Commentary Magazine


Topic: United States government

Exemptions Granted by U.S. Prove Iran Sanctions Won’t Work

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran. Read More

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran.

A story on the front page of today’s New York Times informs us that a “little known office of the Treasury Department has granted more than 10,000 licenses” allowing Americans to trade with Iran and other blacklisted countries. The companies that have gained these exemptions include some of the biggest, such as Kraft Food and Pepsi as well as major banks. While the purpose of the statute that allows for exemptions was to provide humanitarian aid, the Obama administration has let things like chewing gum, sports equipment and even hot sauce be sold to Iran. Even worse, it has allowed an American company to “bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation.”

An administration spokesman claimed that focusing on the vast number of exemptions “misses the forest for the trees,” since “no one can doubt that we are serious about this.” But as even former Clinton administration official Stuart Eizenstat told the Times, “When you create loopholes like this that you can drive a Mack truck through, you are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses.”

The loopholes in the law are bad enough. But, as the Times reports, they are widened by the influence of politicians who seek to grant favors to local businesses and contributors. In one instance, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) intervened to force the Treasury office to allow a company owned by one of his contributors to do business with a Chinese firm that had been banned for its role in selling missile technology to Iran and Pakistan.

The point here is not so much the corruption of our political system. Rather it is that as much as we doubted the determination of our allies to enforce sanctions, the United States government has shown itself to be equally incapable of getting tough with Iran. While concerned citizens can pray that clandestine operations, such as the Stuxnet virus, will undermine Iran’s nuclear program, the fact remains that the countdown toward an Iranian nuke proceeds. Though it was common knowledge that this administration, like its predecessor led by George W. Bush, seemed to lack the will to fully confront Iran, we didn’t know just how much our own government was allowing the existing sanctions to be flouted. In light of these revelations, it’s clear that sanctions will never work to halt the march of this terror sponsor toward nuclear capability. After reading this shocking story, there’s little doubt that Ahmadinejad and his tyrannical Islamist confederates are laughing at us.

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Why Hitler’s Palestinian Ally Still Matters

WikiLeaks isn’t the only source of interesting government documents. On Friday, the National Archives published a report about American efforts to recruit former Nazis to help intelligence efforts during the Cold War. This is familiar territory for those familiar with the period. While war has always made for strange bedfellows (such as the necessity of the wartime alliance with Stalin against Hitler), the willingness of the United States government to employ all sorts of Nazi criminals to combat the Soviets is a sorry chapter in our history.

Nevertheless, included in this report was some fascinating material about one particular Nazi war criminal whose historical legacy lives on today: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The willingness of Husseini, the putative leader of Palestinian Arab nationalism in the 1930s and 1940s, to collaborate with the Nazis has long been established and has been the subject of more scholarly scrutiny in recent years. However, this report does help fill in some of the details about the extent of the mufti’s relationship with Berlin.

Among the interesting tidbits: the mufti who did Nazi propaganda broadcasts to the Islamic world and helped recruit a Bosnian Muslim brigade for the SS was on Hitler’s payroll and actually paid twice the salary received by German field marshals. More chilling was Hitler’s promise that he would install Husseini as the head of a Palestinian state after the planned German conquest of the Middle East and the extermination of the hundreds of thousands of Jews then in the British Mandate for Palestine. The report also details the way French and British intelligence allowed the mufti to flee his European hideouts and return to the Middle East in order to carry on his war against the Jews.

While this may seem like ancient history to observers of the contemporary Middle East, the mufti’s relevance to the political culture of the Palestinians should not be underestimated. His rejection of any accommodation with the Jews and his embrace of the crudest anti-Semitic slurs, which deliberately echo Nazi themes, is still felt today, what with even the supposedly “moderate” Palestinian Authority engaging in similar anti-Jewish incitement and hatred. So long as Hitler’s faithful Muslim ally remains a role model for Palestinians, peace is a long way off.

WikiLeaks isn’t the only source of interesting government documents. On Friday, the National Archives published a report about American efforts to recruit former Nazis to help intelligence efforts during the Cold War. This is familiar territory for those familiar with the period. While war has always made for strange bedfellows (such as the necessity of the wartime alliance with Stalin against Hitler), the willingness of the United States government to employ all sorts of Nazi criminals to combat the Soviets is a sorry chapter in our history.

Nevertheless, included in this report was some fascinating material about one particular Nazi war criminal whose historical legacy lives on today: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The willingness of Husseini, the putative leader of Palestinian Arab nationalism in the 1930s and 1940s, to collaborate with the Nazis has long been established and has been the subject of more scholarly scrutiny in recent years. However, this report does help fill in some of the details about the extent of the mufti’s relationship with Berlin.

Among the interesting tidbits: the mufti who did Nazi propaganda broadcasts to the Islamic world and helped recruit a Bosnian Muslim brigade for the SS was on Hitler’s payroll and actually paid twice the salary received by German field marshals. More chilling was Hitler’s promise that he would install Husseini as the head of a Palestinian state after the planned German conquest of the Middle East and the extermination of the hundreds of thousands of Jews then in the British Mandate for Palestine. The report also details the way French and British intelligence allowed the mufti to flee his European hideouts and return to the Middle East in order to carry on his war against the Jews.

While this may seem like ancient history to observers of the contemporary Middle East, the mufti’s relevance to the political culture of the Palestinians should not be underestimated. His rejection of any accommodation with the Jews and his embrace of the crudest anti-Semitic slurs, which deliberately echo Nazi themes, is still felt today, what with even the supposedly “moderate” Palestinian Authority engaging in similar anti-Jewish incitement and hatred. So long as Hitler’s faithful Muslim ally remains a role model for Palestinians, peace is a long way off.

