Commentary Magazine


Topic: United States

Nations Step Up Syrian Rebel Aid

Under the category of “better late than never” (but just barely): An international “Friends of Syria” group of nations agreed in Istanbul to step up aid, at least of the non-lethal sort, to the Syrian rebels. Gulf nations pledged $100 million to pay salaries to the anti-Assad fighters while the U.S. agreed to send communications equipment to help the rebels get better organized.

That’s certainly a step forward, but it’s not as far as the U.S. and its allies should go. As Molham Al Drobi, a member of the Syrian National Council, told the New York Times:  “Our people are killed in the streets. If the international community prefers not to do it themselves, they should at least help us doing it by giving us the green light, by providing us the arms, or anything else that needs to be done.”

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Under the category of “better late than never” (but just barely): An international “Friends of Syria” group of nations agreed in Istanbul to step up aid, at least of the non-lethal sort, to the Syrian rebels. Gulf nations pledged $100 million to pay salaries to the anti-Assad fighters while the U.S. agreed to send communications equipment to help the rebels get better organized.

That’s certainly a step forward, but it’s not as far as the U.S. and its allies should go. As Molham Al Drobi, a member of the Syrian National Council, told the New York Times:  “Our people are killed in the streets. If the international community prefers not to do it themselves, they should at least help us doing it by giving us the green light, by providing us the arms, or anything else that needs to be done.”

He’s absolutely right. With more than 9,000 Syrians having already been slaughtered–and possibly far more–it is imperative that the international community do more to even the odds for the embattled rebel fighters by providing them with arms and ammunition. These need not be heavy weapons that could potentially threaten Israel or destabilize neighboring countries–AK-47s, RPGs, and lots of ammunition will do. Otherwise, Bashar al-Assad will continue his homicidal campaign to stamp out the rebellion with the help of the Iranian regime–and prevent the U.S. from seizing a major opportunity to alter the balance of power in the Middle East against the ayatollahs.

 

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Reagan and Thatcher, Cameron and Obama

Ted Bromund’s post about the cringe-producing exchange of jokes between President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron reminded me — in a contrasting way — of the exchange between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 31 years ago, at a dinner at the British Embassy that capped Thatcher’s February 1980 Washington trip. She was the first foreign visitor during the Reagan administration; Reagan was in his first month and Thatcher in her first year.

The toasts were included in the batch of documents released last year by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, after the required 30-year delay. The exchange featured a good deal of historical humor, and a historical courage that can be more fully appreciated from our vantage point, three decades later. Here are excerpts from the toasts, followed by the concluding portion of Obama’s toast this week to Cameron:

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Ted Bromund’s post about the cringe-producing exchange of jokes between President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron reminded me — in a contrasting way — of the exchange between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 31 years ago, at a dinner at the British Embassy that capped Thatcher’s February 1980 Washington trip. She was the first foreign visitor during the Reagan administration; Reagan was in his first month and Thatcher in her first year.

The toasts were included in the batch of documents released last year by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, after the required 30-year delay. The exchange featured a good deal of historical humor, and a historical courage that can be more fully appreciated from our vantage point, three decades later. Here are excerpts from the toasts, followed by the concluding portion of Obama’s toast this week to Cameron:

[The Prime Minister]: Mr. President, an earlier visitor to the United States, Charles Dickens, described our American friends as by nature frank, brave, cordial, hospitable, and affectionate. That seems to me, Mr. President, to be a perfect description of the man who has been my host for the last 48 hours. (Applause.) …

Charles Dickens, like me, also visited Capitol Hill. He described the congressmen he met there as “striking to look at, hard to deceive, prompt to act, lions in energy, Americans in strong and general impulse.” Having been there and agreeing with Dickens as I do, I’m delighted to see so many Members of Congress here this evening. And if Dickens was right, relations between the legislative and executive branches should be smooth indeed over the next four years. After all, “prompt to act and lions in energy” should mean, Mr. President, you’ll get that expenditure cutting program through very easily indeed. (Laughter. Applause.) …

California, of course, has always meant a great deal to my countrymen from the time, almost exactly 400 years ago, when one of our greatest national heroes, Sir Francis Drake, proclaimed it New Albion in keeping with the bravado of the Elizabethan Age. This feeling of community and curiosity that we have about California exists in the present age when another of our household names made his career there, one of the greatest careers in show business. I refer to Mr. Bob Hope, who is here this evening, and whom we like to claim is partly ours because he was born in the United Kingdom, though he decided to leave when he was only four years old. (Laughter.) …

I hope you didn’t feel ill at ease as you came up the stairs and passed under the gaze of George III. (Laughter.) I can assure you that we British have long since come to see that George was wrong and that Thomas Jefferson was right when he wrote to James Madison that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” (Laughter.) …

It’s not the time, Mr. President, for me to talk at any length about the relations between our two countries except to say that they are profoundly and deeply right. And beyond that, we perhaps don’t have to define them in detail. …

There will, of course, be times, Mr. President, when yours perhaps is the loneliest job in the world, times when you need what one of my great friends in politics once called “two o’clock in the morning courage.” There will be times when you go through rough water. There will be times when the unexpected happens. There will be times when only you can make a certain decision. It is at that time when you need the two o’clock in the morning courage. … And what it requires is a knowledge on your part that whatever decision you make you have to stick with the consequences and see it through until it be well and truly finished. …

I want to say this to you, Mr. President, that when those moments come, we here in this room, on both sides of the Atlantic, have in you total faith that you will make the decision which is right for protecting the liberty of common humanity in the future. You will make that decision that we as partners in the English-speaking world know that, as Wordsworth wrote, “We must be free or die who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake.”

[The President]: Bob Hope will know what I mean when I speak in the language of my previous occupation and say you are a hard act to follow. (Laughter. Applause.) … And may I say that I do know something about that “two o’clock courage,” but I also know that you have already shown that two o’clock courage on too many occasions to name. (Applause.) …

[Y]ou know, Prime Minister, that we have a habit of quoting Winston Churchill. Tell me, is it possible to get through a public address today in Britain without making reference to him? It is increasingly difficult to do so here, not just because we Americans share some pride in his ancestry, but because there’s so much to learn from him, his fearlessness, and I don’t just mean physical courage. I mean he was, for instance, unafraid to laugh. I can remember words attributed to Churchill about one somber, straight-laced colleague in Parliament. Churchill said, “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” (Laughter.) …

When he addressed Parliament in the darkest moments after Dunkirk, Churchill dared to promise the British their finest hour and even reminded them that they would someday enjoy, quote, “the bright, sunlit uplands,” unquote, from which the struggle against Hitler would be seen as only a bad memory. Well, Madam Prime Minister, you and I have heard our share of somber assessments and dire predictions in recent months. I do not refer here to the painful business of ending our economic difficulties. We know that with regard to the economies of both our countries we will be home safe and soon enough.

