Commentary Magazine


Topic: United Nations General Assembly

Some Terrorists More Equal Than Others

Last week, when President Obama denounced ISIS during his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations and called for a concerted effort by the international community to defeat the terrorist group, he received some well-deserved applause. But when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called for the same body to judge Hamas and Iran by the same standard they use for ISIS, he might as well have been talking to a wall. At the UN, some terrorists are more equal than others, a double standard that was also present when Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the world body on Friday.

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Last week, when President Obama denounced ISIS during his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations and called for a concerted effort by the international community to defeat the terrorist group, he received some well-deserved applause. But when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called for the same body to judge Hamas and Iran by the same standard they use for ISIS, he might as well have been talking to a wall. At the UN, some terrorists are more equal than others, a double standard that was also present when Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the world body on Friday.

That Netanyahu wouldn’t persuade a UN General Assembly that has repeatedly voted to demonize Israeli acts of self-defense against Palestinian terrorism was a given. But the real tragedy is not the indifference of a world body that is tainted by the same virus of anti-Semitism that is gaining strength around the world. It is that those who are supposed to represent the Palestinians are still so cowed by the Islamists that they refuse to understand that the Islamists are as much if not a greater threat to them than they are to Israel. Though much of the Arab and Muslim world is belatedly coming to grips with the fact that ISIS must be destroyed (a task they hope will be largely accomplished by the United States with minimal aid from local forces), if they are to avoid being swept away by a sea of murderous fanaticism, so-called moderate Palestinians must understand that Hamas poses the same threat to their survival.

Instead, when PA leader Abbas had his turn last week at the UN podium, he devoted his remarks to some of the usual calumnies against Israel. He spoke of “war criminals” and genocidal crimes against the Palestinian people having been committed during the 50-day war launched by Hamas this past summer. The problem with this speech wasn’t just that, in stark contrast to Netanyahu who spoke repeatedly of his desire for peace and willingness to compromise to attain an agreement, Abbas talked only about conflict.

More to the point, Abbas refused to point out that the only party that committed war crimes against the Palestinian people was Hamas, his erstwhile partner in the PA government following the signing of a unity pact last spring. It was Hamas, as Netanyahu rightly pointed out, which used Palestinian civilians as human shields behind which it launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities. It was Hamas that sought to maximize Palestinian civilian casualties so as to create more anti-Israel talking points, not a Jewish state that was reluctantly dragged into the conflict and did its best to minimize the impact its counter-attack hand on the people of Gaza.

Abbas has repeatedly demonstrated that he is willing neither to make peace with Israel nor to confront Hamas. Instead, he wishes only to avoid an agreement while continuing to milk the international community for aid that keeps his corrupt government and the soulless oligarchy that runs it afloat. This is a tragedy for the Palestinians who have been abused by their leaders and so-called allies in the Arab and Muslim world for the past 70 years.

It is easy to understand why most of the world refuses to accept Netanyahu’s analogy between ISIS and Hamas. Though, as the prime minister pointed out, the two have common ultimate goals in terms of establishing Islamist rule over the region and the world as well as speaking a common language of terror and using many of the same tactics, the international community sees ISIS as threatening other Muslims and Westerners while clinging to the belief that all Hamas wants to do is to kill Jews. The former is rightly held to be unacceptable while the latter, when cloaked in the language of anti-Zionism, is somehow rendered palatable since denying Jews the same right to sovereignty, self-determination, and self-defense that others are routinely granted is considered debatable if not completely reasonable.

But the Palestinians are the big losers here. So long as Abbas won’t fight Hamas, the Palestinian people will not be forced to choose between peace and coexistence with their Jewish neighbors and a never-ending war that Hamas and much of his own Fatah Party desires. It is the people of Gaza who live under the despotic Islamist rule of Hamas and the people of the West Bank who may well do the same if Israel does not continue to protect Abbas from a coup who suffer most from the pass Hamas gets from the international community. The same is true of those who live under the thumb of the other Islamist terrorist regime that Netanyahu mentioned in his speech: the people of Iran.