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Challenge to the New York Times: Publish Your Internal Correspondence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: “They’re Doing the J Street Jive”

Given the recent revelations regarding the J Street/George Soros connection, Noah Pollak’s April 2009 COMMENTARY article, “They’re Doing the J Street Jive,” seems particularly apt and timely:

In December 2008, two weeks before Hamas abandoned the six-month lull in its rocket war against Israel, the founder and executive director of the new lobbying group J Street delivered a message via YouTube to potential supporters. Appearing in a crisply pressed pale blue button-down, Jeremy Ben-Ami offered a personalized explanation for why, eight months earlier, he had launched a self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that hoped to change the way the United States government dealt with Israel. In an earnest, confessional style, Ben-Ami explained that in past years,

I felt that I didn’t have a voice in American politics when it came to Israel and the Middle East. . . . When I came back [from living in Israel in the late 1990’s] and I told people that I favored a Palestinian state, that I was a supporter of peace, and in recent years when I’ve said that I don’t think it makes sense for us to militarily attack Iran, I was told that I was insufficiently pro-Israel. Well, I’ll tell you, I find that unacceptable. I don’t find it Jewish. I don’t find it American to not allow people to express alternative opinions, and I certainly don’t find it to be pro-Israel. . . . I’ve decided that I had to speak out.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

Given the recent revelations regarding the J Street/George Soros connection, Noah Pollak’s April 2009 COMMENTARY article, “They’re Doing the J Street Jive,” seems particularly apt and timely:

In December 2008, two weeks before Hamas abandoned the six-month lull in its rocket war against Israel, the founder and executive director of the new lobbying group J Street delivered a message via YouTube to potential supporters. Appearing in a crisply pressed pale blue button-down, Jeremy Ben-Ami offered a personalized explanation for why, eight months earlier, he had launched a self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that hoped to change the way the United States government dealt with Israel. In an earnest, confessional style, Ben-Ami explained that in past years,

I felt that I didn’t have a voice in American politics when it came to Israel and the Middle East. . . . When I came back [from living in Israel in the late 1990’s] and I told people that I favored a Palestinian state, that I was a supporter of peace, and in recent years when I’ve said that I don’t think it makes sense for us to militarily attack Iran, I was told that I was insufficiently pro-Israel. Well, I’ll tell you, I find that unacceptable. I don’t find it Jewish. I don’t find it American to not allow people to express alternative opinions, and I certainly don’t find it to be pro-Israel. . . . I’ve decided that I had to speak out.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

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Obama Won’t Say Who Killed Daniel Pearl

At a signing ceremony for the Freedom of Press Act, it is ironic and shameful that Obama could not bring himself to identify the killers who beheaded the man who fearlessly reported on the jihadist terrorists. Obama had this to say:

All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face; who are the frontlines against tyranny and oppression. And obviously the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is, and it reminded us that there are those who would go to any length in order to silence journalists around the world.

If you didn’t know already, you’d never figure out that he was talking about the Islamic fundamentalists who butchered Pearl. Obama then pronounced:

What this act does is it sends a strong message from the United States government and from the State Department that we are paying attention to how other governments are operating when it comes to the press. It has the State Department each year chronicling how press freedom is operating as one component of our human rights assessment, but it also looks at countries that are — governments that are specifically condoning or facilitating this kind of press repression, singles them out and subjects them to the gaze of world opinion in ways that I think are extraordinarily important.

Oftentimes without this kind of attention, countries and governments feel that they can operate against the press with impunity. And we want to send a message that they can’t.

But of course they can and do, safe in the knowledge that they will pay no price so long as this administration is in power. Has Obama done anything about the suppression of media critics in Egypt (other than prepare a lucrative financial package for the Egyptian government)? Has Obama made this a priority with any thugocracy? No. And when signing a bill in the name of someone who elevated and personified the freedom of expression, Obama at least could have departed from his campaign to delete the name of our enemies from the public lexicon.

At a signing ceremony for the Freedom of Press Act, it is ironic and shameful that Obama could not bring himself to identify the killers who beheaded the man who fearlessly reported on the jihadist terrorists. Obama had this to say:

All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face; who are the frontlines against tyranny and oppression. And obviously the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is, and it reminded us that there are those who would go to any length in order to silence journalists around the world.

If you didn’t know already, you’d never figure out that he was talking about the Islamic fundamentalists who butchered Pearl. Obama then pronounced:

What this act does is it sends a strong message from the United States government and from the State Department that we are paying attention to how other governments are operating when it comes to the press. It has the State Department each year chronicling how press freedom is operating as one component of our human rights assessment, but it also looks at countries that are — governments that are specifically condoning or facilitating this kind of press repression, singles them out and subjects them to the gaze of world opinion in ways that I think are extraordinarily important.

Oftentimes without this kind of attention, countries and governments feel that they can operate against the press with impunity. And we want to send a message that they can’t.

But of course they can and do, safe in the knowledge that they will pay no price so long as this administration is in power. Has Obama done anything about the suppression of media critics in Egypt (other than prepare a lucrative financial package for the Egyptian government)? Has Obama made this a priority with any thugocracy? No. And when signing a bill in the name of someone who elevated and personified the freedom of expression, Obama at least could have departed from his campaign to delete the name of our enemies from the public lexicon.

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Whom Do You Trust More?

Last month Berkshire Hathaway sold two-year bonds that yield less than federal notes of the same maturity, according to Bloomberg (h/t: Michael Barone).

That is a truly astonishing fact. The interest the market demands on a bond is determined by 1) the present cost of money, 2) the expected inflation over the life of the bond, and 3) the risk of the bond issuer defaulting. The first two affect every bond equally, so differences in interest rates on similar securities reflect the market’s judgment on the possibility of default.

For a century and more, the securities of the United States Government have been, almost by definition, the safest investment one could make. Even in the depths of the Great Depression no one doubted that the federal government would make good on its debts. Indeed, in the fall of 1932, as the American economy was falling off a cliff, interest rates on treasury bills (the shortest-term federal debt) went negative. Treasury bills are sold at a discount and mature at par rather than pay interest. But in 1932, demand for them pushed the price over par. Investors, in other words, paid for the privilege of investing in the safest possible investments, the short-term paper of the United States.

So the market now has more faith that Warren Buffett (and Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson too, by the way) will pay off their bonds than that the federal government will do so — just two years down the road.

Thanks, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Thanks very much.

Last month Berkshire Hathaway sold two-year bonds that yield less than federal notes of the same maturity, according to Bloomberg (h/t: Michael Barone).

That is a truly astonishing fact. The interest the market demands on a bond is determined by 1) the present cost of money, 2) the expected inflation over the life of the bond, and 3) the risk of the bond issuer defaulting. The first two affect every bond equally, so differences in interest rates on similar securities reflect the market’s judgment on the possibility of default.

For a century and more, the securities of the United States Government have been, almost by definition, the safest investment one could make. Even in the depths of the Great Depression no one doubted that the federal government would make good on its debts. Indeed, in the fall of 1932, as the American economy was falling off a cliff, interest rates on treasury bills (the shortest-term federal debt) went negative. Treasury bills are sold at a discount and mature at par rather than pay interest. But in 1932, demand for them pushed the price over par. Investors, in other words, paid for the privilege of investing in the safest possible investments, the short-term paper of the United States.

So the market now has more faith that Warren Buffett (and Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson too, by the way) will pay off their bonds than that the federal government will do so — just two years down the road.

Thanks, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Thanks very much.