I do refer, however, to those adversaries who preach the supremacy of the state. We’ve all heard the slogans, the end of the class struggle, the vanguard of the proletariat, the wave of the future, the inevitable triumph of socialism. Indeed, if there’s anything the Marxist-Leninists might not be forgiven for it is their willingness to bog the world down in tiresome cliches, cliches that rapidly are being recognized for what they are, a gaggle of bogus prophecies and petty superstitions. … I wonder if you and I and other leaders of the West should not now be looking toward bright, sunlit uplands and begin planning for a world where our adversaries are remembered only for their role in a sad and rather bizarre chapter in human history.

The British people, who nourish the great civilized ideas, know the forces of good ultimately rally and triumph over evil. That, after all, is the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the legend of the man who lived on Baker Street, the story of London in the Blitz, the meaning of the Union Jack snapping briskly in the wind. Madam Prime Minister, I’ll make one further prediction, that the British people are once again about to pay homage to their beloved Sir Winston by doing him the honor of proving him wrong and showing the world that their finest hour is yet to come, and how he would have loved the irony of that. How proud it would have made him.

At the beginning of his administration, Obama returned Churchill’s bust to Britain, insulted its prime minister on his trip to Washington (with no state dinner nor even a full-blown press conference), gave him a demeaning set of DVDs for a gift, and stayed silent as a State Department official explained “there’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.”

This week, in his toast at the state dinner for Cameron, Obama did not mention Reagan or Thatcher, or what they achieved together. He did, however, mention Churchill:

So, in closing, let me just say that I intended to make history tonight. I thought that I could be the first American President to make it through an entire visit of our British friends without quoting Winston Churchill. (Laughter.) But then I saw this great quote and I thought, “Come on, this is Churchill!” (Laughter.) So I couldn’t resist.

It was December 1941, and the attack on Pearl Harbor had finally thrust America into war, alongside our British friends. And these were the words Sir Winston spoke to his new American partners: “I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants.”

And so I’d like to propose a toast:  To Her Majesty the Queen, on her Diamond Jubilee; to our dear friends, David and Samantha; and to the great purpose and design of our alliance. May we remain, now and always, its faithful servants. Cheers, everyone.

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Who Writes This Stuff?

Going from Churchill’s subtle and magisterial “Iron Curtain” speech at Fulton, on which Seth commented yesterday, to Obama’s remarks at the White House in welcome to David Cameron is like going from Paganini to the village fiddler. Honestly, who writes this stuff? The joke about the British burning the White House in 1814 was funny enough when Tony Blair used it in 2003 in his speech to a joint session of Congress:

On our way down here, Senator Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where, in 1814, the British had burnt the Congress Library. I know this is kind of late, but sorry.

But no joke stays funny if it gets recycled often enough, and a decade later, it’s become a lame and tiresome jest. And yet Obama, that modern master of rhetoric, and Cameron, who must have groaned when he read the script, used it again yesterday. Quoth Obama:

It’s now been 200 years since the British came here, to the White House – under somewhat different circumstances. (Laughter.) They made quite an impression. (Laughter.) They really lit up the place. (Laughter.)

This isn’t a presidential welcome – it reads, and it sounded, like a third-rate stand-up comedian living on stolen jokes.

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Going from Churchill’s subtle and magisterial “Iron Curtain” speech at Fulton, on which Seth commented yesterday, to Obama’s remarks at the White House in welcome to David Cameron is like going from Paganini to the village fiddler. Honestly, who writes this stuff? The joke about the British burning the White House in 1814 was funny enough when Tony Blair used it in 2003 in his speech to a joint session of Congress:

On our way down here, Senator Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where, in 1814, the British had burnt the Congress Library. I know this is kind of late, but sorry.

But no joke stays funny if it gets recycled often enough, and a decade later, it’s become a lame and tiresome jest. And yet Obama, that modern master of rhetoric, and Cameron, who must have groaned when he read the script, used it again yesterday. Quoth Obama:

It’s now been 200 years since the British came here, to the White House – under somewhat different circumstances. (Laughter.) They made quite an impression. (Laughter.) They really lit up the place. (Laughter.)

This isn’t a presidential welcome – it reads, and it sounded, like a third-rate stand-up comedian living on stolen jokes.

And Cameron’s reply was equally cringe-inducing:

So I am a little embarrassed, as I stand here, to think that 200 years ago – (laughter) – my ancestors tried to burn the place down. (Laughter.)  Now, looking around me, I can see you’ve got the place a little better defended today. (Laughter.)  You’re clearly not taking any risks with the Brits this time. (Laughter.)

Please, make it stop.

I decided a long time ago that Obama is only a great speaker if you like him before he opens his mouth. His oratory serves not to persuade, or to inspire, but to affirm. Unlike Churchill, who always presented an argument when he spoke, Obama usually speaks to present a conclusion. If you don’t agree with his conclusion, there’s nothing in his words to make you change your mind, and his reliance on jokey humor in his more informal remarks doesn’t help.

Look – writing welcoming remarks must be a tedious job, and I wouldn’t like to do it for anything. But would it be too much to ask that his speechwriters avoid obvious solecisms? If you’re going to use the tired “the British burned the White House” joke, don’t follow it up, two paragraphs later, with the claim that “through the grand sweep of history, through all its twists and turns, there is one constant – the rock-solid alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.” So, except for the whole burning thing, it’s a constant?

No one is a more enthusiastic supporter of the Anglo-American alliance than I am, and I mean that literally. But it’s just not true that the alliance is a constant. It reflects, yes, shared interests, but it was also made, with considerable effort and by taking real political risks, by leaders like Churchill. That was the point of the speech at Fulton – not to celebrate the war-time alliance, but to make the case for its continuance in the nascent Cold War.

But when Obama says that “the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is the strongest that it has ever been,” just after his administration has announced a “strategic pivot” to Asia and refused to back Britain over the Falklands, he’s not taking any risks, or making any effort, for the alliance at all. He’s just talking. And truly great speakers, like Churchill, don’t believe that assertions can substitute for arguments or actions.

 

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Churchill, Truman, and the Origins of a Modern Alliance

In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

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In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

We remember Harry Truman as a hero and a visionary–and rightly so–but Truman was himself in awe of Churchill. When Truman met Churchill in Missouri, and the two prepared to spend a train ride in conversation, Truman asked Churchill to call him Harry. Churchill said he would, but only if Truman would call him Winston. Truman balked. “I just don’t know if I can do that,” he said. “I have such admiration for you and what you mean, not only to your people, but to this country and the world.”