UN delegates may mock Netanyahu and his use of audio-visual aids during his UN speech (this year’s device was an enlarged photo of Hamas using Palestinians as human shields) or the American pop culture references in his speech (this year’s favorite was his contention that pretending that Iran didn’t employ terrorism was as crazy as saying Derek Jeter didn’t play shortstop). But the people of Israel sent him to New York to tell the truth about the calumnies hurled at the Jewish state. It is the Palestinians who lack a leader who is similarly interested in telling the truth. Until they do, they will continue to wait for a solution to the conflict and be forced to live with the prospect of being ruled by their own Islamist killers.

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Obama’s Confused Foreign Policy

If there is one point that President Obama’s defenders have made in favor of his muddled Syria policy, it is its popularity. Not so fast. A new New York Times/CBS News poll finds “that 52 percent disapproved of the way Mr. Obama was handling the situation in Syria.”

Moreover, Americans aren’t happy with Obama’s foreign policy in general: “Forty-nine percent disapproved of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy efforts, up 10 points since early June, and 40 percent approved. The president’s negative rating on foreign policy has grown among Americans of all political stripes, with disapproval up 8 points among Democrats, 10 points among Republicans and 13 points among independents.”

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If there is one point that President Obama’s defenders have made in favor of his muddled Syria policy, it is its popularity. Not so fast. A new New York Times/CBS News poll finds “that 52 percent disapproved of the way Mr. Obama was handling the situation in Syria.”

Moreover, Americans aren’t happy with Obama’s foreign policy in general: “Forty-nine percent disapproved of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy efforts, up 10 points since early June, and 40 percent approved. The president’s negative rating on foreign policy has grown among Americans of all political stripes, with disapproval up 8 points among Democrats, 10 points among Republicans and 13 points among independents.”

With his mishandling of Syria, Obama appears to have thrown away, at least for now, the foreign-policy advantage he had wrested away from Republicans largely with the SEAL raid to kill Osama bin Laden.

I have previously written that presidents must not make foreign-policy decisions based on public opinion polls, so simply because the public thinks the Obama administration’s foreign policy is wrong doesn’t necessarily make it so. But in this case I think the public is onto something. What the public perceives–the same thing that much of the world perceives–is that Obama is weak and vacillating, deliberative but indecisive.

Obama’s plan to launch cruise missiles against Syria may not have been particularly popular, but pretty much everyone is still dismayed to see a president lay down a “red line” and then not enforce it. Instead, the president has grabbed a face-saving but probably unenforceable deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons while making a de facto commitment to keep the murderous Bashar Assad regime in power.

Obama’s defenders claimed that his flexibility on Syria would encourage a deal with Iran, but he was stiffed at the UN where Hassan Rouhani delivered a hardline speech and then refused to attend a luncheon where he might have shaken Obama’s hand–a handshake that the White House fervently desired. Administration insiders pooh-poohed this small defeat, explaining that Rouhani has to cater to his own domestic opinion and can’t be seen as being too eager to reach out to the United States. But if that’s the case–if Rouhani can’t even risk a handshake with Obama–what makes Obama think he will sign off on some kind of grand bargain that will force Iran to renounce its long-held goal of acquiring nuclear weapons? The general public is actually more realistic than the White House on the prospect of better relations with Iran: “Fewer than 1 in 4 think they will get better in the next few years, while a third think they will get worse, and 4 in 10 think they will stay about the same.”

Ironically, in pursuit of chimerical results in the Middle East, Obama has abandoned his long-standing desire to “pivot” or “rebalance” to the Pacific. Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group counted the number of time that in his UN speech Obama mentioned the following countries:

Iran 25
Syria 20
Israel 15
Palestine 11

Compare this with mentions of Asian countries:

China 1
Japan 0
India 0
Koreas 0

The focus on the Middle East isn’t wrong–I have long been skeptical of Obama’s professed desire to disengage from the region. But the fact that he is ignoring East Asia, something he attacked his predecessor for doing, is yet another sign of how confused his foreign policy has become. That’s something that Americans instinctively understand even if they don’t follow every nuance of foreign policy.