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Give Green a Chance

The Obama administration is working to convince the United Nations Security Council to impose yet another round of sanctions on Iran. Those efforts have to overcome the recalcitrance of China, Russia, and other Security Council members. But even if the effort succeeds, how much impact will it have? To judge by the historical evidence, not much. The New York Times ran a fascinating article last Sunday with a horrifying headline that sums it all up: “U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran.”

The article examines the implementation of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 — legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton that is far tougher than anything the Security Council might approve. It imposes, in theory at least, major American sanctions on companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector or its nuclear or missile programs:

The law gives the president a menu of possible punishments he can choose to levy against offending companies. Not only do they risk losing federal contracts, but they can also be prevented from receiving Export-Import Bank loans, obtaining American bank loans over $10 million in a given year, exporting their goods to the United States, purchasing licensed American military technology and, in the case of financial firms, serving as a primary dealer in United States government bonds or as a repository for government funds.

It is well known that not a single company has actually been sanctioned under the act. The administrations of Clinton, Bush (yes Bush!), and Obama have all refused to act in ways that might hinder relations with the European Union, China, Japan, India, or other countries whose firms do big business in Iran. But the Times account makes clear that the situation is even more ludicrous. Far from sanctioning companies doing business with Iran, the federal government has awarded them “more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade.”

Both houses of Congress recently have passed legislation, now heading for reconciliation, that will toughen up the existing sanctions on Iran’s oil sector. But if existing sanctions aren’t being enforced, what hope is there for future sanctions, whether they come from Congress or the United Nations? The U.S. and its allies simply have not displayed the will to get tough with Iran. With time running short before Iran has the capability to field nukes, it’s time to look at other alternatives — starting with more support for the Green Movement. Between 2003 and 2009, we spent an average of more than $100 billion a year on the Iraq war. Imagine what only a small portion of that that money — say $10 billion, or one month’s worth of operations in Iraq — could achieve if given to groups working for the peaceful overthrow of the Iranian regime. That, to me, seems a more rewarding approach than sanctions, which have failed time and again.

The Obama administration is working to convince the United Nations Security Council to impose yet another round of sanctions on Iran. Those efforts have to overcome the recalcitrance of China, Russia, and other Security Council members. But even if the effort succeeds, how much impact will it have? To judge by the historical evidence, not much. The New York Times ran a fascinating article last Sunday with a horrifying headline that sums it all up: “U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran.”

The article examines the implementation of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 — legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton that is far tougher than anything the Security Council might approve. It imposes, in theory at least, major American sanctions on companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector or its nuclear or missile programs:

The law gives the president a menu of possible punishments he can choose to levy against offending companies. Not only do they risk losing federal contracts, but they can also be prevented from receiving Export-Import Bank loans, obtaining American bank loans over $10 million in a given year, exporting their goods to the United States, purchasing licensed American military technology and, in the case of financial firms, serving as a primary dealer in United States government bonds or as a repository for government funds.

It is well known that not a single company has actually been sanctioned under the act. The administrations of Clinton, Bush (yes Bush!), and Obama have all refused to act in ways that might hinder relations with the European Union, China, Japan, India, or other countries whose firms do big business in Iran. But the Times account makes clear that the situation is even more ludicrous. Far from sanctioning companies doing business with Iran, the federal government has awarded them “more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade.”

Both houses of Congress recently have passed legislation, now heading for reconciliation, that will toughen up the existing sanctions on Iran’s oil sector. But if existing sanctions aren’t being enforced, what hope is there for future sanctions, whether they come from Congress or the United Nations? The U.S. and its allies simply have not displayed the will to get tough with Iran. With time running short before Iran has the capability to field nukes, it’s time to look at other alternatives — starting with more support for the Green Movement. Between 2003 and 2009, we spent an average of more than $100 billion a year on the Iraq war. Imagine what only a small portion of that that money — say $10 billion, or one month’s worth of operations in Iraq — could achieve if given to groups working for the peaceful overthrow of the Iranian regime. That, to me, seems a more rewarding approach than sanctions, which have failed time and again.

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Obama Tries Once More

In a few hours, Obama went from not wanting to point fingers to labeling the intelligence community as the root of the Christmas Day bombing fiasco. The New York Times reports:

President Obama said Tuesday that the United States government had sufficient information to uncover the terror plot to bring down an airplane on Christmas Day, but intelligence officials “failed to connect those dots” that would have prevented the young Nigerian man from boarding the plane in Amsterdam.The Obama administration also suspended the transfer of detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to Yemen because of the deteriorating security situation there and the rising terror threats emanating in the country. Only days before the attempted bombing on Christmas, the United States sent six detainees back to Yemen. “This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had,” Mr. Obama said after a two-hour meeting with his national security team at the White House. He added, “We have to do better, we will do better and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line.”

But again, Obama’s actions never quite match his rhetoric, even the newer and more improved variety. As the Times dryly notes, “His remarks suggested that he was standing by his top national security officials, including those whose agencies failed to communicate with one another.” And although he won’t for now be repopulating the terrorist ranks in Yemen with any more Guantanamo detainees, he’s still bent on closing that facility. Why? We hear the same recycled campaign lines and the same unproven and increasingly unbelievable talking points:

We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  And, as I’ve always said, we will do so — we will close the prison in a manner that keeps the American people safe and secure.

Like health care, he told the base he would get it done, and it’s not coming off the list, now matter how many practical and political barriers remain. And as for his claim that we are shutting it down in a manner that keeps us safe, we know that simply isn’t true. In this instance, we have one or more detainees linked to the plot, and we know, although the Obami have been stingy on disclosure, that we have a significant recidivism problem. And really, how long are we going to buy into the “recruiting tool” argument?  (America’s relationship with Israel is no doubt a tool for jihadist recruitment  so. . .  Well, better not go there.) Any word on a review of the interrogation procedures employed in this instance (with the potential that more dots will be lost when we don’t ask the right questions and get every bit of data we can from one of these terrorists)? Any sign that a multi-year public trial for KSM — the mother of all “recruitment tools” — might be reconsidered? Nope.

One thing is certain: the Obami realize the political peril they are in. The rhetoric becomes more robust and the tone more serious with each day. But until those words are matched by action, the American people have every right to be concerned that the president still has not grasped the nature of our enemy and is reluctant to implement policies commensurate with the risk we face.

In a few hours, Obama went from not wanting to point fingers to labeling the intelligence community as the root of the Christmas Day bombing fiasco. The New York Times reports:

President Obama said Tuesday that the United States government had sufficient information to uncover the terror plot to bring down an airplane on Christmas Day, but intelligence officials “failed to connect those dots” that would have prevented the young Nigerian man from boarding the plane in Amsterdam.The Obama administration also suspended the transfer of detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to Yemen because of the deteriorating security situation there and the rising terror threats emanating in the country. Only days before the attempted bombing on Christmas, the United States sent six detainees back to Yemen. “This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had,” Mr. Obama said after a two-hour meeting with his national security team at the White House. He added, “We have to do better, we will do better and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line.”

