Commentary Magazine


Topic: Argentina

Kirchner’s Jew Hatred Casts Cloud on Argentina

In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has made much of Europe a hostile place for Jews. But the resurgence of Jew-hatred has not been limited to that continent. As Ben Cohen noted in the April issue of COMMENTARY, the specter of anti-Semitism has loomed over the investigation of the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, an Argentinean prosecutor who had been probing Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that took the lives of 85 people. Integral to the controversy over the attempt by officials to label what appears to be foul play as suicide is the fact that Nisman had been about to issue an arrest warrant for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other top members of her government. Nisman believed he had proof that Kirchner had negotiated a deal with Tehran that would swap Iranian oil for Argentine grain and the exoneration of those Iranian agents involved in the bombing. But as Cohen wrote, that atrocity and the subsequent cover-up did not take place in a vacuum. An anti-Semitic atmosphere in the country contributed mightily. Now Kirchner who reaction to criticism of her faltering government over the Nisman case by blaming her troubles on Jews in a series of Twitter rants, has added to the problem by again going dark on social media by telling students to read the anti-Semitic play Merchant of Venice to understand her country’s debt crisis.

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In recent years, a rising tide of anti-Semitism has made much of Europe a hostile place for Jews. But the resurgence of Jew-hatred has not been limited to that continent. As Ben Cohen noted in the April issue of COMMENTARY, the specter of anti-Semitism has loomed over the investigation of the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, an Argentinean prosecutor who had been probing Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that took the lives of 85 people. Integral to the controversy over the attempt by officials to label what appears to be foul play as suicide is the fact that Nisman had been about to issue an arrest warrant for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other top members of her government. Nisman believed he had proof that Kirchner had negotiated a deal with Tehran that would swap Iranian oil for Argentine grain and the exoneration of those Iranian agents involved in the bombing. But as Cohen wrote, that atrocity and the subsequent cover-up did not take place in a vacuum. An anti-Semitic atmosphere in the country contributed mightily. Now Kirchner who reaction to criticism of her faltering government over the Nisman case by blaming her troubles on Jews in a series of Twitter rants, has added to the problem by again going dark on social media by telling students to read the anti-Semitic play Merchant of Venice to understand her country’s debt crisis.

According to the Times of Israel, the incident revolves around a presidential visit to a Buenos Aires school:

In one tweet, Kirchner recounted how she had asked students she met which Shakespeare play they were studying. When they told the president they were studying Romeo and Juliet, Kirchner said she responded, “I said, ‘Have you read The Merchant of Venice to understand the vulture funds?’ They all laughed.

“No, don’t laugh. Usury and the bloodsuckers were immortalized by the best literature for centuries,” she then tweeted to her two million twitter followers.

Argentine Jews have responded with outrage at the obvious inference that the country’s economic woes are the fault of the Jews. In response, Kirchner pointed to the fact that Habima; Israel’s national theater has produced Merchant in the past.

Does that get her off the hook from the charge of anti-Semitism? Not at all.

Let’s concede that many actors and critics have defended the play from the charge of anti-Semitism by pointing to the multi-dimensional nature of Shylock, the play’s bloodthirsty Jewish villain. As he did with all of his characters, Shakespeare paints Shylock as a real human being with understandable motivations rather than a stock figure of villainy. The play is a brilliant creation filled with great writing and drama. But is also standing proof that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s claim that great art could not be anti-Semitic is false. Shylock may be a human being but he is also an archetype of the Jewish moneylender who exploits and victimizes innocent Christians. Shylock is not merely bested and humiliated by his Christian opponents who outwit him in his quest to gain a pound of Christian flesh in payment for a defaulted debt. He is also forced to endure the desertion of his beloved daughter who marries a Christian and is ultimately condemned and forced to accept conversion to Christianity. For all of Shakespeare’s great artistry, the play is drenched with Jew hatred and libels that have been used against Jews for many centuries. The Merchant of Venice is rightly seen as a symbol of the West’s lamentable heritage of anti-Semitism.