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Engagement Is Back

President Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran is back on track–this is the core message of the president’s speech earlier today at the United Nations General Assembly.

The president outlined his vision in January 2009, a few days before taking office, in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, where he said that “We are going to have to take a new approach,” adding, “My belief is that engagement is the place to start” and that “a new emphasis on respect and a new willingness on being willing to talk” would guide his policy.

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President Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran is back on track–this is the core message of the president’s speech earlier today at the United Nations General Assembly.

The president outlined his vision in January 2009, a few days before taking office, in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, where he said that “We are going to have to take a new approach,” adding, “My belief is that engagement is the place to start” and that “a new emphasis on respect and a new willingness on being willing to talk” would guide his policy.

But his “willingness on being willing” to talk got trampled over by the reality of Iran’s regime. Iranians rebelled against the regime’s blatant cheating at the June 2009 presidential elections, and blood started flowing. The president was initially incapable of denouncing the brutal repression in the streets of Tehran. After all, he was fresh from his barnstorming speech in Cairo, where he had publicly opened the door to Iran’s leaders for government-to-government engagement. He was just a few months away from his first Nowruz greetings in March 2009 when, for the first time since 1979, a U.S. president had spoken of “The Islamic Republic” of Iran, an implicit but important symbolic recognition that Iran’s regime was legitimate.

The protests against Iran’s fraudulent elections that broke out barely ten days after the Cairo speech did not square well with its underlying themes–and left the president in the embarrassing limbo of silence for far too long before a timid condemnation was finally uttered on June 20, 2009. But they were too hard to dismiss or ignore. It was heart-breaking, for those accustomed to seeing America as freedom’s sentinel in a world of tyranny, to compare the moral clarity of such leaders as German Chancellor Angela Merkel or then French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Mr. Obama’s hesitation.

America’s novice president must have known that, because his tone got harder and his policy of engagement fell by the wayside.

But four years are long enough to paper over those turbulent days of June. Iran’s ruthlessness is nay a glitch for a president who, after passing on the opportunity to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against civilians, has convincingly proven his talent for being morally outraged and politically callous at the same time. Besides, the culprits of that repression are no longer in power–Iran’s new president is only responsible for putting down rebellions in 1999 and 2003–far too long ago for anyone in a Western government to remember.

And so the president has come full circle, telling the world, from the UN podium, that “We are not seeking regime change” in Iran. Engagement is back.

The mullahs may rest assured–America is ready to throw the Green Movement and Iran’s jailed dissidents under the bus in exchange for resuming the engagement with Iran’s rulers, which President Obama had envisaged early on and which a stolen election and a cruel repression only temporarily derailed.

Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Kerroubi can rot under house arrest–America is quite content to negotiate with their oppressors.

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Will the World Heed Netanyahu’s Warning?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today centered on trying to convince the world that a red line needs to be drawn to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. To do that he literally drew a red line on a cartoon picture of a bomb. To the chattering classes following the speech on Twitter, this was a joke. But the reaction to the simplistic bomb diagram illustrated Netanyahu’s problem perfectly. Iran is getting closer every day to achieving its nuclear ambition. In response, world leaders, like President Obama, talk about the need to stop Tehran and even pledge not to contemplate containment of a nuclear Iran. But unless they make it as clear as that red marker line on the diagram, they will fail.

