards countries that are ideological bedfellows, but that won’t bleed the country dry at the same time—as does Cuba, for years the closest ally of the late Hugo Chavez, and the beneficiary of $7 billion worth of subsidized oil annually. 

Enter China. Maduro’s trip to Beijing quickly followed the announcement of a $14 billion deal with the China National Petroleum Corporation for a project to develop the Junín 10 block in Venezuela’s Orinoco region, an area that holds one of the largest oil reserves in the world. China currently imports 600,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela, a figure that Maduro wants to boost to the point where the Chinese, and not the Americans, are the biggest consumers of Venezuela’s main export. After all, breaking the economic dependency on the United States has been a central obsession of ruling Socialists since they came to power in 1999.

The Chinese also perceive important benefits. Suspicious of the Obama administration’s much-vaunted “pivot” to East Asia, Beijing is happy to seize on opportunities in America’s backyard. As the Mexican economist Enrique Dussel Peters noted in a recent paper on Chinese overseas investment, between 2000 and 2011, Latin America and the Caribbean became the second largest recipient of Chinese investment after Hong Kong. Dussel writes that 87 percent of this investment, directed mainly at raw materials, came from state-owned companies that are beholden to the Communist Party and its satellite institutions. In other words, the political imperatives here are as important, if not more so, than any fiscal considerations.

The Obama administration won’t be able to stop Maduro’s fulminations about assassinations and coups. Nor should it want to—the more frequent these accusations, the less that Venezuelans trust him. The real strategic challenge here is the relationship with China, and the lifeline that Beijing is dangling to the proponents of “21st Century Socialism” on the American continent. 

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AP, Reuters Reportedly Post Bibi “Heil” Photos

The Weekly Standard’s Daniel Halper flags two photos of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the UN, which were reportedly pushed out on the AP and Reuters wires. They show Netanyahu waving his hand, but the camera caught him mid-hand gesture, making it appear that he’s doing the Nazi salute (except with his left arm). Halper writes:

Two shocking photos coming off the wire of Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the United Nations moments ago.

Of the hundreds of professional photos taken at this speech, the AP and Reuters decided to push these onto the wire.

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The Weekly Standard’s Daniel Halper flags two photos of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the UN, which were reportedly pushed out on the AP and Reuters wires. They show Netanyahu waving his hand, but the camera caught him mid-hand gesture, making it appear that he’s doing the Nazi salute (except with his left arm). Halper writes:

Two shocking photos coming off the wire of Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the United Nations moments ago.

Of the hundreds of professional photos taken at this speech, the AP and Reuters decided to push these onto the wire.

Maybe the Associated Press and Reuters didn’t catch the inference of the photos before blasting them out, though you would think it would be obvious that these pictures are offensive on multiple levels.

Netanyahu’s persistence on Iran isn’t making things easy for Obama right before the election, so there’s sure to be a big media push in the coming days to dismiss Bibi as a warmonger, a reckless saber-rattler, an extremist and so on. Get ready for plenty more where this came from.

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The Iranian Red Line (in One Chart)

At the United Nations this afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sought to clarify an issue that has confounded President Obama for months — where to place “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear program — by using one simple, easy-to-read chart:

As you can see, that is a drawing of a bomb. It is divided into three stages. Iran has completed the first stage (amassing enough 70 percent-enriched uranium for a bomb), and, according to Netanyahu, can complete the second stage (amassing enough 90 percent-enriched uranium) as soon as next summer. The key here — and this is important — is to stop Iran before it enters the final stage, i.e. the completion of the bomb. Let’s hope the White House was paying attention.

Of course, the bomb drawing got its share of criticism on Twitter, as BuzzFeed reports:

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At the United Nations this afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sought to clarify an issue that has confounded President Obama for months — where to place “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear program — by using one simple, easy-to-read chart:

As you can see, that is a drawing of a bomb. It is divided into three stages. Iran has completed the first stage (amassing enough 70 percent-enriched uranium for a bomb), and, according to Netanyahu, can complete the second stage (amassing enough 90 percent-enriched uranium) as soon as next summer. The key here — and this is important — is to stop Iran before it enters the final stage, i.e. the completion of the bomb. Let’s hope the White House was paying attention.

Of course, the bomb drawing got its share of criticism on Twitter, as BuzzFeed reports:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu punctuated his attempt to rally the international community against Iran’s nuclear program with a crude illustration of a bomb in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York today — a move that drew him an immediate wave of mockery, but also reflected an astute grasp of the changing media climate.

The chart wasn’t unserious, it was simple. And it’s precisely what the public needs to see at this point. The White House has been able to drag their feet on the debate, in part, because they’ve portrayed it as murky and complicated. It isn’t. There will be debates, if and when the time comes, over whether Iran has actually reached the red line, and whether the intelligence is accurate or complete. But there’s no question that a clear and firm line needs to be drawn.

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Ahmadinejad Fulfills His Role

I’m going to miss Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It will be a sad day for Iran’s avowed enemies when he steps down from the presidency, which he is scheduled to do in nine months.

Admittedly, his post is mostly symbolic; the real decisions are made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad performs an important, albeit inadvertent, role: He reminds Americans every year just how deranged and dangerous the regime in Tehran remains. Ahmadinejad has used his annual pilgrimages to New York for the UN General Assembly to opine on a host of topics–and almost everything he says offends some substantial American constituency.

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I’m going to miss Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It will be a sad day for Iran’s avowed enemies when he steps down from the presidency, which he is scheduled to do in nine months.

Admittedly, his post is mostly symbolic; the real decisions are made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad performs an important, albeit inadvertent, role: He reminds Americans every year just how deranged and dangerous the regime in Tehran remains. Ahmadinejad has used his annual pilgrimages to New York for the UN General Assembly to opine on a host of topics–and almost everything he says offends some substantial American constituency.

As the New York Times notes in a tour de force summary of his latest remarks: “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran stoked the anger of Israel, the United States, Syrian insurgents and gay rights advocates on Monday, using the first full day of his final visit to the United Nations as Iran’s leader to assert that he has no fear of an Israeli attack on his country’s nuclear facilities, regards the Israelis as fleeting aberrations in Middle East history, is neutral in the Syria conflict, and considers homosexuality an ugly crime.”