But again, Obama’s actions never quite match his rhetoric, even the newer and more improved variety. As the Times dryly notes, “His remarks suggested that he was standing by his top national security officials, including those whose agencies failed to communicate with one another.” And although he won’t for now be repopulating the terrorist ranks in Yemen with any more Guantanamo detainees, he’s still bent on closing that facility. Why? We hear the same recycled campaign lines and the same unproven and increasingly unbelievable talking points:

We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  And, as I’ve always said, we will do so — we will close the prison in a manner that keeps the American people safe and secure.

Like health care, he told the base he would get it done, and it’s not coming off the list, now matter how many practical and political barriers remain. And as for his claim that we are shutting it down in a manner that keeps us safe, we know that simply isn’t true. In this instance, we have one or more detainees linked to the plot, and we know, although the Obami have been stingy on disclosure, that we have a significant recidivism problem. And really, how long are we going to buy into the “recruiting tool” argument?  (America’s relationship with Israel is no doubt a tool for jihadist recruitment  so. . .  Well, better not go there.) Any word on a review of the interrogation procedures employed in this instance (with the potential that more dots will be lost when we don’t ask the right questions and get every bit of data we can from one of these terrorists)? Any sign that a multi-year public trial for KSM — the mother of all “recruitment tools” — might be reconsidered? Nope.

One thing is certain: the Obami realize the political peril they are in. The rhetoric becomes more robust and the tone more serious with each day. But until those words are matched by action, the American people have every right to be concerned that the president still has not grasped the nature of our enemy and is reluctant to implement policies commensurate with the risk we face.

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Connecting Dots

As we learn more about the catastrophic intelligence failure that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get on a plane and come perilously close to slaughtering hundreds of passengers, the question inevitably centers on one question: who dropped the ball? This report gives as good an answer as any:

During Tuesday’s appearance, the president also said: “It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

That “component” is apparently the NCTC, created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It’s not clear what analysts there should have done with the information. One possibility would have been to alert FBI agents.

The U.S. intelligence official said: “The United States government set up NCTC — and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers.”

And the Director of National Intelligence is Dennis Blair. If his job is to connect the dots and his boss says there was a catastrophic failure to do just that, how can Blair remain? At the very least he needs to explain what went wrong and why he didn’t successfully perform the sole task that was the purpose of his position.

Yesterday Rep. Peter King complained that the Obami have built an “iron curtain” and have a “stonewalling mentality” when it comes to sharing information with Congress on terrorist attacks. Actually, it seems as though they didn’t share information with each-other either — and now their reticence to explain anything to Congress can more clearly be seen as an effort to mask their own gross incompetence. A serious Congressional or independent investigation would be a smart idea. Otherwise, we may never know exactly what happened or what went wrong.

As we learn more about the catastrophic intelligence failure that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get on a plane and come perilously close to slaughtering hundreds of passengers, the question inevitably centers on one question: who dropped the ball? This report gives as good an answer as any:

During Tuesday’s appearance, the president also said: “It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

That “component” is apparently the NCTC, created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It’s not clear what analysts there should have done with the information. One possibility would have been to alert FBI agents.

The U.S. intelligence official said: “The United States government set up NCTC — and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers.”

And the Director of National Intelligence is Dennis Blair. If his job is to connect the dots and his boss says there was a catastrophic failure to do just that, how can Blair remain? At the very least he needs to explain what went wrong and why he didn’t successfully perform the sole task that was the purpose of his position.

Yesterday Rep. Peter King complained that the Obami have built an “iron curtain” and have a “stonewalling mentality” when it comes to sharing information with Congress on terrorist attacks. Actually, it seems as though they didn’t share information with each-other either — and now their reticence to explain anything to Congress can more clearly be seen as an effort to mask their own gross incompetence. A serious Congressional or independent investigation would be a smart idea. Otherwise, we may never know exactly what happened or what went wrong.

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Revoke Jimmy Carter’s Security Clearance

One of the perks that former presidents receive, if they choose to utilize it, is a daily security briefing from the CIA. This is how Jimmy Carter came to know (or at least claim) that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, considering the fact that the Israeli government has pursued a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear weapon capability. This is a policy that was formed with tacit agreement by the United States, which in exchange for a promise by Israel not to conduct nuclear tests, agreed to the rubric that the Jewish State would not be the first, officially acknowledged Middle Eastern nuclear power. Of course, Carter knew a lot about Israel’s nuclear capability during his time in office, and it’s unprecedented that a former president would reveal this information publicly.

Carter did not make this revelation in the midst of top-level policy discussion with world leaders (or terrorists who pretend to be leaders), but at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in Wales, an annual event sponsored by The Guardian newspaper. He followed this disclosure with the assertion that “One of the greatest human rights crimes on earth is the starvation and imprisonment of 1.6m Palestinians.” Writing in Ha’aretz, defense analyst Reuven Pedatzur observes “One can assume that Iran will now be able to make use of Carter’s comments in order to point to the double standard of the Western world, which is prepared to accept a nuclear Israel but makes a great effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear.”

Last month I questioned whether Jimmy Carter was in violation of the Logan Act for his meeting with Khaled Meshal, leader of Hamas. Edward Zelinsky of the Cardozo School of Law concluded that the former President was breaking the law, but that given the history of the statute’s non-enforcement by federal authorities, a prosecution would be unlikely and ill-considered. Taking Professor Zelinsky’s learned opinion to heart, the United States government ought to at least revoke Carter’s security clearance before our worst ex-President further endangers international peace and security.

One of the perks that former presidents receive, if they choose to utilize it, is a daily security briefing from the CIA. This is how Jimmy Carter came to know (or at least claim) that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, considering the fact that the Israeli government has pursued a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear weapon capability. This is a policy that was formed with tacit agreement by the United States, which in exchange for a promise by Israel not to conduct nuclear tests, agreed to the rubric that the Jewish State would not be the first, officially acknowledged Middle Eastern nuclear power. Of course, Carter knew a lot about Israel’s nuclear capability during his time in office, and it’s unprecedented that a former president would reveal this information publicly.