Humble giants, they were. Today we are lucky to just get the humility from our leaders. The second story is one of nuance–something Churchill wasn’t known for, certainly, but at one point in his famous Fulton speech deployed with utter genius. Here is an otherwise forgettable and forgotten paragraph from the speech:

The president has told you that it is his wish, as I am sure it is yours, that I should have full liberty to give my true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times. I shall certainly avail myself of this freedom, and feel the more right to do so because any private ambitions I may have cherished in my younger days have been satisfied beyond my wildest dreams. Let me however make it clear that I have no official mission or status of any kind, and that I speak only for myself. There is nothing here but what you see.

In a footnote, White adds that when he discussed that last line with Larry Arnn, the latter pointed out the subtle brilliance of it. As White writes:

What the audience saw was the former prime minister flanked by the president of the United States and his leading advisers. So, if they focused on “nothing” but what was in front of them, they, and Stalin, could not fail to behold unity between Churchill and Truman–and, ergo, Britain and America.

The symbolism of that, too, is important. So is the seemingly insignificant incident of the Obama team’s removal of the bust of Churchill kept in the Oval Office during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Obama White House explained that “every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.” Indeed they do.

We also have the Obama administration’s failure on two separate occasions to support British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. This is a painfully easy call, and you would have to go out of your way to get it wrong and needlessly insult our allies–which Obama did.

The Republican candidates for president have been critical of the president’s dismissive attitude toward the British, so you might imagine Cameron, leader of his country’s conservatives, would drop them a line to say hello, the way Gordon Brown met with Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election when he came to visit Bush. The Telegraph reports this is not to be the case, though Cameron will be meeting important figures, such as “the actor starring in the American television series ‘Homeland.’” The Telegraph explains:

Downing Street aides insist that there is no “snub” to the Republicans by not meeting the presidential candidates. Senior sources say that the schedule was organized by the White House.

If only Cameron had a scheduler of his own! Or access to a phone. But don’t fault Cameron for his priorities, for although he does not arrive bearing the bust of Winston Churchill or with the promise of support over the Falklands, Obama did give him a lift on Air Force One.

As in 1946, “There is nothing here but what you see.” A bit less inspiring today, however.

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What Lesson to Draw from Hamid Karzai?

When the United States and the international community agreed to an interim Afghan government at the Bonn Conference more than a decade ago, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pushed for Hamid Karzai. Karzai, they believed, was pliable. At the same time, Karzai was a figure who had relations with everyone—he had even been part of the Taliban before 1996. Never mind that Karzai was an opportunist who simply jumped on whichever horse he felt was strongest at the time.

It’s clear today that Karzai is a disaster. He has revealed himself to be a corrupt kleptocrat and in bed with drug lords. He has made a mockery of the U.S. mission and, having no more use for the Americans, works openly with our enemies. Even his Taliban reconciliation efforts have less to do with peace and more to do with his own desire to ingratiate himself to an enemy in the hope that they will let him remain in power once the countdown inherent in Obama’s timeline completes. In short, he may have made a good CIA asset in the past, but he was a horrendous choice to be Afghanistan’s leader.

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When the United States and the international community agreed to an interim Afghan government at the Bonn Conference more than a decade ago, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pushed for Hamid Karzai. Karzai, they believed, was pliable. At the same time, Karzai was a figure who had relations with everyone—he had even been part of the Taliban before 1996. Never mind that Karzai was an opportunist who simply jumped on whichever horse he felt was strongest at the time.

It’s clear today that Karzai is a disaster. He has revealed himself to be a corrupt kleptocrat and in bed with drug lords. He has made a mockery of the U.S. mission and, having no more use for the Americans, works openly with our enemies. Even his Taliban reconciliation efforts have less to do with peace and more to do with his own desire to ingratiate himself to an enemy in the hope that they will let him remain in power once the countdown inherent in Obama’s timeline completes. In short, he may have made a good CIA asset in the past, but he was a horrendous choice to be Afghanistan’s leader.

Afghanistan is not the exception, but rather the rule. Prior to the Iraq war, the CIA tried an end-run against both Iraqis and the interagency process when it pushed former General Nizar al-Khazraji into Iraq’s leadership. Al-Khazraji may have shared whiskey with his CIA handlers and done everything they expected, but Iraqis knew him as a war criminal complicit in chemical weapons attacks on Kurds during the 1980s. With their top choice sidelined, the good folks at Langley then cast their lot with Ayad Allawi—a horse they continue to back. The problem with Allawi, as any Iraqi will acknowledge—is not his corruption or brutality—but rather the fact that he is lazy. He spends most of his time outside Iraq, awaiting his anointment rather than doing the hardscrabble work that folks like Nouri al-Maliki, whatever their faults, have been willing to do.

Among the Palestinians, too, the CIA has a record of picking and training losers. President Clinton’s deference to the Agency to train a Palestinian security force brought anything but security, but rather laid the groundwork for decades more terror.

Intelligence sources, even unsavory ones, are extraordinarily valuable. But they make horrid leaders. When it comes time to conduct the lessons learned from the decade-long Afghan debacle, let’s hope the CIA will not be immune from introspection.

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What’s Our Afghan Mission?

The latest outrage in Afghanistan has reinvigorated debate about what the United States is doing in that forlorn country. Increasing numbers of prominent Republicans argue that it’s time to come home, a sentiment with which it is easy to sympathize.

If one strips away the mission creep and the sheer waste which USAID calls development, however, the reason we are in Afghanistan is because, prior to 9/11, a vacuum developed which terrorists filled and from which they reached out and struck us. Our goal in Afghanistan is to fill that vacuum. The way both the Bush and Obama administrations chose to do it is to rebuild the Afghan government so it fills that vacuum and to recreate the Afghan army and police so the Afghan security forces can monopolize the use of force inside Afghanistan. If Iraq was problematic after three weeks with a disbanded army, imagine how difficult Afghanistan is after lacking one for two decades.

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The latest outrage in Afghanistan has reinvigorated debate about what the United States is doing in that forlorn country. Increasing numbers of prominent Republicans argue that it’s time to come home, a sentiment with which it is easy to sympathize.

If one strips away the mission creep and the sheer waste which USAID calls development, however, the reason we are in Afghanistan is because, prior to 9/11, a vacuum developed which terrorists filled and from which they reached out and struck us. Our goal in Afghanistan is to fill that vacuum. The way both the Bush and Obama administrations chose to do it is to rebuild the Afghan government so it fills that vacuum and to recreate the Afghan army and police so the Afghan security forces can monopolize the use of force inside Afghanistan. If Iraq was problematic after three weeks with a disbanded army, imagine how difficult Afghanistan is after lacking one for two decades.

Our diplomats made a mistake by pushing for too rapid reform in governance. Zalmay Khalilzad also sacrificed long-term security for short-term interests when he pushed for a strong presidential system in Afghanistan. The logic of his decision was to enable Hamid Karzai to co-opt warlords and remove them from their power bases by offering them offices elsewhere. Simultaneously, we sought to build the Afghan National Army so that those regional power brokers could not maintain their autonomy. The problem was when local resistance to an overbearing president became the driver for insurgency. Along Afghanistan’s periphery, locals wanted governors who looked like them and spoke like them, not one of Karzai’s cronies. This clash between the local desire for bottom-up government and Khalilzad’s system of top-down government haunts the mission.