That is the key issue. Netanyahu thanked President Obama for his promises on Iran, but pointed out that without a red line that will make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to accumulate enough uranium to build a bomb, such pledges are meaningless. The Israeli’s frustration stems from the fact that an international consensus about an Iranian bomb being a bad thing won’t stop it from happening. The complacent attitude that always thinks failed diplomacy and ineffective sanctions can be given more time is a guarantee of such failure.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations today centered on trying to convince the world that a red line needs to be drawn to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. To do that he literally drew a red line on a cartoon picture of a bomb. To the chattering classes following the speech on Twitter, this was a joke. But the reaction to the simplistic bomb diagram illustrated Netanyahu’s problem perfectly. Iran is getting closer every day to achieving its nuclear ambition. In response, world leaders, like President Obama, talk about the need to stop Tehran and even pledge not to contemplate containment of a nuclear Iran. But unless they make it as clear as that red marker line on the diagram, they will fail.

That is the key issue. Netanyahu thanked President Obama for his promises on Iran, but pointed out that without a red line that will make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to accumulate enough uranium to build a bomb, such pledges are meaningless. The Israeli’s frustration stems from the fact that an international consensus about an Iranian bomb being a bad thing won’t stop it from happening. The complacent attitude that always thinks failed diplomacy and ineffective sanctions can be given more time is a guarantee of such failure.

Critics will claim that Netanyahu’s description of Iran’s enrichment process doesn’t tell the whole truth because they believe that the uranium accumulated so far isn’t of weapons grade material. But, as the UN’s own investigative body, the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported, the progress made in the last year makes the advances Netanyahu discussed quite realistic.

The wiseacres can laugh all they like about Netanyahu’s cartoon. But the facts that it represents cannot be dismissed with witticisms. Talk about Iran not backed up with clear warnings is exactly what the ayatollahs are counting on.

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Palestinian Statehood Showdown at UN?

The last thing President Obama needs is another September showdown over Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. Last year’s fiasco was damaging enough, and that wasn’t with a presidential election looming. But that’s exactly what Palestinian envoy Maen Rashid Areikat is threatening, according to The Hill:

The lack of progress on a two-state solution led the Palestinians to unilaterally seek United Nations recognition as a sovereign state last year — a move the Obama administration vowed to block — and Areikat warned that the Palestinians might well try again.

“The Palestinian leadership said that they reserve the right to resort to any and every venue possible to further our objectives,” Areikat said, noting that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made that clear to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when he met with her on June 20, their first meeting in nine months.

“If the political vacuum continues, we will go to the United Nations General Assembly. We are going to explore other venues, and we have the right to do that.”

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The last thing President Obama needs is another September showdown over Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. Last year’s fiasco was damaging enough, and that wasn’t with a presidential election looming. But that’s exactly what Palestinian envoy Maen Rashid Areikat is threatening, according to The Hill:

The lack of progress on a two-state solution led the Palestinians to unilaterally seek United Nations recognition as a sovereign state last year — a move the Obama administration vowed to block — and Areikat warned that the Palestinians might well try again.

“The Palestinian leadership said that they reserve the right to resort to any and every venue possible to further our objectives,” Areikat said, noting that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made that clear to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when he met with her on June 20, their first meeting in nine months.

“If the political vacuum continues, we will go to the United Nations General Assembly. We are going to explore other venues, and we have the right to do that.”

If the political vacuum continues? Of course the political vacuum is going to continue. Can you imagine Obama voluntarily resurrecting the issue of Israel-Palestinian negotiations before the election? It would only be a reminder of his failures in this arena, his clashes with Israel about settlements and borders, and his incoherent Middle East policy.

A Palestinian statehood bid at the UN would put Obama in yet another diplomatic and political bind. Last year, the criticism of Obama was relentless. The congressional race in New York between Republican Bob Turner and Democrat David Welprin evolved into a referendum on Obama’s Israel policy — and Obama lost. That’s not something he’ll want to rehash two months before the presidential election.

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RE: Dual Debacles in the Middle East

Jackson Diehl writes:

On November 15, 1988, Yasser Arafat proudly read a declaration by his Palestinian Liberation Organization unilaterally proclaiming “the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem.” Shortly afterward the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to support the declaration; within months 93 governments had recognized the state of Palestine.

That state, of course, never came into existence. The PLO declaration, the United Nations vote, even the recognition by scores of countries, proved meaningless.