Such remarks do not serve Iran’s purposes, since the Iranian government wants to project a false air of moderation. Rather, they serve to unmask the ugliness lurking not so far beneath the surface. They also serve as an implicit challenge to the U.S. and the West: Whatcha gonna do about it? Insofar as we have done precious little, beyond imposing sanctions, his annual mockery of the West is also a reminder of how much remains to be done to stop the Iranian nuclear program and to help the Iranian people rid themselves of their unelected rulers.

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Obama’s Apology Tour Continues at UN

President Obama was expected to discuss the anti-Islam YouTube film during his UN speech today, and he didn’t disappoint. He devoted over 1,000 words to the topic, much of which had already been said repeatedly by the White House, the State Department, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and government-sponsored commercials in Pakistan:

At times, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe, and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening. In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others. And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.

For as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe.

We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them. I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

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President Obama was expected to discuss the anti-Islam YouTube film during his UN speech today, and he didn’t disappoint. He devoted over 1,000 words to the topic, much of which had already been said repeatedly by the White House, the State Department, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and government-sponsored commercials in Pakistan:

At times, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe, and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening. In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others. And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.

For as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe.

We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them. I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

Obama did defend the First Amendment rights of “those who slander the prophet of Islam” in the speech, as well — but it came off as more as an explanation of why we haven’t banned the video or locked up the video producer than anything else. As I’ve written before, there’s no problem with Obama condemning the film, as any reasonable person should. But this is a matter of emphasis. Obama had a global platform, and he could have used it to primarily call out the Islamist leaders who encouraged the violence and reaffirm American resolve against the terror-supporters who raised Salafist flags above our embassies.

If no insulting video can justify violence, as Obama said during his speech, then why spend so much time apologizing for it? Why take paragraphs to explain that the U.S. does not support or agree with it? If the film is not responsible for the riots, then issue a press release criticizing it, and that should be the end of story.

Obama mainly just reheated the same old lines his administration has been saying for weeks, but he also threw some of his trademark cliches and straw men into the mix:

It is time to marginalize those who, even when not directly resorting to violence, use hatred of America or the West or Israel as the central organizing principle of politics, for that only gives cover and sometimes makes an excuse for those who do resort to violence. That brand of politics, one that pits East against West and South against North, Muslims against Christians and Hindu and Jews, can’t deliver on the promise of freedom.

To the youth, it offers only false hope. Burning an American flag does nothing to provide a child an education. Smashing apart a restaurant does not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an embassy won’t create a single job. That brand of politics only makes it harder to achieve what we must do together, educating our children and creating the opportunities that they deserve, protecting human rights and extending democracy’s promise.

The above may be the most meaningless paragraph of all time. Burning an American flag doesn’t provide children with education? Really? Those rioters in Pakistan must feel pretty foolish to learn they’ve been going about their childhood education advocacy all wrong. Good thing President Obama came out to set them straight.

This is Obama’s fundamental error. The mobs burning our embassies and attacking police are not seeking freedom, or gender equality or jobs. They are seeking the destruction of America and the Western world. We have no reason to apologize to them, nor is it prudent to do so. Not only are they our enemies, they’re the enemies of the liberals we’re supposed to be supporting in these countries. They’re the people who killed Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, threw acid at schoolgirls in Afghanistan, and burned Coptic churches in Egypt. They don’t care about “creating opportunities,” “protecting human rights,” and “extending democracy’s promise.” Quite the opposite, actually.

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U.S. Officials Stay Seated While Ahmadinejad Blasts Israel

The AP is reporting that the U.S. delegation stayed seated while Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waxed philosophical about the historical accuracy of the Holocaust and the illegitimacy of the “Zionist regime” yesterday, even as Israel’s ambassador to the UN walked out in protest. I don’t see Susan Rice on the Fox News video, but at least three U.S. officials remained in their chairs (one of whom seemed to be diligently taking notes).

A UN walkout can be an important symbol of rejection when done effectively, but the fact that Israel left alone, while the U.S. stayed to listen to Ahmadinejad’s eliminationist musings, sent another message. Taken with Obama’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu, and the recent dismissal of Israeli “noise,” there’s a growing sense that the administration is distancing itself from Israel because it wants nothing to do with a potential attack on Iran:

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The AP is reporting that the U.S. delegation stayed seated while Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waxed philosophical about the historical accuracy of the Holocaust and the illegitimacy of the “Zionist regime” yesterday, even as Israel’s ambassador to the UN walked out in protest. I don’t see Susan Rice on the Fox News video, but at least three U.S. officials remained in their chairs (one of whom seemed to be diligently taking notes).

A UN walkout can be an important symbol of rejection when done effectively, but the fact that Israel left alone, while the U.S. stayed to listen to Ahmadinejad’s eliminationist musings, sent another message. Taken with Obama’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu, and the recent dismissal of Israeli “noise,” there’s a growing sense that the administration is distancing itself from Israel because it wants nothing to do with a potential attack on Iran:

Iran’s president called Israel a nuclear-armed “fake regime” shielded by the United States, prompting Israel’s U.N. ambassador to walk out of a high-level U.N. meeting Monday promoting the rule of law.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also accused the U.S. and others of misusing freedom of speech and failing to speak out against the defamation of people’s beliefs and “divine prophets,” an apparent reference to the recently circulated amateur video made in the U.S. which attacks Islam and denigrates the Prophet Muhammad. ….

The U.S. delegation did not walk out of Monday’s meeting, as it has in the past when Iran attacked Israel directly.

Ahmadinejad did not name either Israel or the U.S. in his speech but his targets were clear when he said: “We have witnessed that some members of the Security Council with veto right have chosen silence with regard to the nuclear warheads of a fake regime while at the same time they impede scientific progress of other nations.”

This paragraph (via Breitbart) is also a clear allusion to Iran’s Holocaust denial conferences:

[Ahmadinejad] also bore down on those who have revolted at Holocaust revisionism. He did this by calling attention to those who “infringe upon other’s freedom and allow sacrilege to people’s beliefs and sanctities, while they criticize posing questions or investigating into historical issues.”