Still, before we abandon Afghanistan, we need a policy to address the original problem: The vacuum. A more productive debate among Republicans (and Democrats for that matter), is to propose alternatives to fill that vacuum.

Simply relying on Special Forces and Predators operators will not work. A robust presence on the ground provides the actionable intelligence which they would need to conduct their mission. The “we can do it from over-the-horizon” was a mantra which proponents of the Iraq withdrawal used, and the results are now in.

Nor can we ever trust Pakistan. The U.S. goal should be to quarantine Pakistan, not to empower it with greater strategic depth. If India were a more responsible partner, they might field the void. But, then again, if pigs had wings, they could fly.

There is no magic solution. Only one certainty: a precipitous withdrawal would recreate the pre-9/11 dilemma with the added danger that Islamists would claim a victory which would reverberate the world over. Withdrawal is fine, but not unless something beyond chaos is left in its place.

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NYT: No Nukes Are Good Nukes

The New York Times editorializes today (in a piece actually labeled “Editorial,” I should note) that the United States has too many nukes, because the Cold War is over. I have no objection to the Times voicing its support for reducing our supply of Things That Go Boom–the Times’s predictability is oddly comforting–but I have a couple of questions about their reasoning. Here is the Times:

For strategic and budgetary reasons, [Obama and his nuclear experts] need to further reduce the number of deployed weapons and the number kept in reserve. If this country can wean itself from its own dependence, it will be safer and will have more credibility in its efforts to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea and others.

That is the argument: We must not be dependent on our own nuclear weapons. But the rest of the editorial doesn’t seem to back this up. It argues we will be safer with fewer tactical nukes because it will reduce the chance of an unplanned exchange of weapons we never intend to use anyway. But it doesn’t explain why our dependence on our own weapons is a problem. This is the type of phrasing commonly used to suggest one of two things: either that reducing our own dependence makes us more likely to strike a conciliatory tone with our enemies, or that we would be more likely to depend on others. The editorialists do not tell us on which other country’s nukes we should rely, rather than our own. And the other countries mentioned in the editorial–Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China–have all adopted tougher lines when we have sought that conciliatory tone.

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The New York Times editorializes today (in a piece actually labeled “Editorial,” I should note) that the United States has too many nukes, because the Cold War is over. I have no objection to the Times voicing its support for reducing our supply of Things That Go Boom–the Times’s predictability is oddly comforting–but I have a couple of questions about their reasoning. Here is the Times:

For strategic and budgetary reasons, [Obama and his nuclear experts] need to further reduce the number of deployed weapons and the number kept in reserve. If this country can wean itself from its own dependence, it will be safer and will have more credibility in its efforts to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea and others.

That is the argument: We must not be dependent on our own nuclear weapons. But the rest of the editorial doesn’t seem to back this up. It argues we will be safer with fewer tactical nukes because it will reduce the chance of an unplanned exchange of weapons we never intend to use anyway. But it doesn’t explain why our dependence on our own weapons is a problem. This is the type of phrasing commonly used to suggest one of two things: either that reducing our own dependence makes us more likely to strike a conciliatory tone with our enemies, or that we would be more likely to depend on others. The editorialists do not tell us on which other country’s nukes we should rely, rather than our own. And the other countries mentioned in the editorial–Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China–have all adopted tougher lines when we have sought that conciliatory tone.

Which brings me to the other problem with the editorial. “Many experts believe the United States can easily go down to 1,000 warheads in total — deployed and stored — without jeopardizing security. We agree,” write the editors. That may well be true, but the Times’s logic claimed we would gain credibility with others if we cut our nuclear supply. Let’s say we cut it to 1,000–a number the Times indicates it will be satisfied with for at least five minutes before it hectors the administration to cut more. What will such credibility get us? Let me put it this way: Why wouldn’t the reaction of Iran, North Korea, and China (Russia has more than 1,000, so they’re exempted from this hypothetical) decide that 1,000 is a great target, and that they shouldn’t have to stop producing nukes until they, too, hit that number?

The evidence seems to support my pessimism on this. After all, if reducing our nuclear stockpile would convince other countries to reduce theirs (or at least stop expanding), why, as the Times admits, has China continued expanding its nuclear weapons program after we have already agreed to reduce our count more than once?

Furthermore, is it really true that, as the Times claims, China is “the only major power expanding its arsenal”? I suppose we can argue about what constitutes a “major power,” but it seems North Korea may have still been conducting nuclear tests in 2010, and they may have been on behalf of Iran (evidence suggests the West thinks one was probably for Iran and one was probably their own, which would make the most sense).

The IAEA–not exactly Iran’s biggest or most determined critic–now admits Iran is probably building a nuclear weapons program, surprising no one. That sure sounds like an expansion. Why wasn’t Iran convinced by our New START treaty with Russia?

The fact remains that the Times is either offering us unsubstantiated theories (dependence on our own capabilities is bad) or already disproved assertions (our agreement to reduce our stockpile encourages others to do the same). What the Times wants is for us to reduce our supply no matter what other countries do. That’s fine–they’re certainly free to keep saying so. But the more they try to justify their plans, the weaker their arguments sound.

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U.S.-Afghan Agreement is a Win-Win

For those who claim it is impossible to deal with Hamid Karzai and U.S. forces cannot succeed while he is in power, today’s agreement on the handling of detainees in U.S. custody is a good rebuttal.

Karzai had been demanding the U.S. immediately hand over all 3,200 detainees in our custody–he understandably views the operation of a U.S. detention facility on Afghan soil as an affront to Afghan sovereignty– even though Afghan forces are manifestly not capable of holding them securely on their own. The result was months of deadlock in negotiating a U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement. That deadlock was broken today when both sides agreed to give a little. Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding, they agreed that during the next six months the U.S. detention facility in Parwan will transition to full Afghan control (there are already Afghan personnel in training there) but that the U.S. would retain a veto on the release of any prisoners while our forces remain in Afghanistan. Moreover, U.S. personnel will continue to supervise the facility to make sure detainees are held safely and securely. And finally, roughly 50 non-Afghan fighters–highly dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists–will remain under full U.S. custody.

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For those who claim it is impossible to deal with Hamid Karzai and U.S. forces cannot succeed while he is in power, today’s agreement on the handling of detainees in U.S. custody is a good rebuttal.