It is one thing for a theater company to attempt, as many have, to stage the play in such a manner as to challenge the anti-Semitic assumptions at its core though many observers contend any such effort is bound to fail in that purpose. But it is quite another for a national leader to point to Merchant as the model for understanding economics. In that content there is no escaping the conclusion that Kirchner’s only possible motive was to spread Jew hatred in the crudest possible manner.

We don’t have to learn more about Kirchner’s literary tastes to understand the depth of her prejudices against Jews. Her dealings with Iran and previous comments on social media are enough to damn her as a vicious anti-Semite. But this latest incident solidifies her stance in a way that no objective observer could possibly misinterpret.

Given the willingness of the Argentine government to make crooked deals with Iran and to cover up involvement in terrorism and perhaps even murder of Nisman, there may not be any way to hold Kirchner accountable for her actions. But foreign governments should draw the right conclusions from Kirchner’s Jew hatred and act accordingly. She may be untouchable at home but no decent foreign government should ever receive her as a leader. Until a person not tainted by the virus of anti-Semitism leads Argentina, it should get a cold shoulder from the United States as well as other nations on all issues.

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A Shameful Attack on Alberto Nisman

Predictably, elements of the left are now waking up to the political implications of the death, on January 18, of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine Special Prosecutor who spent the last decade investigating the culpability of Iran and its Hezbollah ally in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were murdered. A party line is coming together, uniting a rainbow coalition that extends from the Argentine government to the pro-Iranian conspiracy theorist Gareth Porter, which holds that Nisman, in accusing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and other top officials of fabricating Iran’s innocence over the atrocity, was acting at the behest of foreign powers–chiefly the U.S. and Israel.

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Predictably, elements of the left are now waking up to the political implications of the death, on January 18, of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine Special Prosecutor who spent the last decade investigating the culpability of Iran and its Hezbollah ally in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were murdered. A party line is coming together, uniting a rainbow coalition that extends from the Argentine government to the pro-Iranian conspiracy theorist Gareth Porter, which holds that Nisman, in accusing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and other top officials of fabricating Iran’s innocence over the atrocity, was acting at the behest of foreign powers–chiefly the U.S. and Israel.

A particularly heinous example of this thinking appeared today, in the pages, regrettably, of the liberal American Jewish newspaper The Forward. Written by Graciela Mochkofsky, an Argentine journalist who is the author of an “acclaimed” biography of Jacobo Timerman–the late dissident journalist whose son, Hector, is now Argentina’s foreign minister, and one of the officials named in the complaint Nisman was due to present to a congressional committee the day after his death–the piece carries the headline “Why Alberto Nisman is No Hero for Argentina – or the Jews,” and slides steadily downhill from there.

Before getting to the numerous errors, distortions, and outright lies in Mochkofsky’s piece, it’s worth ruminating for a second on that word, “hero.” There is a tendency on the left to regard heroes as the sort of people you put on a T-shirt; pure as the driven snow, motivated only by principle, and never compromising themselves in the pursuit of justice.

Such people, of course, don’t exist in the real world. Like any other judicial official, Nisman could not afford to rise above politics, which are particularly murky in Argentina. So when Mochkofsky spitefully condemns a man who cannot answer her as a “species born and bred in my country, a specimen of the politicized federal justice system — typically, someone who stretches the law, lives beyond his means and always stands close to power” and remarks darkly about “his close ties to Argentina’s intelligence services,” there is nothing here–nothing at all–to suggest that Nisman was wrong in pinning the blame for the AMIA bombing on Iran, or in asserting that Kirchner and her cohorts obligingly covered the Tehran regime’s tracks.

The issue, then, is not whether Nisman was an uncomplicated hero, but why, in the wake of his death, pundits like Mochkofsky are so keen to close down Nisman’s examination of the Buenos Aires-Tehran nexus. And the answer is revealed both by what her piece says and what it doesn’t say.