True enough. But it is not 1988. Obama is in the White House. The delegitimizers have been making the case for years that the Jewish state is illegitimate. So the reaction may be decidedly less blasé than it was more than 22 years ago. Diehl optimistically proclaims:

No country has taken steps to enforce the UN’s 1988 vote on Palestinian statehood — and none would be likely to in this case. In short, it’s hard to imagine how a state could be created without Israel’s agreement. Sanctions? Those are unlikely to win the support of either the United States or the European Union.

Is it so hard? And more important, would the Obama administration seek to find some “middle ground,” as occurred in the flotilla incident, perhaps abstaining on a “no settlement” resolution as some supposed compromise? The fact that this has not been an issue for 22 years tells us just how badly the Obama team has bollixed up Middle East diplomacy.

Jackson Diehl writes:

On November 15, 1988, Yasser Arafat proudly read a declaration by his Palestinian Liberation Organization unilaterally proclaiming “the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem.” Shortly afterward the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to support the declaration; within months 93 governments had recognized the state of Palestine.

That state, of course, never came into existence. The PLO declaration, the United Nations vote, even the recognition by scores of countries, proved meaningless.

True enough. But it is not 1988. Obama is in the White House. The delegitimizers have been making the case for years that the Jewish state is illegitimate. So the reaction may be decidedly less blasé than it was more than 22 years ago. Diehl optimistically proclaims:

No country has taken steps to enforce the UN’s 1988 vote on Palestinian statehood — and none would be likely to in this case. In short, it’s hard to imagine how a state could be created without Israel’s agreement. Sanctions? Those are unlikely to win the support of either the United States or the European Union.

Is it so hard? And more important, would the Obama administration seek to find some “middle ground,” as occurred in the flotilla incident, perhaps abstaining on a “no settlement” resolution as some supposed compromise? The fact that this has not been an issue for 22 years tells us just how badly the Obama team has bollixed up Middle East diplomacy.

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After Triumph with Russia on Iran, Obama Signals Return to Appeasement

In his 20 months in office, Barack Obama hasn’t had many foreign-policy triumphs to crow about. But yesterday when he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly, for once the president could cite an actual diplomatic achievement for his administration. Russia’s announcement that it will not honor the contract it had signed to sell S-300 missiles to Iran showed that efforts undertaken by Obama to sweet-talk Moscow out of acting as an enabler for the rogue regime in Tehran have not been completely in vain.

Stopping the sale of these weapons had been an urgent issue for both the United States and Israel. Had they been deployed by the Iranians, those missiles would have acted as the centerpiece of an air-defense system that would have posed a formidable obstacle to any effort to knock out the Iranians’ nuclear-weapons program from the air. Russia’s willingness to join in the ban on arms sales to Iran puts some teeth in the otherwise mild sanctions that the international community has placed on Tehran.

But despite this setback, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can’t be too downhearted about the way things have been going for his despotic regime during the UN jamboree in New York this week. Just when the Russian announcement gave Obama something to brag about, the administration was sending signals that it was prepared to step back from its recent tough talk about bringing Iran to heel.

The New York Times reports that: “At a meeting today with France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, diplomats planned what one senior American official described to reporters as a ‘phased approach’ that would include reviving an earlier proposal to supply Iran with enriched fuel for a research reactor in Tehran in return for Iran’s shipping the bulk of its stockpile of uranium to Russia and France. ‘We’re prepared to engage and see if we can’t produce what would be a confidence-building step,’ said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