Karzai had been demanding the U.S. immediately hand over all 3,200 detainees in our custody–he understandably views the operation of a U.S. detention facility on Afghan soil as an affront to Afghan sovereignty– even though Afghan forces are manifestly not capable of holding them securely on their own. The result was months of deadlock in negotiating a U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement. That deadlock was broken today when both sides agreed to give a little. Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding, they agreed that during the next six months the U.S. detention facility in Parwan will transition to full Afghan control (there are already Afghan personnel in training there) but that the U.S. would retain a veto on the release of any prisoners while our forces remain in Afghanistan. Moreover, U.S. personnel will continue to supervise the facility to make sure detainees are held safely and securely. And finally, roughly 50 non-Afghan fighters–highly dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists–will remain under full U.S. custody.

This agreement allows both sides to get what it wants–Karzai gets a demonstration of his government’s sovereignty, while the U.S. gets to keep in detention prisoners whose release would endanger our troops and hamper their efforts to pacify the country.

This looks like a win-win and offers hope that the last remaining deadlock–over “night raids”–will soon be broken.

 

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Washington Should Help Syrian Opposition

There is something perverse and a little bit circular about the administration argument that we can’t help the Syrian opposition until they get better organized. As this National Journal article notes, Hillary Clinton last week told a House committee the opposition in Libya “had a face, both the people who were doing the outreach diplomatically and the fighters. We could actually meet with them. We could eyeball them. We could ask them tough questions. Here, you know, when [Ayman al-] Zawahiri of al-Qaida comes out and supports the Syrian opposition, you’ve got to ask yourself: ‘If we arm, who are we arming?”

The problem is that the Syrian opposition is not likely to get better organized until the U.S. and other outside powers make a decision to help them. In fact by deciding to provide money, arms, and other aid we could support the more moderate and responsible elements of the opposition while sidelining the extremists. No doubt we should be careful about where we distribute arms, but handing out small arms does not pose much of a strategic threat to Israel or other American allies even if they fall into the wrong hands. No one is suggesting giving Stingers to the Free Syrian Army.

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There is something perverse and a little bit circular about the administration argument that we can’t help the Syrian opposition until they get better organized. As this National Journal article notes, Hillary Clinton last week told a House committee the opposition in Libya “had a face, both the people who were doing the outreach diplomatically and the fighters. We could actually meet with them. We could eyeball them. We could ask them tough questions. Here, you know, when [Ayman al-] Zawahiri of al-Qaida comes out and supports the Syrian opposition, you’ve got to ask yourself: ‘If we arm, who are we arming?”

The problem is that the Syrian opposition is not likely to get better organized until the U.S. and other outside powers make a decision to help them. In fact by deciding to provide money, arms, and other aid we could support the more moderate and responsible elements of the opposition while sidelining the extremists. No doubt we should be careful about where we distribute arms, but handing out small arms does not pose much of a strategic threat to Israel or other American allies even if they fall into the wrong hands. No one is suggesting giving Stingers to the Free Syrian Army.

In addition to supporting responsible rebels, we should also be acting to grow the ranks of the moderate opposition by using all of the influence at our disposal to convince government, military and business leaders in Syria to defect. Instead, we are standing on the sidelines complaining about the deficiencies of the opposition even as Bashar al-Assad and his gang are slaughtering civilians in the street.

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Thank Israel, U.S. For Nuke-Free Regimes

If I were a Syrian rebel I’d be very appreciative of Israeli military might. Without Israel’s Operation Orchard, the 2007 airstrike on Bashar al-Assad’s nuclear reactor in eastern Syria, the dictator in Damascus would now be deterring any pro-rebel outside influence with a nuclear bomb. And depending on how bad things got for his regime, he might find his way to pushing the button. Toppled dictators like to take their walks of shame with big fiery bangs.

It’s amazing how despised preemptive action on the part of democracies ends up looking like a blessing when crises hit. Without the American invasion of Iraq, Muammar Qaddafi would have had an extensive WMD arsenal at his disposal while his regime unraveled last year. In March 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom woke him up to the consequences of WMD subterfuge and he gave up his program later in the year. So if not for Israeli and American preemptive action, the Arab Spring might very well have been far more deadly and destabilizing than it already is.

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If I were a Syrian rebel I’d be very appreciative of Israeli military might. Without Israel’s Operation Orchard, the 2007 airstrike on Bashar al-Assad’s nuclear reactor in eastern Syria, the dictator in Damascus would now be deterring any pro-rebel outside influence with a nuclear bomb. And depending on how bad things got for his regime, he might find his way to pushing the button. Toppled dictators like to take their walks of shame with big fiery bangs.

It’s amazing how despised preemptive action on the part of democracies ends up looking like a blessing when crises hit. Without the American invasion of Iraq, Muammar Qaddafi would have had an extensive WMD arsenal at his disposal while his regime unraveled last year. In March 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom woke him up to the consequences of WMD subterfuge and he gave up his program later in the year. So if not for Israeli and American preemptive action, the Arab Spring might very well have been far more deadly and destabilizing than it already is.

This all leads to the question of Iran. Of the many nightmare scenarios that could be birthed by a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic, the one that gets the least attention is arguably the most likely. Eventually, that thug regime will go the way of its neighbors and fall.  Indeed, the Arab Spring had a decidedly Persian kickoff. In June 2009, millions of Iranians took to the streets to demand justice in the wake of fixed presidential elections. There is no if about the fall of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And when it happens, does the world really want the mullahs who’ve been preaching Armageddon for three decades to have nuclear weapons? Leave aside the prospect of an Iranian-Israeli nuclear exchange, the misery of an Iranian-Saudi nuclear arms race, and the regional domination of a nuclear blackmailing Tehran. Peace-loving, America-fearing progressives better get their stories straight for the day the mullahs find out their time is up. If the Khomeinists face that prospect with nuclear weapons at their disposal, they’re likely to make Saddam Hussein’s exploding-oil-field retreat in 1991 look like a bunch of bonfires.

“We will destroy you all, even if we ourselves die in the process,” Ayatollah Khomeini said. “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah,” he offered on another occasion. “For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” Having watched one Arab Spring regime after another elect Islamists into office, the theocrats in Tehran will likely feel secure in the triumph of radical Islam before they self-immolate.

There are things much worse than Western military action. Foremost among them are those things that only Western military action can prevent or stop. Just ask the Syrians. It’s so bad for them they might even tell you the truth.

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Paying the Price in Egypt and Iran

I have already compared the trial of 16 Americans, along with a number of Egyptians, in an Egyptian court on trumped-up charges of violating various laws to the Iranian hostage crisis in terms of the challenge it poses to American power. There is another similarity worth noting: In both cases we were in some sense reaping what we sowed.

Much of the reason Iranians were so anti-American in 1979, after all, was the unlimited backing we had given to an unpopular dictator, the Shah. Likewise, much of the reason Egyptians are anti-American is because of the unlimited backing we gave to another unpopular dictator, Hosni Mubarak. It did not matter in either case that at the last minute, when both men were in danger of toppling, the U.S. effectively withdrew its backing. All that the people of Egypt and Iran would remember was the decades of support for a dictator which preceded the regime’s demise.