First, she attempts to smear Nisman by claiming that “his task was to make presentable the fabrication concocted by Judge Juan José Galeano”–a man who was subsequently impeached, along with former President Carlos Menem, for his role in trying to pin the blame for the bombing on low-level local operatives, thereby eliding Iran’s role. In fact, Nisman was a fairly junior official on that particular investigation, and was only able to pursue the Iranian connection with vigor once Menem’s successor, Nestor Kirchner, appointed him to run a renewed investigation at the end of 2004.

Mochkofsky then says that Nisman deliberately undermined a 2013 agreement between Argentina and Iran “to create an international commission of jurists to analyze the evidence provided by both countries on the AMIA case and to issue a nonbinding recommendation…The main point for Argentina was that Iran would allow these suspects to be interrogated by Nisman and the new judge of the case, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral.”

Not exactly. As the Buenos Aires-based political analyst Eamonn MacDonagh pointed out in The Tower magazine, “The proceedings of the commission were, naturally, to be held in Tehran. The Argentine court would be able to talk to the suspects; but only in Iran, and it could not formally question them under oath.” In other words, the restraints imposed by the Iranians on the proposed commission rendered it worthless, since no legal consequences could flow from it.

And it continues: “The first judge who received Nisman’s accusation rejected it as baseless,” says Mochkofsky. Actually, the judge in question, Ariel Lijo, recused himself from the case, which suggests that he foresaw a conflict of interest for himself–hardly the same thing as dismissing Nisman’s evidence out of hand. Judge Daniel Rafecas is said to have “demolished” Nisman’s accusations by, for example, revealing that “that Nisman wrote contradictory submissions on the same month of his death.” Only one document in that pile of paper had any legal validity–the complaint against Kirchner et al that he had initially unveiled a few days before he died. The rest was composed of the sorts of notes and hypotheses that any professional investigator would make. Meanwhile, Mochkofsky notably doesn’t disclose that Judge Rafecas currently has a malpractice complaint hanging over him on an unrelated matter, which might provide some explanation as to why he’s cozying up to the government over Nisman.

While Mochkofsky would have us believe that Nisman’s accusations are now dead and buried alongside him, they are being kept alive by his former colleague, federal prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita, who is appealing against Rafecas’s conclusion. That’s certainly something the Argentine government doesn’t want to see progress for many reasons, among them that it will force attention on the suspicious circumstances of Nisman’s death.

“Nah, it’s impossible,” harrumphed Hector Timerman, when the CBS journalist Lesley Stahl suggested to him that, with Nisman’s death, Argentina was returning to its old tradition of assassinating political opponents. Meanwhile, his boss, President Fernandez de Kirchner, has gone from saying that Nisman “probably” committed suicide to saying that he was “probably” murdered. As for Nisman’s former wife, federal judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, she has no doubt that he was murdered, and has even carried out a parallel forensic investigation into his death that revealed all sorts of incompetencies in the official attempt.

The Argentine government should not be given a pass this lightly. Nor should the Iranians, who have a long, bloodstained record of murdering their opponents abroad. Ultimately, Alberto Nisman–who always insisted that antisemitism was a key factor throughout the entire AMIA episode–was telling us that the murder of Jews cannot go unpunished, and that all avenues of investigation had to be pursued as a consequence. That a Jewish newspaper should see fit to publish an article that belittles and defames these efforts, and which contentedly concludes that we will never know who bombed the AMIA building ­(another way of Mochkofsky saying that she’d rather not know), is little short of reprehensible.

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“I Am Nisman”

On Sunday night, Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his apartment. A gun was found by his side. The initial report of the Ministry of Security suggests that it was a suicide but Argentines are not buying it. Thousands took to the streets of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe yesterday, bearing signs that read “Yo soy Nisman”–“I am Nisman”. “Basta de mentiras,” some of the protestors demanded, “Enough with the lies.”