Keep in mind that yesterday’s speech was just a warmup for Ahmadinejad — he’s set to give his big UN address on Yom Kippur tomorrow. Unless he somehow manages to steal another term (not permitted under the Iranian constitution), this is his last hurrah at Turtle Bay. So we can expect plenty of insanity on Wednesday.

At the Washington Times, Kerry Picket flags a USA Today report that President Obama’s UN speech today will denounce, yet again, the anti-Islam film the administration has repeatedly blamed for provoking riots across the Middle East. The Obama administration gave a perfunctory condemnation of Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday, but the big question is, will Obama’s speech address Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic vitriol, as well?

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Ahmadinejad’s Stale Script

Though the annual United Nations General Assembly speech from Iranian genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is always offensive yet never truly interesting, his occasional interaction with the press can be worth watching. The delicate dance dictators do with their interviewers in the West often offers a cheat sheet in how the murderous maniacs code their hateful messages to give them a sheen of respectability.

Sometimes the press performs a valuable service in such cases by at least allowing monstrous men to display their monstrousness for all to see, though few fall into this trap. Other times, just asking a tough question or two can have the benefit of making the dictator and his audience painfully aware of the freedom enjoyed by the press and the public outside his country. So I can’t help but be puzzled by veteran foreign affairs editor David Ignatius’s interview with Ahmadinejad for the Washington Post, which seems to indicate that interviewing Ahmadinejad has nothing left to offer. Partway through the interview, the two have the following exchange:

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Though the annual United Nations General Assembly speech from Iranian genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is always offensive yet never truly interesting, his occasional interaction with the press can be worth watching. The delicate dance dictators do with their interviewers in the West often offers a cheat sheet in how the murderous maniacs code their hateful messages to give them a sheen of respectability.

Sometimes the press performs a valuable service in such cases by at least allowing monstrous men to display their monstrousness for all to see, though few fall into this trap. Other times, just asking a tough question or two can have the benefit of making the dictator and his audience painfully aware of the freedom enjoyed by the press and the public outside his country. So I can’t help but be puzzled by veteran foreign affairs editor David Ignatius’s interview with Ahmadinejad for the Washington Post, which seems to indicate that interviewing Ahmadinejad has nothing left to offer. Partway through the interview, the two have the following exchange:

Ignatius: Mr. President, can I ask you to turn to the P5+1 negotiations.

Ahmadinejad; “We are sincerely and truly ready. We have given many sound proposals as well. Fundamentally, we have no concerns about moving forward with the dialogue, we have always wanted a dialogue. We have a very clear logic: We do believe that if everyone adheres to the rule of law and everyone respects all parties, that there will be no problems.”

Of course the Iranians want to talk. Their strategy is to buy time, and prolonging failed negotiations that the Iranians conduct in bad faith is forever at the top of the Iranian wish list. But I suppose one question about negotiations is standard. So why does Ignatius take the interview in that direction and rarely veer back onto more concrete items?

The two talk about the P5+1 issue for a bit, but then just as soon as the two have moved on, they come right back to it and have this exchange:

Ignatius: So you wouldn’t expect significant progress until our election is over?

Ahmadinejad: “About the nuclear issue, you mean?”

Ignatius: Yes, dialogue between our two countries, significant progress in any of these negotiations.

Why would there be significant progress after a theoretical Obama re-election? Is Obama the problem? Has Obama been too tough in negotiations with the Iranians? Has the president shown insufficient “flexibility”–the new watchword for Obama’s diplomacy? Isn’t the answer to these questions an obvious “no”? Here is what comes next in the interview:

Ahmadinejad: “I firmly believe that the best type of government is the government that firmly pursues the wishes of her people. We have always been ready and we are ready. But experience has shown that important and key decisions are not made in the U.S. leading up to national elections. Am I right?”

Ignatius: You are correct. …So let me ask you about two issues where everyone wants to make peace and the interests of the United States and Iran might be similar. And the first is Syria. There’s a terrible war eating Syria alive, and I wonder if you, as head of your government, have any proposals that might lead to a just ceasefire. Not the status quo, but something different.

Yes, Mr. Ahmadinejad, you’ve wisely diagnosed the malady afflicting American democracy; now let us negotiate about the Syrian slaughter you’re aiding and abetting: any ideas?

When they finish solving Syria, they come around to this exchange:

Ignatius: What I’m hearing is that perhaps after the U.S. election, if the U.S. is interested in dialogue with Iran about Afghanistan, direct discussions might be welcome.

Ahmadinejad: Yes, as I stated we have been the main architects of several regional meetings, three of which have already taken place. And we are very willing to give them green light for their involvement in these gatherings, as well. But the condition is any country’s respect for self-governance and self-rule of Afghanistan, and the independence of Afghanistan.”

More negotiations, this time on Afghanistan.

I’m not suggesting Iran would not, in a more perfect world, have a serious role to play in the stability of the Mideast. But under current conditions, Iran’s concept of a stable Middle East is very different from ours, and its leaders have given us no indication that they take negotiations seriously or mean what they say. The conversation now goes around in circles: Ahmadinejad is asked for his help, he says sure, let’s talk, and then goes back to brutally suppressing his people, executing gays, working toward the annihilation of the Jewish people, and ordering terrorist attacks on Western targets across the globe. Then we ask for his help again.

Do the U.S. and Iran have anything left to say to each other? If they do, you won’t find it in Ahmadinejad’s interviews.

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Portraits of the Peace Process in Its 92nd Year

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

In the National Interest, Benny Morris succinctly summarizes the peace process, writing that there can be disagreement about tactical mistakes made over the years, but that:

[T]here can be no serious argument about what transpired in July and December 2000, when Arafat sequentially rejected comprehensive Israeli and Israeli-American proposals for a two-state solution which would have given the Palestinians (“the Clinton Parameters”) sovereignty and independence in 95% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and half of Jerusalem (including half or three-quarters of the Old City).