Thus, just when it seemed as if he were making some real progress on isolating Iran, Obama sends Ahmadinejad a signal that he is in no real trouble after all. Dating back to the Bush administration’s own feckless diplomacy on Iran’s nukes, Tehran has happily exploited the West’s efforts to appease it. Every initiative that sought to cajole or bribe the Islamist tyranny to back away from its nuclear ambitions has been welcomed by the ayatollahs. They were only too happy to string European or American diplomats along to buy more time in order to get closer to the day when they could announce their possession of a nuclear device. Last year, the Iranians agreed to a porous deal that called for the export of their uranium stockpile. But then, when it suited them, they repudiated it, leaving Obama and the rest of his foreign-policy team with egg on their faces. As with the rest of Obama’s pathetic attempt to “engage” Iran, such initiatives only convinced Tehran that the new American president was not to be taken seriously. With non-military trade with Russia still booming and with neighboring Turkey’s Islamic government providing Ahmadinejad with a reliable ally and trading partner, the Iranians understand that the UN sanctions are inconvenient but not crippling. And so long as Obama is still wedded to the absurd idea that he can talk them out of their nuclear plans, the Iranians have to be thinking that it will soon be too late for anyone to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

In his 20 months in office, Barack Obama hasn’t had many foreign-policy triumphs to crow about. But yesterday when he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly, for once the president could cite an actual diplomatic achievement for his administration. Russia’s announcement that it will not honor the contract it had signed to sell S-300 missiles to Iran showed that efforts undertaken by Obama to sweet-talk Moscow out of acting as an enabler for the rogue regime in Tehran have not been completely in vain.

Stopping the sale of these weapons had been an urgent issue for both the United States and Israel. Had they been deployed by the Iranians, those missiles would have acted as the centerpiece of an air-defense system that would have posed a formidable obstacle to any effort to knock out the Iranians’ nuclear-weapons program from the air. Russia’s willingness to join in the ban on arms sales to Iran puts some teeth in the otherwise mild sanctions that the international community has placed on Tehran.

But despite this setback, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can’t be too downhearted about the way things have been going for his despotic regime during the UN jamboree in New York this week. Just when the Russian announcement gave Obama something to brag about, the administration was sending signals that it was prepared to step back from its recent tough talk about bringing Iran to heel.

The New York Times reports that: “At a meeting today with France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, diplomats planned what one senior American official described to reporters as a ‘phased approach’ that would include reviving an earlier proposal to supply Iran with enriched fuel for a research reactor in Tehran in return for Iran’s shipping the bulk of its stockpile of uranium to Russia and France. ‘We’re prepared to engage and see if we can’t produce what would be a confidence-building step,’ said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

Thus, just when it seemed as if he were making some real progress on isolating Iran, Obama sends Ahmadinejad a signal that he is in no real trouble after all. Dating back to the Bush administration’s own feckless diplomacy on Iran’s nukes, Tehran has happily exploited the West’s efforts to appease it. Every initiative that sought to cajole or bribe the Islamist tyranny to back away from its nuclear ambitions has been welcomed by the ayatollahs. They were only too happy to string European or American diplomats along to buy more time in order to get closer to the day when they could announce their possession of a nuclear device. Last year, the Iranians agreed to a porous deal that called for the export of their uranium stockpile. But then, when it suited them, they repudiated it, leaving Obama and the rest of his foreign-policy team with egg on their faces. As with the rest of Obama’s pathetic attempt to “engage” Iran, such initiatives only convinced Tehran that the new American president was not to be taken seriously. With non-military trade with Russia still booming and with neighboring Turkey’s Islamic government providing Ahmadinejad with a reliable ally and trading partner, the Iranians understand that the UN sanctions are inconvenient but not crippling. And so long as Obama is still wedded to the absurd idea that he can talk them out of their nuclear plans, the Iranians have to be thinking that it will soon be too late for anyone to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

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Obama’s Iran Deadline Gets Thrown Down the Memory Hole

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

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Cheapening Free Speech

When Columbia University invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak last month, the most common refrain uttered by the University’s defenders was that, by doing so, the University was honoring the time-tested and proudly American principle of “free speech.” This country was founded upon a resistance to monarchical authority; a corollary to that impulse is the individual’s freedom to say or publish what he thinks. No one can quibble with this understanding of a bedrock American freedom. But where Columbia’s defenders went wrong was in their contention that protesting Ahmadinejad’s presence would contradict thi fundamentally American notion.