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On Sunday night, Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his apartment. A gun was found by his side. The initial report of the Ministry of Security suggests that it was a suicide but Argentines are not buying it. Thousands took to the streets of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe yesterday, bearing signs that read “Yo soy Nisman”–“I am Nisman”. “Basta de mentiras,” some of the protestors demanded, “Enough with the lies.”

Nisman’s death came only hours before he was scheduled to testify before a commission of the Argentine Congress on an alleged secret agreement between Iran and the Kirchner administration trading impunity for oil. Nisman was prepared to testify that the deal, struck between the two governments in 2013, centered on the July 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA). The attack killed 85 and injured 300 more. It was the most lethal incident in a month of attacks that included the still-unsolved downing of a Panamanian plane carrying 12 Jews among others, the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London, and the bombing of the London offices of the United Jewish Israel Appeal.

Nisman had been building the case against Iran and Hezbollah for their involvement in the AMIA bombing since 2005. In May 2013, he issued a lengthy indictment charging one Lebanese Hezbollah operative and seven Iranians, including former President Akbar Rafsanjani, with involvement in the attack. One of the Iranians indicted, Mohsen Rezaei, is currently a high official in the Iranian government, while others have served it in diplomatic and military capacities. The indictment came only months after the Kirchner government entered a controversial agreement with the Iranian government agreeing to establish a “Truth Commission” to examine the AMIA bombing.

At the time, President Cristina Kirchner hailed the agreement as a historic one that “guarantees the right to due process of law, a fundamental principle of international criminal law.” It would have allowed five judges (none Argentine or Iranian) to question those allegedly involved in the bombing, offering effective immunity for the perpetrators. Last year, an Argentine federal court barred the implementation of the agreement and ordered the courts to reinstate all extradition orders against the suspects in the bombing.

This is why Argentines are taking to the streets demanding, “Enough with the lies.” It is not simply because the Argentine government dragged its feet in investigating the bombing two decades ago, and it is not because justice has been so woefully delayed in this case. It is because Alberto Nisman, the principal champion of the truth in this sordid affair, stood ready to present evidence that the Kirchner government attempted to trade impunity for oil, and he paid for it with his life.

Initial reports detected no gunpowder residue on Nisman’s hand. The only note found in his apartment seems to have been one he left for his housekeeper: a shopping list for the coming week. Friends, colleagues, and journalists alike report that Nisman did not appear to be suicidal. Yet he did appear to be aware that his days were numbered. “I might come out of this dead,” he told reporters on several occasions. One can only hope that in the weeks and months to come, the people of Argentina continue to pressure their government for the truth, uncompromised and uncorrupted by deals with criminals.

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Will 2015 be the Year of the Second Falklands War?

In 1982, Argentina, beset by its own economic woes and looking for a way to rally its people around the flag, launched a surprise attack on the Falkland Islands, a British crown colony since 1840 and occupied sporadically by British forces for decades before. The invasion caught the British—and the world—by surprise. Great Britain, which once controlled an empire upon which the sun never set and which once controlled the high seas, was caught flatfooted. Domestic entitlements had eroded Britain’s military budget for years, as did a false sense of security that the age of outright military aggression had ended. In short, British policymakers had allowed their military power to decline precipitously. The British military had to lease Cunard cruise line’s Queen Elizabeth II to transport troops to the islands. In the end, the British reconquered the islands, but took far greater casualties than it would have had it been militarily prepared. Then again, had the Argentine junta believed Britain was more than a paper tiger, it likely would not have invaded the Falklands in the first place.

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In 1982, Argentina, beset by its own economic woes and looking for a way to rally its people around the flag, launched a surprise attack on the Falkland Islands, a British crown colony since 1840 and occupied sporadically by British forces for decades before. The invasion caught the British—and the world—by surprise. Great Britain, which once controlled an empire upon which the sun never set and which once controlled the high seas, was caught flatfooted. Domestic entitlements had eroded Britain’s military budget for years, as did a false sense of security that the age of outright military aggression had ended. In short, British policymakers had allowed their military power to decline precipitously. The British military had to lease Cunard cruise line’s Queen Elizabeth II to transport troops to the islands. In the end, the British reconquered the islands, but took far greater casualties than it would have had it been militarily prepared. Then again, had the Argentine junta believed Britain was more than a paper tiger, it likely would not have invaded the Falklands in the first place.