And further that:

[T]here can be no serious argument either about Abbas’s rejection of the similar, perhaps even slightly better deal, offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. (Indeed, these rejections of a two-state solution were already a tradition set in stone: The Palestinians’ leaders had rejected two-state compromises in 1937 (the Peel proposals), 1947 (the UN General Assembly partition resolution) and (implicitly) in 1978 (when Arafat rejected the Sadat-Begin Camp David agreement, which provided for “autonomy” in the Palestinan territories).

That is six Palestinian rejections of a Palestinian state: 1937, 1947, 1978, 2000 (twice), 2008.

Actually, the correct number is seven, since Morris omitted the first one: in 1919, Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, and Emir Feisal Ibn al-Hussein al-Hashemi signed an agreement providing for Arab recognition of the Balfour Declaration, Arab retention of the Muslim holy sites, and WZO agreement to the establishment of an Arab state. Later that year, the Arabs repudiated the agreement.

We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offer.

In the February 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley also provide an interesting analysis of the peace process. They assert the Obama administration has badly damaged U.S. credibility:

[It] was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.

Agha and Malley do not recommend a policy of their own. They suggest Mahmoud Abbas is the “last Palestinian” able to end the conflict, but it is an unconvincing conclusion. He has already missed multiple moments: in 2005, he received all of Gaza and presided over its conversion into Hamastan; in 2006, he could not win an election against a terrorist group; in 2007, he got thrown out of Gaza altogether; in 2008, he received the seventh offer of a state and turned it down; in 2009, he arrived in Washington D.C. and told the Washington Post he would do nothing but wait; in 2010, he is turning to the UN rather than negotiate. His term of office ended more than two years ago.

Rather than being the key to peace, he is a reflection of the fact that on the Palestinian side, in the 92nd year, there is no one there to make it.

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Good News on Durban III?

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

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Netanyahu’s Lieberman-Livni Trap

In an ideal world, a foreign minister who publicly repudiated his prime minister’s positions on a key foreign-policy issue from the podium of the UN General Assembly would be fired instantly. So why didn’t Benjamin Netanyahu fire Avigdor Lieberman when the latter repudiated his boss’s Palestinian policy in his UN address yesterday? There’s a two-word answer: Tzipi Livni.

Firing Lieberman would push his 15-man faction out of the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a minority government. Even if such a government survived, it couldn’t accomplish anything. And it certainly wouldn’t have either the moral authority to conduct delicate and controversial negotiations or the political power to sell any deal to the public.

But the only possible replacement for Lieberman’s party is Kadima: the other non-coalition parties are five splinter factions, one far-left, one far-right, and three Arab. And Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s conditions for joining are so outrageous that even public humiliation by Lieberman is preferable.

When Netanyahu was elected last year, Kadima was actually his preferred coalition partner, because its views on many domestic issues resemble his. Since the “peace process” seemed to be going nowhere, he hoped Kadima would ally with his Likud to address crucial domestic problems that had been neglected for years as successive governments devoted themselves either to fruitless peace talks or to coping with the terror they inevitably spawned.

But in the ensuing coalition talks, Livni posed two unacceptable demands.

One was that she and Netanyahu should rotate the prime minister’s job, with each serving part of the term. Israel has had rotation governments before, when neither major party could form a coalition on its own. But in this case, the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu trounced Livni’s leftist bloc, 65 seats to 44. Thus Livni was essentially demanding that Netanyahu throw away his victory, overturn the will of the voters, and crown her prime minister instead — something no self-respecting politician could do.

Her second condition, however, was even worse: she demanded that during Netanyahu’s stint as prime minister, she, as foreign minister, should have sole and exclusive authority over Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, she wanted the elected prime minister to abdicate control over one of the most important issues in the government’s portfolio: negotiations that will determine Israel’s border, the status of its capital, security arrangements, and more.

That, too, is something to which no prime minister could consent — especially when Kadima’s views on the peace process are so radically opposed to Likud’s: The last Kadima-led government, in which Livni served as foreign minister, even offered to cede the Western Wall!

And if these were Livni’s demands when she knew Netanyahu had a viable alternative (the government he eventually formed), one can only imagine what her demands would be should Netanyahu oust Lieberman, leaving himself utterly dependent on her.

It’s a pity that Israel’s opposition leader is too egomaniacal, even by political standards, to be a viable partner. But in a reality where his only alternative is Livni’s exorbitant and dangerous substantive demands, Netanyahu has no choice but to swallow Lieberman’s insults and try to contain the diplomatic fallout.

In an ideal world, a foreign minister who publicly repudiated his prime minister’s positions on a key foreign-policy issue from the podium of the UN General Assembly would be fired instantly. So why didn’t Benjamin Netanyahu fire Avigdor Lieberman when the latter repudiated his boss’s Palestinian policy in his UN address yesterday? There’s a two-word answer: Tzipi Livni.

Firing Lieberman would push his 15-man faction out of the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a minority government. Even if such a government survived, it couldn’t accomplish anything. And it certainly wouldn’t have either the moral authority to conduct delicate and controversial negotiations or the political power to sell any deal to the public.

But the only possible replacement for Lieberman’s party is Kadima: the other non-coalition parties are five splinter factions, one far-left, one far-right, and three Arab. And Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s conditions for joining are so outrageous that even public humiliation by Lieberman is preferable.

When Netanyahu was elected last year, Kadima was actually his preferred coalition partner, because its views on many domestic issues resemble his. Since the “peace process” seemed to be going nowhere, he hoped Kadima would ally with his Likud to address crucial domestic problems that had been neglected for years as successive governments devoted themselves either to fruitless peace talks or to coping with the terror they inevitably spawned.

But in the ensuing coalition talks, Livni posed two unacceptable demands.

One was that she and Netanyahu should rotate the prime minister’s job, with each serving part of the term. Israel has had rotation governments before, when neither major party could form a coalition on its own. But in this case, the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu trounced Livni’s leftist bloc, 65 seats to 44. Thus Livni was essentially demanding that Netanyahu throw away his victory, overturn the will of the voters, and crown her prime minister instead — something no self-respecting politician could do.