Carter did not make this revelation in the midst of top-level policy discussion with world leaders (or terrorists who pretend to be leaders), but at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in Wales, an annual event sponsored by The Guardian newspaper. He followed this disclosure with the assertion that “One of the greatest human rights crimes on earth is the starvation and imprisonment of 1.6m Palestinians.” Writing in Ha’aretz, defense analyst Reuven Pedatzur observes “One can assume that Iran will now be able to make use of Carter’s comments in order to point to the double standard of the Western world, which is prepared to accept a nuclear Israel but makes a great effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear.”

Last month I questioned whether Jimmy Carter was in violation of the Logan Act for his meeting with Khaled Meshal, leader of Hamas. Edward Zelinsky of the Cardozo School of Law concluded that the former President was breaking the law, but that given the history of the statute’s non-enforcement by federal authorities, a prosecution would be unlikely and ill-considered. Taking Professor Zelinsky’s learned opinion to heart, the United States government ought to at least revoke Carter’s security clearance before our worst ex-President further endangers international peace and security.

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Was the Assassination Ban Covertly Repealed?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

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More on the Iraq Recession Fallacy

Nick Kristof presents a subtle version of the “Iraq Recession” fallacy in his latest column. He is at least honest enough to quote Bob Hormats of Goldman Sachs, who says of the war: “Is it a significant cause of the present downturn? I’d say no.” But that doesn’t stop Kristof from hyperventilating about “a bill that is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second!” Of course, we’re paying more than $5,000 a second for entitlement programs, but that doesn’t get a mention in his article. Nor does he mention the all-important point that I alluded to in my earlier CONTENTIONS posting: seen in the overall context of our economy, the cost of the Iraq War is chump change (less than 1% of GDP).

He then goes on to make a standard liberal argument: imagine all the domestic goodies we could buy if we weren’t wasting so much money on defense. “A Congressional study by the Joint Economic Committee,” he writes, “found that the sums spent on the Iraq war each day could enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start or give Pell Grants to 153,000 students to attend college.” He leaves unanswered a larger question: Would we really be spending untold billions domestically if we weren’t spending them in Iraq? To answer that question, consider the fact that the Iraq War is only five years old. Prior to 2003 we were not saddled with nearly as many costs for dealing with Iraq (although there were lesser costs for enforcing the no-fly zone and sanctions). And yet we weren’t making all of the spending commitments that Kristof would like to see. That suggests that our political system would not deliver the spending he advocates, regardless of what’s happening in Iraq.

His stance is a bit akin to a journalist waxing outraged about the cost of an expensive sports car. To make his case he profiles an owner of a $100,000 Porsche and offers lots of examples of more worthy projects (say a local soup kitchen) that could be funded with the money instead. Only he forgets to mention that the Porsche owner is Bill Gates, and he can easily afford not only the car but can also afford to give billions to good works.

The United States government, presiding over a $13 trillion economy, is in a similar position: we can easily afford our foreign and domestic priorities. That’s why domestic discretionary spending has actually risen during the Iraq War-another fact that Kristof neglects to mention.

Nick Kristof presents a subtle version of the “Iraq Recession” fallacy in his latest column. He is at least honest enough to quote Bob Hormats of Goldman Sachs, who says of the war: “Is it a significant cause of the present downturn? I’d say no.” But that doesn’t stop Kristof from hyperventilating about “a bill that is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second!” Of course, we’re paying more than $5,000 a second for entitlement programs, but that doesn’t get a mention in his article. Nor does he mention the all-important point that I alluded to in my earlier CONTENTIONS posting: seen in the overall context of our economy, the cost of the Iraq War is chump change (less than 1% of GDP).

He then goes on to make a standard liberal argument: imagine all the domestic goodies we could buy if we weren’t wasting so much money on defense. “A Congressional study by the Joint Economic Committee,” he writes, “found that the sums spent on the Iraq war each day could enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start or give Pell Grants to 153,000 students to attend college.” He leaves unanswered a larger question: Would we really be spending untold billions domestically if we weren’t spending them in Iraq? To answer that question, consider the fact that the Iraq War is only five years old. Prior to 2003 we were not saddled with nearly as many costs for dealing with Iraq (although there were lesser costs for enforcing the no-fly zone and sanctions). And yet we weren’t making all of the spending commitments that Kristof would like to see. That suggests that our political system would not deliver the spending he advocates, regardless of what’s happening in Iraq.

His stance is a bit akin to a journalist waxing outraged about the cost of an expensive sports car. To make his case he profiles an owner of a $100,000 Porsche and offers lots of examples of more worthy projects (say a local soup kitchen) that could be funded with the money instead. Only he forgets to mention that the Porsche owner is Bill Gates, and he can easily afford not only the car but can also afford to give billions to good works.

The United States government, presiding over a $13 trillion economy, is in a similar position: we can easily afford our foreign and domestic priorities. That’s why domestic discretionary spending has actually risen during the Iraq War-another fact that Kristof neglects to mention.

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My Advice Is, Cancel It Again

CBS brought back its once-cancelled series, Jericho, for a second season after passionate viewers lobbied for it. The show is about how a small town in Kansas deals with the aftermath of a nuclear exchange — with the clever and chilling twist that no one in Jericho has any idea what has happened because all contact with the rest of the country has become impossible.

Now, in the second season, the people of Jericho find out what happened. And guess what? We did it. On purpose. In the words of the New York Times’s Ginia Bellafante,

We soon learn that a nefarious United States government planned the attacks, using Iran and North Korea as scapegoats. A menacing red, white and blue flag, with vertical stripes, waves over Jericho now. It represents the new Allied States of America, a country led by a boyish puppet president but run by a malevolent senior statesman who has apparently ordered that all textbooks be rewritten so that the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam is recounted as a failure of will.

The Vietnam textbook thing is especially piquant. Every time I think Hollywood has exhausted its capacity for injecting anti-Americanism into every nook and cranny of the popular culture, I soon learn that the surface of its inventiveness in this regard — if in no other — has barely been scratched.

CBS brought back its once-cancelled series, Jericho, for a second season after passionate viewers lobbied for it. The show is about how a small town in Kansas deals with the aftermath of a nuclear exchange — with the clever and chilling twist that no one in Jericho has any idea what has happened because all contact with the rest of the country has become impossible.

Now, in the second season, the people of Jericho find out what happened. And guess what? We did it. On purpose. In the words of the New York Times’s Ginia Bellafante,

We soon learn that a nefarious United States government planned the attacks, using Iran and North Korea as scapegoats. A menacing red, white and blue flag, with vertical stripes, waves over Jericho now. It represents the new Allied States of America, a country led by a boyish puppet president but run by a malevolent senior statesman who has apparently ordered that all textbooks be rewritten so that the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam is recounted as a failure of will.