Fast forward more than three decades. British military strength is now at a nadir, lower than it has been in decades if not centuries relative to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Argentina is once again in a morass of its own making. The Argentine economy is again in the dumps; it defaulted on its loans last year for the second time in just 13 years, and the rich are fleeing the country.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has responded Hugo Chavez-style, by voicing outlandish plots that go from the ridiculous to the sublime. While Kirchner is term limited, there are ways around such legal obstacles when presidents put ego above the law. At the very least, Kirchner has been maneuvering to place her son in the presidency, continuing the family dynasty that started with Néstor Carlos Kirchner, her late husband, in 2003.

Through it all, the Argentine government has begun making noises again with regard to its claim that the Falkland Islands, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, should return to it by any means necessary. In 2013, rhetoric in Argentina again reached a fever pitch. During the 1982 crisis, the Reagan administration briefly considered neutrality before siding with its British allies. In 2015, Argentina would be right to question whether there is any such resolve in the White House. President Obama has used (or tried to use) the Argentine name for the islands. Kirchner has interpreted Obama’s about-face on Cuba as evidence that such a reversal could be in store for the Falklands. “If the Yankees took 53 years to say that Fidel Castro is right, how would they not sit down to discuss something that everyone is calling for,” she asked. Add to this the New York Times, which uses its space to sponsor debates about whether to accede or compromise with Argentina’s demands. Regardless, even if Obama were to give his firmest red line against Argentine military adventurism, it is doubtful anyone in Argentina or back in America would believe him.

Then, of course, there is also oil and gas. There has long been suspicion that the Falklands sat above and in the midst of tremendous oil and gas reserves. No longer is this simply suspicion. The decline in the price of oil makes Falkland energy less economical to exploit, but what goes down does rise up and a desperate Argentina might do anything.

Is it likely that Argentina will again play the aggressor? No, but then again most everyone agreed it unlikely that Argentina would invade the first time in 1982 or that Iraq would invade Kuwait in 1990, or that Russia would invade Ukraine in 2014. The point is that the British navy has never been weaker, the United States doesn’t have its ally’s back, and weakness invites aggression whereas populism often invites it. What once seemed impossible is now in the realm of the possibility.

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Obama’s Luck on the World Stage

When it comes to global security, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that Barack Obama is one of the luckiest American presidents on the world stage. After all, Russian forces invaded Ukraine just four days after Obama’s hapless Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that he would reduce U.S. forces to pre-World War II levels. That Russian President Vladimir Putin’s push into Ukraine came despite Obama’s signature “reset” policy was simply the icing on the incompetence cake.

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When it comes to global security, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that Barack Obama is one of the luckiest American presidents on the world stage. After all, Russian forces invaded Ukraine just four days after Obama’s hapless Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that he would reduce U.S. forces to pre-World War II levels. That Russian President Vladimir Putin’s push into Ukraine came despite Obama’s signature “reset” policy was simply the icing on the incompetence cake.

Of course, a resurgent Russia is just one of many challenges the United States now faces. Obama kept his campaign promise to withdraw from Iraq, only to be forced by the eruption of ISIS to re-engage at least symbolically even if not substantively. Libya—the marquee example of leading from behind—has descended into chaos. And Obama’s inaction in Syria has enabled a bad situation to grow much worse. Turkey has transformed itself into an anti-Western autocracy more intent on encouraging the growth of radical Islamism abroad than promoting peace at home. By acting more like a zoning commissioner than a world leader, Obama has managed to take Israeli-Palestinian relations to their nadir.

So how could it be that Obama is lucky?