Her second condition, however, was even worse: she demanded that during Netanyahu’s stint as prime minister, she, as foreign minister, should have sole and exclusive authority over Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, she wanted the elected prime minister to abdicate control over one of the most important issues in the government’s portfolio: negotiations that will determine Israel’s border, the status of its capital, security arrangements, and more.

That, too, is something to which no prime minister could consent — especially when Kadima’s views on the peace process are so radically opposed to Likud’s: The last Kadima-led government, in which Livni served as foreign minister, even offered to cede the Western Wall!

And if these were Livni’s demands when she knew Netanyahu had a viable alternative (the government he eventually formed), one can only imagine what her demands would be should Netanyahu oust Lieberman, leaving himself utterly dependent on her.

It’s a pity that Israel’s opposition leader is too egomaniacal, even by political standards, to be a viable partner. But in a reality where his only alternative is Livni’s exorbitant and dangerous substantive demands, Netanyahu has no choice but to swallow Lieberman’s insults and try to contain the diplomatic fallout.

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RE: The Farce Ends

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

Jen, the farce has been exposed, but it is not likely to end.

Nearly 15 months ago, weeks after forming a coalition government with parties to both his left and right, Benjamin Netanyahu came to the White House and announced he was ready for immediate negotiations without preconditions. A week later, Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington and announced his strategy to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait … for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures.

The following month, Netanyahu publicly endorsed the two-state formula; after that, he produced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. Obama proved unable to persuade any Arab state to take any confidence-building measure, despite a personal visit (and bow) to the King of Saudi Arabia and what is surely the most pathetic public plea in the history of American diplomacy: Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations begging Arab states to take some steps, “however modest,” toward normalization with Israel.

In December 2009, Abbas told the Israeli press that final-status negotiations could be completed in six months if Israel would just completely halt construction for six months. In George Mitchell’s January 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, Rose noted the moratorium was for 10 months and then had this colloquy with Mitchell:

CHARLIE ROSE:  That gives you an incentive to say to the parties, what? … if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don’t think we can get it again.

GEORGE MITCHELL:  Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you.  I’ve made it several times.

Since then, Abbas has increased his pre-negotiation demands: not only a complete construction halt but also acceptance of: (1) the indefensible 1967 borders as the basis of negotiation; and (2) limitation of security arrangements to foreign peacekeepers. These conditions are designed to insure that negotiations cannot start.

But the reason the now-obvious farce will not end is that the real deadline for this exercise in smart diplomacy is September, when three events coalesce: (1) the end of the four-month period for “proximity” talks; (2) the end of the 10-month settlement moratorium; and (3) the meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the Obama administration hopes to announce the “success” of its year-and-a-half efforts to produce… drum roll… direct talks! Until then, the show must go on.

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Wikileaks and the Goldstone Precedent

Robin Shepherd of the London-based Henry Jackson Society makes an important point about the classified documents on Afghanistan that Wikileaks revealed this week: the descriptions of “accidental killings by our soldiers of hundreds of innocent civilians — revellers at wedding parties, kids in school buses, ordinary people going about their daily business who tragically found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time” — sound very much like the kinds of accidental civilian deaths for which the Goldstone Committee wants Israel charged with war crimes.

In both cases, Shepherd notes, the civilian casualties were the inevitable result of combat against a terrorist organization that “systematically hides behind the civilian population”: the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Gaza. Yet several coalition countries have been “cheerleading the passage of the Goldstone Report on Gaza through the United Nations,” not realizing that the precedent they’re setting could eventually be used against their own soldiers.

Shepherd doesn’t give the numbers, but they are shocking: of the 45 countries with troops in Afghanistan, only 12 voted against endorsing the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly. Twelve voted in favor, and 21 abstained.

Notable abstainers included Britain and France — which, as the second- and fourth-largest troop contributors to Afghanistan, are among the most vulnerable to Goldstone-style charges — and Georgia, which faces allegations of similar “war crimes” during its 2008 war with Russia. Turkey, which routinely kills civilians in its battles with the PKK, voted “yes.”

Granted, the Goldstone Report was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, which has never shown any interest in investigating any country but Israel. So coalition members probably don’t have anything to fear from that quarter. But the HRC is not the only player on this field.

An acquaintance recently reported being shocked when, at an academic conference, a guest speaker from the International Criminal Court explicitly described the court’s plan as establishing a precedent via the “easy” cases it’s tackling now (egregious human rights violators like the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Sudanese officials involved in the Darfur genocide) that will grant it legitimacy to prosecute anyone for anything, worldwide, thereafter. And once it establishes this precedent, it intends to use it, the speaker added.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone: it’s what smart courts do when trying to establish a new power (as anyone who has seen Israel’s Supreme Court in action would know). They always start with “easy” cases — ones where the public will like the outcome and will therefore ignore the dangerous procedural precedent. And Israel, due to its global unpopularity, is precisely such a case.

Then, with the precedent set, courts can proceed to “hard” cases, with potentially unpopular outcomes, without fearing serious backlash. After all, you can’t accuse a court of behaving improperly if it’s merely doing what it has done many times before without anyone objecting.

Thus if the Goldstone Report isn’t stopped, the U.S. and its allies will eventually pay the price. But since many of those allies clearly haven’t grasped this, it’s Washington’s job to drive the point home.

Robin Shepherd of the London-based Henry Jackson Society makes an important point about the classified documents on Afghanistan that Wikileaks revealed this week: the descriptions of “accidental killings by our soldiers of hundreds of innocent civilians — revellers at wedding parties, kids in school buses, ordinary people going about their daily business who tragically found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time” — sound very much like the kinds of accidental civilian deaths for which the Goldstone Committee wants Israel charged with war crimes.

In both cases, Shepherd notes, the civilian casualties were the inevitable result of combat against a terrorist organization that “systematically hides behind the civilian population”: the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Gaza. Yet several coalition countries have been “cheerleading the passage of the Goldstone Report on Gaza through the United Nations,” not realizing that the precedent they’re setting could eventually be used against their own soldiers.

Shepherd doesn’t give the numbers, but they are shocking: of the 45 countries with troops in Afghanistan, only 12 voted against endorsing the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly. Twelve voted in favor, and 21 abstained.