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I have already compared the trial of 16 Americans, along with a number of Egyptians, in an Egyptian court on trumped-up charges of violating various laws to the Iranian hostage crisis in terms of the challenge it poses to American power. There is another similarity worth noting: In both cases we were in some sense reaping what we sowed.

Much of the reason Iranians were so anti-American in 1979, after all, was the unlimited backing we had given to an unpopular dictator, the Shah. Likewise, much of the reason Egyptians are anti-American is because of the unlimited backing we gave to another unpopular dictator, Hosni Mubarak. It did not matter in either case that at the last minute, when both men were in danger of toppling, the U.S. effectively withdrew its backing. All that the people of Egypt and Iran would remember was the decades of support for a dictator which preceded the regime’s demise.

Needless to say, I do not condone this anti-Americanism, but I can understand it–just as I can understand why so many American governments found it prudent to back the Shah and Mubarak. The regime which succeeded the Shah makes his rule seem paradisiacal by comparison; the same might yet be said of whatever regime emerges in Egypt, which will be dominated by Islamists. Perhaps there was no “third way” possible (to evoke that Cold War phrase), but we should have at least tried harder to find it by pushing our dictatorial allies to reform and providing support to moderate opposition elements.

We didn’t do that in the case of Egypt and Iran and are now paying the price. It is not too late in the case of other regional allies such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. We need to push them to liberalize, or else we can expect more hostage crises and show trials in our future.

 

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The Saudis Want to Arm an Insurgency

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Tunis that backing an armed insurgency against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad “is an excellent idea.” He told her that because she asked his opinion, which means she’s thinking about it, as well.

The Iraqi insurgency soured most Americans on the idea of helping Arab countries get rid of a tyrant, but our interests in the region haven’t changed. Our biggest problem then as now is the Iranian- and Syrian-led resistance bloc, consisting not only of the odious regimes in Tehran and Damascus, but also their networks of terrorist organizations and insurgent groups from the Levant to Mesopotamia.

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Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Tunis that backing an armed insurgency against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad “is an excellent idea.” He told her that because she asked his opinion, which means she’s thinking about it, as well.

The Iraqi insurgency soured most Americans on the idea of helping Arab countries get rid of a tyrant, but our interests in the region haven’t changed. Our biggest problem then as now is the Iranian- and Syrian-led resistance bloc, consisting not only of the odious regimes in Tehran and Damascus, but also their networks of terrorist organizations and insurgent groups from the Levant to Mesopotamia.

Assad isn’t only just now becoming a headache. He backed anti-American and anti-Iraqi Sunni death squads and suicide bombers to the hilt. His family has spent decades arming an array of terrorist organizations that menace our friends and allies in Israel and Lebanon. And the longer the revolution continues, the more freelance foreign al-Qaeda fighters will pour into the country to “help.”

We aren’t the only ones wondering whether or not we should support the insurrection, or at least parts of it. If the United States doesn’t do it, the Saudis and Turks may do it themselves. Al-Qaeda fighters will most likely show up, if they haven’t already. Another question we’re going to have to start asking ourselves is whether or not we want any leverage in Syria after Assad is deposed. A hostile Islamist government in Damascus is far more likely to follow Baathist Syria if the Saudis and Turks decide who gets guns instead of us.

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Will Rep. Pascrell Denounce “Israel-Firster” Rhetoric Against Opponent?

New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell – who’s currently locked in a brutal primary battle with Rep. Steve Rothman because of state redistricting – is in hot water after a prominent supporter accused Rothman-backers of being more loyal to Israel than the United States.

Arab-American activist Aref Assaf penned a column blasting those who support Rothman over Pascrell, claiming their choice is solely based on “blind support for Israel”:

“As total and blind support for Israel becomes the only reason for choosing Rothman, voters who do not view the elections in this prism will need to take notice. Loyalty to a foreign flag is not loyalty to America’s,” Assaf wrote in an article for the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

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New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell – who’s currently locked in a brutal primary battle with Rep. Steve Rothman because of state redistricting – is in hot water after a prominent supporter accused Rothman-backers of being more loyal to Israel than the United States.

Arab-American activist Aref Assaf penned a column blasting those who support Rothman over Pascrell, claiming their choice is solely based on “blind support for Israel”:

“As total and blind support for Israel becomes the only reason for choosing Rothman, voters who do not view the elections in this prism will need to take notice. Loyalty to a foreign flag is not loyalty to America’s,” Assaf wrote in an article for the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

Now Rothman, one of the staunchest Israel defenders in the Democratic Party, is calling on Pascrell to denounce the “bigoted” rhetoric, reports the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo:

“Congressman Pascrell should disavow these attacks and ask his supporters to stop this harmful, dishonest, and bigoted rhetoric,” Rothman spokesperson Aaron Keyak said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. “Even during tough elections we should be able to debate policy without having our political opponents question our patriotism.”

After the controversy over Democratic-linked organizations engaging in dual-loyalty charges, it’s problematic that one of Pascrell’s supporters would make such inflammatory claims. This also isn’t the first time Pascrell has come under fire for anti-Israel associations. In 2010, he signed the controversial “Gaza 54 letter,” which was harshly critical of Israel. Pascrell’s best move may be to take Rothman’s advice and distance himself from Assaf’s toxic rhetoric, unless he wants to be seen as tacitly approving these allegations.

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Bahrain Opposition Can’t Have it Both Ways

After a brief visit to Bahrain earlier this month, it is clear the situation in Bahrain is reaching a head. February 14 marked the year anniversary of demonstrations at the Pearl Monument. Clashes and arrests continue. The Bahraini government has not been as proactive with reform as perhaps it might. Grievances in Bahrain—where the majority population is Shi’ite whereas the royal family and security forces are overwhelmingly Sunni—are real, and stability, security, and economic growth ultimately require they be addressed.

Bahrain might be the smallest Arab state, but it has disproportionate importance for American national security. It hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, a vital tool in securing the Persian Gulf to international shipping and also, potentially, in containing Iran. While American officials generally recognize Bahraini grievances and pressure the king and prime minister to become more proactive with reform, the future of the Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain will ultimately shape American decision-making.

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After a brief visit to Bahrain earlier this month, it is clear the situation in Bahrain is reaching a head. February 14 marked the year anniversary of demonstrations at the Pearl Monument. Clashes and arrests continue. The Bahraini government has not been as proactive with reform as perhaps it might. Grievances in Bahrain—where the majority population is Shi’ite whereas the royal family and security forces are overwhelmingly Sunni—are real, and stability, security, and economic growth ultimately require they be addressed.