This has always been a silly and unsophisticated understanding of what the Bill of Rights actually says, or what the “spirit” of free speech actually means. No one has denied Ahmadinejad a platform for his odious views; indeed, just the day after his rant at Columbia he was given an international soapbox at the United Nations General Assembly. And the fact that his views on matters ranging from the existence of the Holocaust to the future existence of Israel are so well known further lays waste to the claim that not inviting Ahmadinejad would strike a blow to “free speech.”

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When Columbia University invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak last month, the most common refrain uttered by the University’s defenders was that, by doing so, the University was honoring the time-tested and proudly American principle of “free speech.” This country was founded upon a resistance to monarchical authority; a corollary to that impulse is the individual’s freedom to say or publish what he thinks. No one can quibble with this understanding of a bedrock American freedom. But where Columbia’s defenders went wrong was in their contention that protesting Ahmadinejad’s presence would contradict thi fundamentally American notion.

This has always been a silly and unsophisticated understanding of what the Bill of Rights actually says, or what the “spirit” of free speech actually means. No one has denied Ahmadinejad a platform for his odious views; indeed, just the day after his rant at Columbia he was given an international soapbox at the United Nations General Assembly. And the fact that his views on matters ranging from the existence of the Holocaust to the future existence of Israel are so well known further lays waste to the claim that not inviting Ahmadinejad would strike a blow to “free speech.”

What ultimately mattered was that a distinguished University lent credence to his views. Columbia’s physics department would never host a speech by a member of the Flat Earth Society, nor should it. People who think the moon landing was a hoax or that the Holocaust never happened have every right to utter and publish these beliefs; they have no “right” to a speaking engagement at an Ivy League School.

This crucial distinction is one that has long been lost on those people who organize events on college campuses. The latest example occurs across the pond at Oxford University, where the Oxford Union—the school’s prestigious debating society that counts leading politicians, journalists, and business leaders as alumnae—has invited a rogue’s gallery to take part in a “Free Speech Forum” set for the end of November. The Union has already been excoriated by critics, as noted on contentions, for staging a debate on the Middle East conflict and loading it with anti-Israel activists.

Among those invited to the “Free Speech Forum” are David Irving (the notorious Holocaust denier), Nick Griffin (the leader of the anti-Semitic, racist, and fascist British National Party), and Alexander Lukoshenko, the dictator of Belarus. The Union’s president told the Guardian that, “The Oxford Union is famous for is commitment to free speech and although I do think these people have awful and abhorrent views I do think Oxford students are intelligent enough to challenge and ridicule them.” Indeed, one Oxford Union committee member even used Columbia’s example as a justification for the invite: “If Columbia can invite Ahmadinejad, then why shouldn’t we invite Irving?” Thankfully, Lukoshenko is under a European Union travel ban and will not be able to attend. Unfortunately, both the fascist and the Holocaust denier have indicated their eager anticipation.

The primary outcome of this invitation is the Oxford Union’s discrediting of itself. As with Ahmadinejad at Columbia, there is nothing to be “learned” from engaging in dialogue with fascists and Holocaust-deniers. Oxford students are indeed an “intelligent” bunch: all the more reason that they do not need to spend an evening listening to these men, thus granting them legitimacy. One presumes that the motivating impulse behind Oxford’s “Free Speech Forum” is to present some of the most outlandish views possible. But the purpose of freedom of speech is to elevate discussion and broaden our common understanding, not to promote lies and hate (Griffin’s and Irving’s specialty).

To honor “free speech,” ought not the Oxford Union instead extend invitations to individuals living in countries where the principle is non-existent? Why not invite democracy activists in China or exiled Zimbabwean journalists, of which there is no shortage in the United Kingdom?

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Missing Moynihan

Over 30 years ago, the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin came to New York City to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Amin had, during his eight years in power, declared that Hitler was right to murder six million Jews and welcomed a plane full of Israeli passengers hijacked by Palestinian terrorists into his country. In his speech before the Assembly, Amin called for “the extinction of Israel as a state.” (This was the year that the Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism, a resolution that was not repealed until 1991.)