Notable abstainers included Britain and France — which, as the second- and fourth-largest troop contributors to Afghanistan, are among the most vulnerable to Goldstone-style charges — and Georgia, which faces allegations of similar “war crimes” during its 2008 war with Russia. Turkey, which routinely kills civilians in its battles with the PKK, voted “yes.”

Granted, the Goldstone Report was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, which has never shown any interest in investigating any country but Israel. So coalition members probably don’t have anything to fear from that quarter. But the HRC is not the only player on this field.

An acquaintance recently reported being shocked when, at an academic conference, a guest speaker from the International Criminal Court explicitly described the court’s plan as establishing a precedent via the “easy” cases it’s tackling now (egregious human rights violators like the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Sudanese officials involved in the Darfur genocide) that will grant it legitimacy to prosecute anyone for anything, worldwide, thereafter. And once it establishes this precedent, it intends to use it, the speaker added.

But that shouldn’t surprise anyone: it’s what smart courts do when trying to establish a new power (as anyone who has seen Israel’s Supreme Court in action would know). They always start with “easy” cases — ones where the public will like the outcome and will therefore ignore the dangerous procedural precedent. And Israel, due to its global unpopularity, is precisely such a case.

Then, with the precedent set, courts can proceed to “hard” cases, with potentially unpopular outcomes, without fearing serious backlash. After all, you can’t accuse a court of behaving improperly if it’s merely doing what it has done many times before without anyone objecting.

Thus if the Goldstone Report isn’t stopped, the U.S. and its allies will eventually pay the price. But since many of those allies clearly haven’t grasped this, it’s Washington’s job to drive the point home.

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Blatant Bias

Anyone who still doubts the magnitude of the UN Human Rights Council’s anti-Israel bias should read this Jerusalem Post expose on the man appointed to head the council’s latest probe of Israel, German jurist Christian Tomuschat.

Tomuschat’s panel will investigate compliance with the Goldstone Report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during last year’s war in Gaza and ordered each to investigate and try its own perpetrators. Thus essentially, Tomuschat is charged with determining whether Israel and Hamas have properly investigated and prosecuted the Goldstone Committee’s allegations.

So here’s what the Jerusalem Post discovered about him. First, he co-authored a brief for Yasser Arafat in 1996 on what legal strategies Palestinians should pursue against Israel — including, incidentally, one they later used with regard to Israel’s security barrier: asking the UN General Assembly to seek a judgment against Israel from the International Court of Justice. Questioned by the Post, Tomuschat confirmed his involvement in the brief but “could not recall” whether Arafat commissioned it.

That’s a distinction without a difference — because whether or not he worked specifically for Arafat, he did work, either voluntarily or for pay, for one party to the current case: the Palestinians. In most legal systems, that would disqualify him from serving as a judge. But not in the HRC’s system.

Second, Tomuschat has already asserted, in a 2002 paper, that states can never properly investigate their own militaries. In his words: “There is little hope that the judicial system of the state concerned will conduct effective investigations and punish the responsible agents. Nowhere have excesses committed by security forces been adequately punished.”

So the man charged with deciding whether Israel’s legal system has adequately investigated its military’s actions in Gaza has already publicly concluded that no legal system ever can. That, too, would suffice to disqualify him in most courts.

Finally, Tomuschat has already asserted that civilian casualties can never be justified as collateral damage of a legitimate military attack. In that same 2002 paper, he wrote: “If a state strikes blindly against presumed terrorists and their environment, accepting that together with the suspects other civilians lose their lives, it uses the same tactics as the terrorists themselves.” Then, lest anyone miss the point, he said in a 2007 interview that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists constitute “state terrorism” because they sometimes cause civilian casualties.

So the man charged with determining whether Israel’s legal system correctly applied international law to specific incidents publicly rejects a major premise of said law: that civilian casualties aren’t crimes if they result unintentionally from proportionate strikes on legitimate military targets. Just this month, for instance, a Korean probe into American soldiers’ Korean War killings of 138 Korean civilians concluded that most were legal because they stemmed from “military necessity.”

In most legal systems, someone who publicly rejected a major principle of the relevant legal code would be disqualified — especially when one side (Israel) has based all its decisions on that principle. But not in the HRC’s system.

The HRC’s legal system, it seems, has only one sacrosanct principle: against Israel, anything goes.

Anyone who still doubts the magnitude of the UN Human Rights Council’s anti-Israel bias should read this Jerusalem Post expose on the man appointed to head the council’s latest probe of Israel, German jurist Christian Tomuschat.

Tomuschat’s panel will investigate compliance with the Goldstone Report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during last year’s war in Gaza and ordered each to investigate and try its own perpetrators. Thus essentially, Tomuschat is charged with determining whether Israel and Hamas have properly investigated and prosecuted the Goldstone Committee’s allegations.

So here’s what the Jerusalem Post discovered about him. First, he co-authored a brief for Yasser Arafat in 1996 on what legal strategies Palestinians should pursue against Israel — including, incidentally, one they later used with regard to Israel’s security barrier: asking the UN General Assembly to seek a judgment against Israel from the International Court of Justice. Questioned by the Post, Tomuschat confirmed his involvement in the brief but “could not recall” whether Arafat commissioned it.

That’s a distinction without a difference — because whether or not he worked specifically for Arafat, he did work, either voluntarily or for pay, for one party to the current case: the Palestinians. In most legal systems, that would disqualify him from serving as a judge. But not in the HRC’s system.

Second, Tomuschat has already asserted, in a 2002 paper, that states can never properly investigate their own militaries. In his words: “There is little hope that the judicial system of the state concerned will conduct effective investigations and punish the responsible agents. Nowhere have excesses committed by security forces been adequately punished.”

So the man charged with deciding whether Israel’s legal system has adequately investigated its military’s actions in Gaza has already publicly concluded that no legal system ever can. That, too, would suffice to disqualify him in most courts.

Finally, Tomuschat has already asserted that civilian casualties can never be justified as collateral damage of a legitimate military attack. In that same 2002 paper, he wrote: “If a state strikes blindly against presumed terrorists and their environment, accepting that together with the suspects other civilians lose their lives, it uses the same tactics as the terrorists themselves.” Then, lest anyone miss the point, he said in a 2007 interview that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists constitute “state terrorism” because they sometimes cause civilian casualties.