The Vietnam textbook thing is especially piquant. Every time I think Hollywood has exhausted its capacity for injecting anti-Americanism into every nook and cranny of the popular culture, I soon learn that the surface of its inventiveness in this regard — if in no other — has barely been scratched.

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My Crack-Cocaine Problem

Was it great news when the United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously earlier this month to lighten punishments retroactively for crimes involving crack cocaine?

The shift will eliminate a disparity in the legal treatment of this drug as opposed to the powdered form of cocaine, which was erroneously assumed to be less dangerous when the sentences were written into law. The result of this softening of the glove is that some 19,500 inmates may win freedom within months.

In Coney Island, my gritty neighborhood, which Mayor Bloomberg has talked grandiloquently about reviving even as he lets it further decay, we continue to have a drug problem. The well-meaning people who run The Salt And Sea Mission Church have set up a homeless shelter along the main street — Mermaid Avenue –which, whatever else it does, is a magnet for alcoholics and drug addicts who congregate aimlessly on the sidewalks and menace passersby.

How many of the 19,500 newly released crack-heads will migrate to this charming spot? I am so eager to greet multitudes of them on the sidewalks as I walk to and from the subway.

Which raises a question that arises out of a reversal of that favorite slogan of the Left: “think local and act global.” What is the best way to deal with homeless rogues menacing you on the street. Typically, I keep a wide berth. I do not engage them in dialogue or lecture them about following the rules of the road (or the sidewalk).

This in turn makes me wonder all the more why the United States government is now talking to rogue states all around the world–North Korea, Syria, and Iran–trying to engage them in dialogue and get them to follow the rules of the road. “Seven years of President Bush’s Don’t-Talk-to-Evil policy are over, even under the helm of the administration that crafted it,” the New York Times is gloating.

This is the foreign-policy equivalent of talking with crack-addicts in one’s neighborhood with the idea of getting them to reform. Unsurprisingly, the Times is in favor of that, too. Its editorial page describes the prospective release of 19,500 crack-cocaine users as “a positive development, one with much potential for advancing justice.”

The editors of the Times evidently do not live in Coney Island, and it shows in their understanding of both local and international affairs.

Was it great news when the United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously earlier this month to lighten punishments retroactively for crimes involving crack cocaine?

The shift will eliminate a disparity in the legal treatment of this drug as opposed to the powdered form of cocaine, which was erroneously assumed to be less dangerous when the sentences were written into law. The result of this softening of the glove is that some 19,500 inmates may win freedom within months.

In Coney Island, my gritty neighborhood, which Mayor Bloomberg has talked grandiloquently about reviving even as he lets it further decay, we continue to have a drug problem. The well-meaning people who run The Salt And Sea Mission Church have set up a homeless shelter along the main street — Mermaid Avenue –which, whatever else it does, is a magnet for alcoholics and drug addicts who congregate aimlessly on the sidewalks and menace passersby.

How many of the 19,500 newly released crack-heads will migrate to this charming spot? I am so eager to greet multitudes of them on the sidewalks as I walk to and from the subway.

Which raises a question that arises out of a reversal of that favorite slogan of the Left: “think local and act global.” What is the best way to deal with homeless rogues menacing you on the street. Typically, I keep a wide berth. I do not engage them in dialogue or lecture them about following the rules of the road (or the sidewalk).

This in turn makes me wonder all the more why the United States government is now talking to rogue states all around the world–North Korea, Syria, and Iran–trying to engage them in dialogue and get them to follow the rules of the road. “Seven years of President Bush’s Don’t-Talk-to-Evil policy are over, even under the helm of the administration that crafted it,” the New York Times is gloating.

This is the foreign-policy equivalent of talking with crack-addicts in one’s neighborhood with the idea of getting them to reform. Unsurprisingly, the Times is in favor of that, too. Its editorial page describes the prospective release of 19,500 crack-cocaine users as “a positive development, one with much potential for advancing justice.”

The editors of the Times evidently do not live in Coney Island, and it shows in their understanding of both local and international affairs.

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ANNAPOLIS Re Re: Monitoring and Judging

Noah, there is one reason to feel relief about the goings-on at Annapolis so far, and that is this: The negotiations in question are between Israel and the PA, with the United States serving as some kind of road-map referee. In his statement, George W. Bush did not change American policy one iota. It is not the responsibility of the United States government if the prime minister of Israel decides to start talking about the 1967 borders, and it would be foolish to expect any American administration to be more hard-line toward Palestinian demands for land and territory and borders than the government of Israel. The issue now is: What kind of pressure will the Israeli public exert on Olmert to temper his peculiar enthusiasm? Or will it be pressure of another kind that slows things down — pressure from Hamas, in the form of rockets hurled at Israel from Gaza and fomenting more strife in the Abbas-controlled lands of the West Bank?

Noah, there is one reason to feel relief about the goings-on at Annapolis so far, and that is this: The negotiations in question are between Israel and the PA, with the United States serving as some kind of road-map referee. In his statement, George W. Bush did not change American policy one iota. It is not the responsibility of the United States government if the prime minister of Israel decides to start talking about the 1967 borders, and it would be foolish to expect any American administration to be more hard-line toward Palestinian demands for land and territory and borders than the government of Israel. The issue now is: What kind of pressure will the Israeli public exert on Olmert to temper his peculiar enthusiasm? Or will it be pressure of another kind that slows things down — pressure from Hamas, in the form of rockets hurled at Israel from Gaza and fomenting more strife in the Abbas-controlled lands of the West Bank?

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An Act of Kindness from Iraq

Iraqi Army officers in Besmaya raised a thousand dollars in donations for fire victims in San Diego, California, and the only place that seems to have reported the story is the military blog OPFOR. Author Richard S. Lowry learned about it in a press release from the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Public Affairs, so it’s unlikely he’s the only one in the media who knows something about it.

Sending a thousand dollars to California will be about as helpful as throwing a glass of water into the firestorm. It’s the thought that counts here. And what surprising thought it is. How many Americans expect charity from Iraq?

As Lowry points out, “most Americans do not consider Iraqis as people.” He’s right. Most of us only know them from sensational media reports about masked insurgents, wailing widows, and death squads. Most of us may instinctively understand that the majority of Iraqis are just regular people, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when the only thing we get Stateside is war coverage. I’ve met hundreds of Iraqis myself during trips to their country as a reporter, so it’s a bit easier for me to see them as just people. I’m still surprised that anyone in that broken impoverished land would even consider donating hard-earned money to Californians.

A thousand dollars is a lot in Iraq. The average salary is only a few hundred dollars a month. I can’t for the life of me figure out how entire families can survive on so little, considering most have so many children. Basic necessities are cheaper in Iraq than in the West, but not that much cheaper.