Bahrain might be the smallest Arab state, but it has disproportionate importance for American national security. It hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, a vital tool in securing the Persian Gulf to international shipping and also, potentially, in containing Iran. While American officials generally recognize Bahraini grievances and pressure the king and prime minister to become more proactive with reform, the future of the Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain will ultimately shape American decision-making.

The Bahraini opposition has generally argued—in English and to Western journalists and officials—that they are far more likely to acquiesce to the Fifth Fleet’s continued presence if the Americans side more completely with their demands for reform.

The problem is that some Bahraini activists have fallen into a trap of saying one thing in English, and yet another in Persian. Here, for example, is a statement reported in the Persian press in early September from a Bahraini activist that speaks of compromise in English:

Bahrain is America’s front line… The Americans will not easily allow removal of their stooges in the region unless the conditions dictate otherwise. Where can they find a ruler who is ready to give his oil to them for free? Or allow them to establish military bases? Allow them to do what they please in his country? To defend the Zionists and give them the domestic market and its chambers of commerce? This is what the Khalifa Dynasty has done for the Americans and it is documented.

Now, it is quite possible the person in question was misquoted by the Iranian press. And it is also true that the Bahraini opposition does not speak with a single voice. The words of a single activist do not obviate the need for reform. Still, the discrepancy between the opposition remarks in Persian and in English is glaring. Until the opposition describes its positions consistently in Persian, Arabic and English, distrust is going to hamper reform. It comes down to a choice: Bahraini opposition figures either need to tell the Americans what they do not want to hear in the American press, or tell the Iranians what they do not want to hear in the Iranian press. But it will not be possible to have it both ways.

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Partisan Divide About Israeli Strike on Iran

A Pew Research Center poll released today found the majority of Americans support using military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, backing up previous polls that have found similar results. But there’s also a fairly large partisan divide when it comes to supporting Israeli military action against Iran:

About half of Americans (51 percent) say the U.S. should stay neutral if Israel attacks Iran. Nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) say the U.S. should support Israel’s military action while just 5 percent say the U.S. should oppose military action. …

There is a wide divide among Republicans on the issue of Iran. Fully 71 percent of conservative Republicans think the U.S. should support Israel’s military action if they attack Iran, compared with 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans. A majority of independents and Democrats (including both liberal and more moderate Democrats) think the U.S. should stay neutral.

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A Pew Research Center poll released today found the majority of Americans support using military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, backing up previous polls that have found similar results. But there’s also a fairly large partisan divide when it comes to supporting Israeli military action against Iran:

About half of Americans (51 percent) say the U.S. should stay neutral if Israel attacks Iran. Nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) say the U.S. should support Israel’s military action while just 5 percent say the U.S. should oppose military action. …

There is a wide divide among Republicans on the issue of Iran. Fully 71 percent of conservative Republicans think the U.S. should support Israel’s military action if they attack Iran, compared with 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans. A majority of independents and Democrats (including both liberal and more moderate Democrats) think the U.S. should stay neutral.

First, two items to note: the percentage of Americans who would want the U.S. to oppose an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program is in the single-digits, which leaves groups like J Street far outside the mainstream. Also note that Republicans are far more likely to want the U.S. to support an Israeli strike, while Democrats and independents are more likely to want to stay neutral.

Next, there’s bit of a discrepancy here. While the majority of Americans support using military action to prevent Iran from going nuclear, the majority would also prefer to stay neutral if Israel is the country taking the action. It almost seems contradictory.

One reason could be because there’s no option for neutrality on the first question. You either support taking military action to prevent Iranian nukes, or you don’t. In contrast, the Israel question provides three response choices: support, oppose, or stay neutral.

Overall, the poll confirms what we’ve been seeing lately, which is that the public supports all options on the table when it comes to preventing a nuclear Iran. And the partisan gap on the Israel question highlights once again that Republicans tend to be the more reliable party when it comes to support for the Jewish state and seriousness about national security.

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What Obama’s Reelection Would Mean for Iran’s Nuclear Program

Newsweek has a must-read today on the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel on halting Iran’s nuclear program. The detail getting the most attention is the Obama administration’s decision to keep crucial intelligence from Israel regarding the locations of nuclear scientists. But the lack of intelligence-sharing goes both ways – Israel is also staying mum about when it will strike Iran, if it decides to take that course.

The reason for the silence seems to be a breakdown of trust between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. While the U.S. has the capability to attack the program after it goes fully underground, Israel’s window of time for carrying out a successful attack is much shorter. And the Israelis have reason to doubt Obama would take military action if he wins reelection, Newsweek reports:

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Newsweek has a must-read today on the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel on halting Iran’s nuclear program. The detail getting the most attention is the Obama administration’s decision to keep crucial intelligence from Israel regarding the locations of nuclear scientists. But the lack of intelligence-sharing goes both ways – Israel is also staying mum about when it will strike Iran, if it decides to take that course.

The reason for the silence seems to be a breakdown of trust between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. While the U.S. has the capability to attack the program after it goes fully underground, Israel’s window of time for carrying out a successful attack is much shorter. And the Israelis have reason to doubt Obama would take military action if he wins reelection, Newsweek reports:

One former Israeli official tells Newsweek he heard this explanation directly from Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “If Israel will miss its last opportunity [to attack], then we will have to lean only on the United States, and if the United States decides not to attack, then we will face an Iran with a bomb,” says the former Israeli official. This source says that Israel has asked Obama for assurances that if sanctions fail, he will use force against Iran. Obama’s refusal to provide that assurance has helped shape Israel’s posture: a refusal to promise restraint, or even to give the United States advance notice.

Could there be a clearer example of “leading from behind” than this? A nuclear Iran is perhaps the biggest threat the world currently faces, and yet Obama can’t provide reassurances he’ll take military action if necessary – knowing this will lay the brunt of the responsibility on Israel.

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Turkey’s Foreign Minister Bashes Israel as Turkey Slaughters Kurds

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has been visiting Washington, supposedly to talk about Syria. He has, however, upheld his promise last autumn to use every international gathering to bash Israel. As the Turkish press reported at the time:

“[Israel] despises and plays with the people’s honor in this region,” Davutoğlu said, adding that Turkey would continue to highlight Israel’s unlawful acts in all international platforms.

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Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has been visiting Washington, supposedly to talk about Syria. He has, however, upheld his promise last autumn to use every international gathering to bash Israel. As the Turkish press reported at the time:

“[Israel] despises and plays with the people’s honor in this region,” Davutoğlu said, adding that Turkey would continue to highlight Israel’s unlawful acts in all international platforms.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Davutoğlu told Israel “enough is enough,” and drew moral equivalence between Russia’s veto of Syrian atrocities and American support of Israel at the United Nations. The ultimate irony, however, came as Turkish jet fighters crossed an international border to bomb Kurds in Iraq, once again.