So the man charged with determining whether Israel’s legal system correctly applied international law to specific incidents publicly rejects a major premise of said law: that civilian casualties aren’t crimes if they result unintentionally from proportionate strikes on legitimate military targets. Just this month, for instance, a Korean probe into American soldiers’ Korean War killings of 138 Korean civilians concluded that most were legal because they stemmed from “military necessity.”

In most legal systems, someone who publicly rejected a major principle of the relevant legal code would be disqualified — especially when one side (Israel) has based all its decisions on that principle. But not in the HRC’s system.

The HRC’s legal system, it seems, has only one sacrosanct principle: against Israel, anything goes.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Sidelight on the ICJ’s Kosovo Decision

Yesterday, the International Court of Justice, in a nonbinding opinion that resulted from a referral from the UN General Assembly at Serbia’s behest, ruled that Kosovo’s breakaway from Serbia was not illegal because “general international law contains no applicable prohibition on declarations of independence.” Well, that’s a relief.

On its merits, the opinion was correct. But this is exactly the kind of fundamentally political question that cannot be settled by the courts – especially not an international court. If the ICJ had decided that Kosovo’s independence was illegal, it would in theory have committed itself and the UN to reversing it. That could only be done by force applied by the so-called international community against Kosovo. There was and is not the slightest chance of that. The ICJ would have done better to refuse to accept the referral on the grounds that the matter was outside its competence.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Yesterday, the International Court of Justice, in a nonbinding opinion that resulted from a referral from the UN General Assembly at Serbia’s behest, ruled that Kosovo’s breakaway from Serbia was not illegal because “general international law contains no applicable prohibition on declarations of independence.” Well, that’s a relief.

On its merits, the opinion was correct. But this is exactly the kind of fundamentally political question that cannot be settled by the courts – especially not an international court. If the ICJ had decided that Kosovo’s independence was illegal, it would in theory have committed itself and the UN to reversing it. That could only be done by force applied by the so-called international community against Kosovo. There was and is not the slightest chance of that. The ICJ would have done better to refuse to accept the referral on the grounds that the matter was outside its competence.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Why Is Obama So Disrespectful of Britain?

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States – from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

The Daily Mail today points out (h/t Instapundit) that Barack Obama, as candidate and president, has not said a single word in a speech regarding the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. That overstates the case a bit, as he did, at least once, use the phrase at a press conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he visited Britain in April.

But the Daily Mail is right in general. Obama has been minimal, to say the least, in his treatment of Great Britain. In his speech at West Point last week, he did not mention Britain. This despite the fact that the British have been our staunchest ally in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where the British now have 10,000 soldiers and have suffered 237 killed, more than a hundred this year alone. That’s 15 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan and 25 percent of the number of soldiers the United States has lost there. In other words, Britain has lost more soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its population, than has the United States. And its contribution to the war effort has been every bit as large relative to its economy.

Obama has not only mostly ignored our British ally, he has positively insulted them.  Hardly had he moved into the Oval Office when he ordered that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the British embassy. It had been given to the White House, in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, shortly after 9/11 .

When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the White House in March, he was denied a joint press conference and a formal dinner, as is standard when world leaders have talks with the president. Brown gave the president a pen holder made from the timbers of HMS Gannet, which had played an active part in suppressing the slave trade in the early 19th century. He also gave him the commissioning papers of HMS Resolute, which had been trapped in arctic ice, abandoned, found by an American whaling vessel, purchased by Congress, and presented to Queen Victoria as a gesture of friendship. In 1880, after the Resolute was broken up, the Queen ordered two magnificent desks made from her timbers. One is in Buckingham Palace. The other was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes and has been used by almost every president since, including Barack Obama.

Obama gave Brown, not a movie buff, a bunch of classic American films on DVDs that won’t even play on British DVD players.

Although Obama bowed deeply to the King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan, when he met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in April, a hand shake was deemed sufficient.

When Brown came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and the G20 summit in September, Obama refused repeated requests by the British Foreign Office to meet privately with Brown, although he found time to meet with the presidents of Russia and China, and the Japanese prime minister.

Why is the Obama White House treating the British this way? What has it got to gain from deliberate rudeness, such as returning the gift of a bust of the man who in 1940 saved the world — including the United States – from “a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”?

Why treat Gordon Brown as though he headed the government of a banana republic rather than the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few friendly countries on earth with serious military capabilities?

Like so much of this administration, it seems just gratuitous arrogance.

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The Panama Precedent

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made several welcome changes to his ministry’s priority list, with perhaps the most noteworthy being the section on bilateral relationships. Strengthening ties with Arab states, which was at the top of that section under his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, is now at the bottom. Instead, Lieberman assigned priority to strengthening ties with the hitherto neglected regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is a smart move. No Arab state is going to be anything but hostile in the foreseeable future. And while it is obviously preferable for states like Saudi Arabia to remain at their present hostility level rather than to escalate to Iran’s level, any investment beyond the minimum needed to ensure this much is just wasted time and effort.

In contrast, few non-Muslim states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are inherently hostile to Israel; hence an investment of time and effort might well improve relations. And while most of these countries have little clout, they could nevertheless do much to boost Israel’s global image.

To understand why, consider this month’s UN General Assembly vote endorsing the Goldstone Report. The resolution passed 118-18-44, with another 16 countries not voting. That is a lopsided condemnation of Israel.

But of the 16 countries that skipped the vote, all were from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Of the 44 abstainers, 18 were from these regions (most were European). And of the 118 who voted in favor, almost half belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference; most of the rest were non-Muslim states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (plus five European states). Thus the vote could clearly have been made much less lopsided by flipping some of these states from “yes” to “abstention” and others from “abstention” or “not voting” to “no.”

Why does this matter? Because the fact that resolutions condemning Israel consistently pass by such lopsided margins contributes greatly to Israel’s pariah image, portraying it as a country with scarcely a friend in the world. If, instead, such condemnations passed only narrowly, this would portray it as a country that, despite many enemies, also has many friends. And countries with many friends are by definition not pariahs.