It’s always tempting for partisans to blame events on the world stage upon the occupant of the Oval Office rather than the rogue who has free will. It is absolutely true that the world does not revolve around Washington D.C. That said, Obama’s decisions have contributed to some of the worst aspects of the current crises. Rather than see Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia as a sign of Putin’s true character, Obama sought to appease the Russian leader. Pulling the rug out from allies like Poland and the Czech Republic only encouraged Putin further by depicting the United States as desperate for a deal regardless of the cost to its allies. Undersecretary for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher completed the trifecta by acquiescing to almost every Russian demand in order to come to agreement on the START treaty, and then by downplaying if not hiding Russian cheating.

Nor would ISIS have made the advances it made in recent months had the United States maintained a residual force in Iraq or moved to strike at the radicals as they gathered strength in Syria. While Obama prized leading from behind in Libya, that decision came at the cost of failing to secure Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s arms caches, leading extremists to seize thousands of surface-to-air missiles and enabling a weapons flow which has destabilized a broad swath of the Sahel, including Mali—once ranked by Freedom House as the most free majority-Muslim country on earth.

But consider this: As bad as Vladimir Putin is, imagine that China had a ruler not only as nationalistic (it does) but as willing to use brute military force to achieve its aims (at present, China is happy to posture and build its capabilities). Why work diplomatically to take Taiwan back into its fold when they could achieve their aim in days. It would be a pretty safe bet that Obama might finger wag, but he wouldn’t do a thing. Or imagine North Korean “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-un interpreted Obama’s inaction as reason to turn Seoul—well within range of North Korea’s artillery—into a sea of fire. At worst, the North Korean leader would face a press conference with Obama threatening to sponsor resolutions at the United Nations. Back in 1982, an economically failing Argentina decided to distract its public by seizing the British-held Falkland Islands. Today, the same thing could occur, only Britain is too impotent to respond and the White House—with its misguided notion of colonial guilt—might actually side with Buenos Aires. ISIS has marched across the heart of the Middle East, but it has yet to topple Jordan or Lebanon, or teach Turkey a listen or two about blowback. That might simply be a matter of time, however: King Abdullah II of Jordan is popular everywhere but within his own country, and ISIS is gaining momentum.

Simply put, the world could be far more dangerous than it is right now. That China, North Korea, Iran, Argentina, and other aggressors or potential aggressors haven’t made their move is more a matter of luck than the natural outcome of Obama’s policies.

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Kirchner to Skip Bombing Memorial Again

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, points out to me that for the second year running, Argentine President Christina Kirchner is going to skip commemorations for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Her snub to Argentina’s Jewish community comes after her refusal to allow the prosecutor in the case to testify in the U.S. Congress in recent hearings about Iranian activity in Latin America.

The move caps Kirchner’s efforts to exculpate Iran. She has gone so far as to invite Iran to re-investigate the bombing, a move akin to having the arsonist investigate the fire, never mind that when Iran appealed the Argentine court’s ruling to INTERPOL, the international police force examined all the evidence and found it credible, upholding red notices on senior Iranian politicians (including current defense minister Ahmad Vahidi).

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Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, points out to me that for the second year running, Argentine President Christina Kirchner is going to skip commemorations for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Her snub to Argentina’s Jewish community comes after her refusal to allow the prosecutor in the case to testify in the U.S. Congress in recent hearings about Iranian activity in Latin America.

The move caps Kirchner’s efforts to exculpate Iran. She has gone so far as to invite Iran to re-investigate the bombing, a move akin to having the arsonist investigate the fire, never mind that when Iran appealed the Argentine court’s ruling to INTERPOL, the international police force examined all the evidence and found it credible, upholding red notices on senior Iranian politicians (including current defense minister Ahmad Vahidi).

Let’s put aside Iran’s clear culpability in a terrorist attack on Argentine Jewish civilians apparently only because the Iranian leadership found them guilty of being Jewish. Kirchner’s refusal to attend the memorial suggests deep-seated disdain and disrespect for Argentina’s own Jewish community as it commemorates the worst terrorist attack on Argentine (and perhaps South American) soil.