The United States’s man at Turtle Bay at the time, former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a giant among statesmen, of the sort we are unlikely to see again. While suits in the State Department squirmed, Moynihan did what America’s finest ambassadors do best: tell the simple truth. In language highly unusual for an American diplomat, he said of Amin: “[I]t’s no accident, I fear, that this ‘racist murderer’—as one of our leading newspapers called him this morning—is head of the Organization of African Unity.” (That newspaper, by the way, was the New York Times. Imagine them calling Robert Mugabe a “racist murderer” today). Moynihan was forced out after just eight months on the job.

Moynihan, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, got his job because of an article he wrote for COMMENTARY. “The United States in Opposition,” published March 1975, was a stirring petition to America’s diplomatic corps to realize that the so-called “Non-Aligned Movement” was anything but neutral in the Cold War, and that the United Nations had descended into a den of anti-American vitriol. America could use a man of Moynihan’s caliber this week, in the face of another dictator’s visit.

We miss you, Pat.

Over 30 years ago, the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin came to New York City to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Amin had, during his eight years in power, declared that Hitler was right to murder six million Jews and welcomed a plane full of Israeli passengers hijacked by Palestinian terrorists into his country. In his speech before the Assembly, Amin called for “the extinction of Israel as a state.” (This was the year that the Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism, a resolution that was not repealed until 1991.)

The United States’s man at Turtle Bay at the time, former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a giant among statesmen, of the sort we are unlikely to see again. While suits in the State Department squirmed, Moynihan did what America’s finest ambassadors do best: tell the simple truth. In language highly unusual for an American diplomat, he said of Amin: “[I]t’s no accident, I fear, that this ‘racist murderer’—as one of our leading newspapers called him this morning—is head of the Organization of African Unity.” (That newspaper, by the way, was the New York Times. Imagine them calling Robert Mugabe a “racist murderer” today). Moynihan was forced out after just eight months on the job.

Moynihan, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, got his job because of an article he wrote for COMMENTARY. “The United States in Opposition,” published March 1975, was a stirring petition to America’s diplomatic corps to realize that the so-called “Non-Aligned Movement” was anything but neutral in the Cold War, and that the United Nations had descended into a den of anti-American vitriol. America could use a man of Moynihan’s caliber this week, in the face of another dictator’s visit.

We miss you, Pat.

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Praising Noam Chomsky

Osama bin Laden’s latest videotaped message, his first in three years, contains several pearls of wisdom. But the following is most apt:

This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn’t like those who give advice.

Two years ago, Chomsky was voted the world’s top public intellectual in a poll conducted jointly by the magazines Foreign Policy and Prospect, the latter a British publication (Vaclav Havel came in fourth). Chomsky is enormously popular on American college campuses, and loved especially by Europe’s chattering classes. And he is not just the favorite public intellectual of Osama bin Laden, but of Hugo Chavez, the caudillo of Caracas, as well.

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Osama bin Laden’s latest videotaped message, his first in three years, contains several pearls of wisdom. But the following is most apt:

This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn’t like those who give advice.

Two years ago, Chomsky was voted the world’s top public intellectual in a poll conducted jointly by the magazines Foreign Policy and Prospect, the latter a British publication (Vaclav Havel came in fourth). Chomsky is enormously popular on American college campuses, and loved especially by Europe’s chattering classes. And he is not just the favorite public intellectual of Osama bin Laden, but of Hugo Chavez, the caudillo of Caracas, as well.

Last September, in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Chavez waved around a copy of Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, while denouncing President Bush as “the devil.” “The people of the United States should read this. . .instead of. . .watching Superman movies,” Chavez told the assembled dignitaries.

Given his views of America and the West in general, it comes as no surprise that the MIT professor’s greatest fans are the Venezuelan military despot and the man responsible for the death of 3,000 on September 11, 2001. And with fans like that . . .

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