Could an investment of diplomatic effort flip some of these countries? It’s hard to know, given that Israel has never tried; for decades, its diplomacy has focused almost exclusively on the West and the Middle East. Nevertheless, another datum from the Goldstone vote is suggestive: the only Latin American country that did vote “no” on Goldstone — Panama — did so two weeks after its president met personally with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

And that’s the point: Most of these countries know little about Israel, and therefore care little. But if Israel made an effort to fill the knowledge gap, the caring gap might shrink, too. At the very least, it’s worth a try — especially when the alternative is for Israeli diplomats to waste their time battering their heads against a hostile Arab wall.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made several welcome changes to his ministry’s priority list, with perhaps the most noteworthy being the section on bilateral relationships. Strengthening ties with Arab states, which was at the top of that section under his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, is now at the bottom. Instead, Lieberman assigned priority to strengthening ties with the hitherto neglected regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is a smart move. No Arab state is going to be anything but hostile in the foreseeable future. And while it is obviously preferable for states like Saudi Arabia to remain at their present hostility level rather than to escalate to Iran’s level, any investment beyond the minimum needed to ensure this much is just wasted time and effort.

In contrast, few non-Muslim states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are inherently hostile to Israel; hence an investment of time and effort might well improve relations. And while most of these countries have little clout, they could nevertheless do much to boost Israel’s global image.

To understand why, consider this month’s UN General Assembly vote endorsing the Goldstone Report. The resolution passed 118-18-44, with another 16 countries not voting. That is a lopsided condemnation of Israel.

But of the 16 countries that skipped the vote, all were from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Of the 44 abstainers, 18 were from these regions (most were European). And of the 118 who voted in favor, almost half belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference; most of the rest were non-Muslim states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (plus five European states). Thus the vote could clearly have been made much less lopsided by flipping some of these states from “yes” to “abstention” and others from “abstention” or “not voting” to “no.”

Why does this matter? Because the fact that resolutions condemning Israel consistently pass by such lopsided margins contributes greatly to Israel’s pariah image, portraying it as a country with scarcely a friend in the world. If, instead, such condemnations passed only narrowly, this would portray it as a country that, despite many enemies, also has many friends. And countries with many friends are by definition not pariahs.

Could an investment of diplomatic effort flip some of these countries? It’s hard to know, given that Israel has never tried; for decades, its diplomacy has focused almost exclusively on the West and the Middle East. Nevertheless, another datum from the Goldstone vote is suggestive: the only Latin American country that did vote “no” on Goldstone — Panama — did so two weeks after its president met personally with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

And that’s the point: Most of these countries know little about Israel, and therefore care little. But if Israel made an effort to fill the knowledge gap, the caring gap might shrink, too. At the very least, it’s worth a try — especially when the alternative is for Israeli diplomats to waste their time battering their heads against a hostile Arab wall.

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China’s Global Truce

On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on all member states to observe a truce during next year’s Beijing Olympics and the subsequent Paralympic Games. Ancient Greek states halted warfare for the Olympics, and the General Assembly has adopted Olympic truce resolutions since 1993. This year, China sponsored the UN resolution and crowed about it in state media afterward.

This is one Chinese Communist initiative that I endorse heartily. In fact, I like it so much I think the concept should be extended. For example, during these sporting events Beijing could withdraw its support for the Sudanese government and the murderous Janjaweed militia; refuse to sell small arms to Iran so that it can send them to insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan; stop its diplomatic backing of Tehran’s atomic ayatollahs and pull back its nuclear technicians in Iran; suspend its assistance to North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Burma; discontinue its campaign of cyber-attacks on other governments; and, if all of this is not too much to ask, take a break from conspiring with Moscow to commit mischief around the world.

Even more important, I suggest that, during the Olympic events next year, the Chinese Communist Party suspend its struggle against the legitimate aspirations of the Chinese people. While the truce is in effect the Party would, among other things, lift all censorship of the media, allow people to assemble and protest, free all jailed dissidents, stop all forced sterilizations and abortions, end the practice of destroying places of worship and beating parishioners, and prohibit local officials from engaging in their normally rapacious behavior.

Under my temporary truce proposal, the Party could resume its malignant practices, both at home and abroad, once the Games are over. Of course, the risk is that the world enjoys the breather so much that the General Assembly decides to ban Beijing’s despotism forever. That is a lot to ask from the UN, but we don’t have to worry. I’m sure the Chinese people would not let the Communists go back to their old way of doing things.

On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on all member states to observe a truce during next year’s Beijing Olympics and the subsequent Paralympic Games. Ancient Greek states halted warfare for the Olympics, and the General Assembly has adopted Olympic truce resolutions since 1993. This year, China sponsored the UN resolution and crowed about it in state media afterward.

This is one Chinese Communist initiative that I endorse heartily. In fact, I like it so much I think the concept should be extended. For example, during these sporting events Beijing could withdraw its support for the Sudanese government and the murderous Janjaweed militia; refuse to sell small arms to Iran so that it can send them to insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan; stop its diplomatic backing of Tehran’s atomic ayatollahs and pull back its nuclear technicians in Iran; suspend its assistance to North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Burma; discontinue its campaign of cyber-attacks on other governments; and, if all of this is not too much to ask, take a break from conspiring with Moscow to commit mischief around the world.

Even more important, I suggest that, during the Olympic events next year, the Chinese Communist Party suspend its struggle against the legitimate aspirations of the Chinese people. While the truce is in effect the Party would, among other things, lift all censorship of the media, allow people to assemble and protest, free all jailed dissidents, stop all forced sterilizations and abortions, end the practice of destroying places of worship and beating parishioners, and prohibit local officials from engaging in their normally rapacious behavior.

Under my temporary truce proposal, the Party could resume its malignant practices, both at home and abroad, once the Games are over. Of course, the risk is that the world enjoys the breather so much that the General Assembly decides to ban Beijing’s despotism forever. That is a lot to ask from the UN, but we don’t have to worry. I’m sure the Chinese people would not let the Communists go back to their old way of doing things.

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