Some Iraqis have been learning a similar lesson about American generosity lately.

Two months ago I went on a humanitarian aid drop mission outside Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, with American soldiers and Iraqi Police officers at four o’clock in the morning. The goods we delivered were paid for by the United States government. Sometimes, though, soldiers and Marines deliver items donated through American charities. “When we tell them that some of these packages aren’t from the military or the government,” a Marine told me, “that they were donated by average American citizens in places like Kansas, people choke up and sometimes even cry. They just can’t comprehend it. It is so different from the lies they were told about us and how we’re supposed to be evil.”

Sustained contact with the “other” isn’t a magic bullet against bigoted attitudes (see, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), but it usually helps. Iraqis learn about Americans through daily interactions, but most Americans have no contact, sustained or otherwise, with Iraqis.

Shopkeeper Was Nice to Embedded Reporter isn’t a headline, but donations from Besmaya to San Diego is a real story. Now would be a good time for major newspapers, as well as blogs and magazines like this one, to show Iraqis, for once, as generous and regular people.

UPDATE: CNN now has the story on their Web site. Good for them.

Iraqi Army officers in Besmaya raised a thousand dollars in donations for fire victims in San Diego, California, and the only place that seems to have reported the story is the military blog OPFOR. Author Richard S. Lowry learned about it in a press release from the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Public Affairs, so it’s unlikely he’s the only one in the media who knows something about it.

Sending a thousand dollars to California will be about as helpful as throwing a glass of water into the firestorm. It’s the thought that counts here. And what surprising thought it is. How many Americans expect charity from Iraq?

As Lowry points out, “most Americans do not consider Iraqis as people.” He’s right. Most of us only know them from sensational media reports about masked insurgents, wailing widows, and death squads. Most of us may instinctively understand that the majority of Iraqis are just regular people, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when the only thing we get Stateside is war coverage. I’ve met hundreds of Iraqis myself during trips to their country as a reporter, so it’s a bit easier for me to see them as just people. I’m still surprised that anyone in that broken impoverished land would even consider donating hard-earned money to Californians.

A thousand dollars is a lot in Iraq. The average salary is only a few hundred dollars a month. I can’t for the life of me figure out how entire families can survive on so little, considering most have so many children. Basic necessities are cheaper in Iraq than in the West, but not that much cheaper.

Some Iraqis have been learning a similar lesson about American generosity lately.

Two months ago I went on a humanitarian aid drop mission outside Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, with American soldiers and Iraqi Police officers at four o’clock in the morning. The goods we delivered were paid for by the United States government. Sometimes, though, soldiers and Marines deliver items donated through American charities. “When we tell them that some of these packages aren’t from the military or the government,” a Marine told me, “that they were donated by average American citizens in places like Kansas, people choke up and sometimes even cry. They just can’t comprehend it. It is so different from the lies they were told about us and how we’re supposed to be evil.”

Sustained contact with the “other” isn’t a magic bullet against bigoted attitudes (see, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), but it usually helps. Iraqis learn about Americans through daily interactions, but most Americans have no contact, sustained or otherwise, with Iraqis.

Shopkeeper Was Nice to Embedded Reporter isn’t a headline, but donations from Besmaya to San Diego is a real story. Now would be a good time for major newspapers, as well as blogs and magazines like this one, to show Iraqis, for once, as generous and regular people.

UPDATE: CNN now has the story on their Web site. Good for them.

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No Investment in Repression

The Washington Post has picked up the shocking story (broken by the New York Times and mentioned in contentions last week) of China Security and Surveillance Technology. This is a company that supplies high technology tools of repression to Beijing’s secret police and whose stock is hot right now; it has also received the lion’s share of its capital from U.S. hedge funds, and is about to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Columnist Harold Meyerson tells the story in today’s edition. He estimates that “high-end surveillance equipment” which was a $500 million industry in 2003 may be worth “$43 billion . . . by 2010.”

“To be sure, leading American companies have a long and sordid record of investing in totalitarian states, including Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and axis-of-evil Iran,” Meyerson notes. “But distinguish as we must among the various levels of hell, at least those American companies did not invest in the Gestapo, the Stasi, the KGB, or the Revolutionary Guard. Maybe that was only because it was hard to turn a buck on the Stasi. Once China turned repression into an investment opportunity, however, capitalism responded as capitalism is supposed to respond: it wanted in. There are mega-bucks to be made, the hedge funds concluded, in hedging against democracy.”

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The Washington Post has picked up the shocking story (broken by the New York Times and mentioned in contentions last week) of China Security and Surveillance Technology. This is a company that supplies high technology tools of repression to Beijing’s secret police and whose stock is hot right now; it has also received the lion’s share of its capital from U.S. hedge funds, and is about to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Columnist Harold Meyerson tells the story in today’s edition. He estimates that “high-end surveillance equipment” which was a $500 million industry in 2003 may be worth “$43 billion . . . by 2010.”

“To be sure, leading American companies have a long and sordid record of investing in totalitarian states, including Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and axis-of-evil Iran,” Meyerson notes. “But distinguish as we must among the various levels of hell, at least those American companies did not invest in the Gestapo, the Stasi, the KGB, or the Revolutionary Guard. Maybe that was only because it was hard to turn a buck on the Stasi. Once China turned repression into an investment opportunity, however, capitalism responded as capitalism is supposed to respond: it wanted in. There are mega-bucks to be made, the hedge funds concluded, in hedging against democracy.”

When we set up today’s special economic relationship with China, our plan, ostensibly, was to encourage China’s embrace of freedom and democracy; unfortunately, our current relationship with China entails turning our backs on our most fundamental values. Meyerson reports that when “[a]sked about the hedge funds’ activities, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, ‘It’s not appropriate to interfere in the private decisions of Americans to invest in legally incorporated firms.'”

Not appropriate? The United States government forbids any economic relations with Cuba and other designated states—and once forbade them totally with a Communist China that has changed less, when it comes to human freedom, than some imagine. And under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act we ban bribery, kickbacks, and so forth by American firms doing business overseas—even when other, competing countries are using such tools to win contracts.

What we need now is a “Foreign Oppressive Practices Act” that would outlaw American investment in, technology transfer to, or any other cooperation or collusion with the secret police and militaries of states that are not free. Drafting such a law will not be difficult. All we need is will and leadership. Some investors and traders will squeal, yes. And China and other dictatorships will still get much of what they need from countries that do not have such rules. But equipping foreign secret police organizations is no business for the United States of America (or any other country claiming to possess democratic values). The White House should speak out clearly. The Congress should take immediate action.

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Who is James Abourezk?