Yes, Mr. Davutoğlu, enough is enough.

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Ex-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq: We Have to Arm Syrian Opposition

Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, said today the “decision has to be made” for the U.S. to arm the opposition in Syria, but cautioned that the weapons should be ones that wouldn’t be used against Israel if they fall into the wrong hands.

“That’s not us fighting. (The Syrian opposition is) fighting, they’re dying, and they should be given as much a chance as possible to do it,” Khalilzad told me, after a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he harshly criticized the Obama administration for what he called a failed strategy to “appease and engage adversaries” in the Middle East.

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Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, said today the “decision has to be made” for the U.S. to arm the opposition in Syria, but cautioned that the weapons should be ones that wouldn’t be used against Israel if they fall into the wrong hands.

“That’s not us fighting. (The Syrian opposition is) fighting, they’re dying, and they should be given as much a chance as possible to do it,” Khalilzad told me, after a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he harshly criticized the Obama administration for what he called a failed strategy to “appease and engage adversaries” in the Middle East.

While it’s critical for the U.S. to do what it can to influence the situation in Syria, the idea of arming the opposition is controversial. Not only is there concern about who the opposition actually is, and whether they’re a group the U.S. would want to help bring to power, there’s also a distinct possibility the weapons could fall into the wrong hands. Khalilzad said this could be addressed by limiting our material support to purely defensive weapons.

“We need to be careful about what kind of weapons we give in terms of our regional interest. And we wouldn’t want to give them things that could be useful against our friends and allies,” he said. “I would think more in defensive weapons would be very helpful. Like anti-tank weapons because (the Assad regime is) using tanks to mow people and bomb.”

Outside of arming the opposition, there are also other–albeit, less effective–steps the U.S. can take. Khalilzad proposed reaching out to Christians and Kurds in the region to persuade them to join up with the opposition. He also suggested working with the Iraqis to block Iran from using Iraq as a corridor to channel supplies and weapons to Assad.

But in the end, Khalilzad said, “The will and decision has to be made that we will give them weapons, because this is important and the outcome will be important.”

 

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Leaked Syrian E-Mails Instruct on Handling American Press

When I did a post-doc in Israel back in academic year 2001-2002, the Palestinian terror and bombing campaign was at its height. Hordes of Western journalists circulated through Israel on their way to the West Bank and Gaza. Having coffee with a producer at the time, I was surprised to learn it was common practice among major American networks and their European counterparts to pay PLO and Hamas “fixers” for access. The implication was that if the payment was not made, not only would meetings not be granted, but the crews’ safety might be endangered. News agencies never acknowledged they had paid terrorists and fixers in the subsequent news reports.

Journalists have long expressed self-righteous indignation if confronted with the fact that many Arab states and terrorist groups consider them useful idiots, easy to dupe, and tools for propaganda projection. Leaked Syrian e-mails should put a rest to such protests, however.

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When I did a post-doc in Israel back in academic year 2001-2002, the Palestinian terror and bombing campaign was at its height. Hordes of Western journalists circulated through Israel on their way to the West Bank and Gaza. Having coffee with a producer at the time, I was surprised to learn it was common practice among major American networks and their European counterparts to pay PLO and Hamas “fixers” for access. The implication was that if the payment was not made, not only would meetings not be granted, but the crews’ safety might be endangered. News agencies never acknowledged they had paid terrorists and fixers in the subsequent news reports.

Journalists have long expressed self-righteous indignation if confronted with the fact that many Arab states and terrorist groups consider them useful idiots, easy to dupe, and tools for propaganda projection. Leaked Syrian e-mails should put a rest to such protests, however.

Here’s the advice Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s media adviser gave him before Assad’s interview with Barbara Walters:

“It is hugely important and worth mentioning that ‘mistakes’ have been done in the beginning of the crises because we did not have a well-organized ‘police force.’ American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are ‘mistakes’ done and now we are ‘fixing it.’ It’s worth mentioning also what is happening now in Wall Street and the way the demonstrations are been [sic] suppressed by policemen, police dogs and beatings.”

The Syrian briefing paper is certainly worth reading, as is the Syrian regime’s willingness to use the supposed cultural sensitivity of American progressives to shield Syria against American accusations of Syrian atrocities.

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Newest Domestic Threat: “Sovereign Citizens”

It’s nice to see the FBI is keeping its eye on the real homegrown threat in America — Ron Paul fans:

Anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations pose a growing threat to local law enforcement officers in the United States, the FBI warned on Monday.

These extremists, sometimes known as “sovereign citizens,” believe they can live outside any type of government authority, FBI agents said at a news conference.

The extremists may refuse to pay taxes, defy government environmental regulations and believe the United States went bankrupt by going off the gold standard.

Routine encounters with police can turn violent “at the drop of a hat,” said Stuart McArthur, deputy assistant director in the FBI’s counterterrorism division.

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It’s nice to see the FBI is keeping its eye on the real homegrown threat in America — Ron Paul fans:

Anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations pose a growing threat to local law enforcement officers in the United States, the FBI warned on Monday.

These extremists, sometimes known as “sovereign citizens,” believe they can live outside any type of government authority, FBI agents said at a news conference.

The extremists may refuse to pay taxes, defy government environmental regulations and believe the United States went bankrupt by going off the gold standard.

Routine encounters with police can turn violent “at the drop of a hat,” said Stuart McArthur, deputy assistant director in the FBI’s counterterrorism division.

How large has this epidemic of “sovereign citizens” grown? According to the FBI, 18 sovereign citizens were convicted of mainly white-collar crimes in 2010 and 2011, up from 10 in 2009. Two of these sovereign citizens were involved in two separate police shootings in 2010 and 2011.

So there’s certainly been some violence coming from these anti-government activists. But based on the data provided by the FBI, is this really a threat that warrants a major press conference?

It’s hard to reconcile this report with the one in the New York Times today, which claims homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslims poses “little threat” to the U.S. The evidence? According to a new study, there were only 20 Muslim Americans charged with terror attacks or plots in 2011 – down from 47 in 2009:

A feared wave of homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslim Americans has not materialized, with plots and arrests dropping sharply over the two years since an unusual peak in 2009, according to a new study by a North Carolina research group.

The study, to be released on Wednesday, found that 20 Muslim Americans were charged in violent plots or attacks in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and a spike of 47 in 2009.

Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans “a minuscule threat to public safety.” Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina.

Left-wing blogs have been touting both of these stories, warning about the danger of sovereign citizens and declaring that the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism is overblown, and largely invented by Rep. Peter King. But clearly, if you consider 20 Muslim American terrorists trying to carry out large-casualty attacks on U.S. soil over the past year a “non-existent threat,” then it’s hard to argue that 18 libertarian wackos refusing to pay taxes and flouting environmental regulations is the latest great danger to the nation.

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