James Abourezk is a co-founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a former United States Senator: he represented South Dakota for one term, from 1973 until 1979. Last month, Abourezk was interviewed on al-Manar, the Hizballah television station. Sitting in a lushly-appointed Damascus plaza, he gushed to his interviewer that he watches al-Manar regularly in the United States, claims that “the Arabs who were involved in 9/11 cooperated with the Zionists,” and says that Hizballah’s war against Israel last year was “a marvel of organization, of courage and bravery.”

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James Abourezk is a co-founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a former United States Senator: he represented South Dakota for one term, from 1973 until 1979. Last month, Abourezk was interviewed on al-Manar, the Hizballah television station. Sitting in a lushly-appointed Damascus plaza, he gushed to his interviewer that he watches al-Manar regularly in the United States, claims that “the Arabs who were involved in 9/11 cooperated with the Zionists,” and says that Hizballah’s war against Israel last year was “a marvel of organization, of courage and bravery.”

But a moment even more telling occurred towards the end of the interview, in a discussion of the “Israeli lobby:”

Interviewer: So who is controlling who?

James Abourezk: The lobby is controlling the Congress.

Interviewer: But you said that the U.S. is not in need of Israel, but rather, Israel needs the U.S.

James Abourezk: Yes, that’s right. But how they . . .

Interviewer: It’s very paradoxical.

Indeed. If the United States “is not in need of Israel,” why is the world’s superpower wasting so much money and political capital on this tiny country? The fashionable answer, these days, is to point to precisely the mysterious lobby Abourezk and his interviewer are discussing. But the idea that a small group of Evangelical Zionists and moneyed, influential Jews could warp a nation’s policy completely against its own interests—as proponents of this theory argue—is absurd on its face.

Abourezk and his ilk frequently decry the power of this lobby. Here is one of the United States’ most prominent Arab lobbyists at work: shilling on a television station operated by an outfit deemed a terrorist organization by the United States government, accusing his own country of being run by a sinister cabal. What do Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer have to say about this?

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Dollars for Dictators

Charles Taylor was a particularly loathsome African dictator, which is saying a lot. The former president of Liberia sowed misery and destruction throughout West Africa in the 1990’s, abetting civil wars in his own country and Sierra Leone, where he was notorious for his practice of lopping off the limbs of innocent people, and where a special court is trying him for crimes against humanity under the auspices of The Hague. Taylor’s crimes extend beyond the typical; he also stands accused of harboring al Qaeda suspects wanted for the bombings of two American embassies in 1998.

Taylor’s trial is being postponed until January, and according to this Guardian report, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (a joint operation of the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone) is paying $100,000 per month so that Taylor “can hire a top legal team for his defense.” This means that the United States government and its citizens are paying no small part of Taylor’s legal expenses. Taylor, I might add, according to a UN panel, accrues about $100 million annually through unfrozen financial assets that he accumulated through his outright theft while in office.

For too long, the UN court has tolerated Taylor’s shenanigans. In June, he refused to appear for the start of his trial at The Hague, claiming that his court-appointed attorney was insufficient. Here is a proposal that the court ought to make to Mr. Taylor: pay for your own legal counsel with some of the hundreds of millions of dollars you have stashed away, or forgo your right to trial and spend the rest of your life in prison.

Of course, there is no good reason why Taylor should not be hanged or shot, a la Saddam Hussein or the Ceauşescus. Since his trial is being held under the auspices of a United Nations panel, the likelihood of this happening seems downright impossible.

Charles Taylor was a particularly loathsome African dictator, which is saying a lot. The former president of Liberia sowed misery and destruction throughout West Africa in the 1990’s, abetting civil wars in his own country and Sierra Leone, where he was notorious for his practice of lopping off the limbs of innocent people, and where a special court is trying him for crimes against humanity under the auspices of The Hague. Taylor’s crimes extend beyond the typical; he also stands accused of harboring al Qaeda suspects wanted for the bombings of two American embassies in 1998.

Taylor’s trial is being postponed until January, and according to this Guardian report, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (a joint operation of the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone) is paying $100,000 per month so that Taylor “can hire a top legal team for his defense.” This means that the United States government and its citizens are paying no small part of Taylor’s legal expenses. Taylor, I might add, according to a UN panel, accrues about $100 million annually through unfrozen financial assets that he accumulated through his outright theft while in office.

For too long, the UN court has tolerated Taylor’s shenanigans. In June, he refused to appear for the start of his trial at The Hague, claiming that his court-appointed attorney was insufficient. Here is a proposal that the court ought to make to Mr. Taylor: pay for your own legal counsel with some of the hundreds of millions of dollars you have stashed away, or forgo your right to trial and spend the rest of your life in prison.

Of course, there is no good reason why Taylor should not be hanged or shot, a la Saddam Hussein or the Ceauşescus. Since his trial is being held under the auspices of a United Nations panel, the likelihood of this happening seems downright impossible.

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Bad Character Assassination

Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

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Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

Let me be more specific. In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This had been preceded by similar such restrictions issued by Presidents Ford and Carter.

These assassination bans, as the 9/11 Commission report makes clear, came to hamstring our policy against al Qaeda in the late 1990’s. After Osama bin Laden had successfully launched terrorist attacks against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the CIA was ordered to find ways to put al Qaeda out of business. Elaborate plans were drawn up, but the assassination ban dominated the agency’s thinking; the upshot of all the preparations, states the 9/11 Commission staff report, was that “the only acceptable context for killing bin Laden was a credible capture operation.”

A plan designed to kill bin Laden outright was deemed unacceptable and illegal. Never mind that the U.S. had launched a fusillade of cruise missiles at one of his camps in 1998 to do just that; that was a military action, not a CIA covert operation.

One of the most memorable sentences in the entire 9/11 Commission report concerns the CIA contemplating action against bin Laden on a road leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar. James Pavitt, the assistant head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, “expressed concern that people might get killed; it appears he thought the operation had at least a slight flavor of a plan for an assassination.”

Not long afterward, the operation was called off. As a result, people did get killed—thousands of them—and not on the road to Kandahar but in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and in rural Pennsylvania.

Islamist clerics around the world are still calling for suicide bombers to attack the United States. Jane Perlez of the New York Times reports on one such Pakistani cleric in today’s paper. If the CIA could from time to time engage in covert action against such avowed advocates of violence against the U.S., would they be so brazen? Would the madrassas in which they preach their hatred continue to be multiplying homicidal graduates?

President Bush can revoke the assassination ban at will. As the Congressional Research Service explains, he can most obviously do so by issuing a new Executive Order. As the CRS also points out, under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an Executive Order need not be published. In other words, Bush might already have revoked the ban and we would not know it—at least until homicidal clerics start disappearing.

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