Argentina’s embrace of Iran not only insults its Jewish citizens, but poses a threat to United States national security as well. As Kirchner follows the path laid by other populist Argentine and Latin American leaders of whipping up populist fervor against contrived and imagined enemies, she threatens to set Argentina down a disastrous path. Let us hope that, in such a case, President Obama will recognize that neutrality is not a virtue.

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A Falkland Islands Coda

Spurred on by James Kirchick’s superb piece on why the Falkland Islands matter, and by my on-going visit to the UN, it’s worth pointing out how the Falklands illustrate one more thing: how the autocracies, in hanging together at the UN, all too often organize around their shared hatred of Israel.

The Argentine line, set out by Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to Britain, is that the referendum was “neither organized nor approved by the United Nations. . . . Argentina is not trying to change their identity or their life style, but the territory they live on is not theirs. . . . [The] Islanders are not part of the sovereignty dispute since the sovereignty claims are over the territory and not them.” Under this doctrine, most African and Asian nations are not legitimately independent either, since the UN did not organize their referenda. The theory that people can be separated from the land they live on would give Britain a claim to the land of Kenya, or Germany a claim to Namibia. It’s an approach that, as Argentina knows all too well, the UN would certainly never apply to the West Bank.

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Spurred on by James Kirchick’s superb piece on why the Falkland Islands matter, and by my on-going visit to the UN, it’s worth pointing out how the Falklands illustrate one more thing: how the autocracies, in hanging together at the UN, all too often organize around their shared hatred of Israel.

The Argentine line, set out by Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to Britain, is that the referendum was “neither organized nor approved by the United Nations. . . . Argentina is not trying to change their identity or their life style, but the territory they live on is not theirs. . . . [The] Islanders are not part of the sovereignty dispute since the sovereignty claims are over the territory and not them.” Under this doctrine, most African and Asian nations are not legitimately independent either, since the UN did not organize their referenda. The theory that people can be separated from the land they live on would give Britain a claim to the land of Kenya, or Germany a claim to Namibia. It’s an approach that, as Argentina knows all too well, the UN would certainly never apply to the West Bank.

What Argentina wants–relying on two UN General Assembly Resolutions–is to throw the Falklands question into the largely moribund UN Special Committee on Decolonization. Amusingly, UN Resolution 1514 of 1960, which Argentina claims supports its case, clearly rejects Argentina’s thesis that peoples and territory can be separated by noting that that “all peoples have the right to self-determination and in virtue of that right can freely determine their political condition.” General Assembly resolutions are in any case only an expression of international opinion, and are binding on no one. Argentina’s enthusiasm for the Special Committee is not a case of a misapplied principle: it’s all about the membership of the committee and Argentina’s search for a biased referee.

As Colum Lynch noted in February, thanks to regional blocs that routinely put up wildly inappropriate candidates for UN positions, the UN has a job for everyone. That includes Syrian envoy Bashar Jaafari, who was re-elected rapporteur of the committee, and who joins Ecuador (an Argentine ally), Cuba (ditto), and Sierra Leone on the committee’s leadership. There are no Western nations on the committee, and the U.S. refuses to participate in it because of its irremediable bias. So how did Ambassador Castro make her appeal for UN intervention?

By asserting that “Self-determination is a fundamental principle contemplated by the international law that’s not granted to any settlers of a certain territory, but only to the original natives that were or currently are being subjugated to a certain colonial power….” You get only one guess as to which nation the UN code word “certain colonial power” refers: Israel, of course. So in this ludicrous analogy, Argentina is to the Palestinians as the Islanders are to Israel. What’s the point of saying something this silly?

Well, as Jonathan noted in January, Argentina is falling–whether for reasons of political sympathy, shared nuclear ambitions, or a mutual desire to escape their economic difficulties–ever more into Iran’s orbit. And one way you can signal that, and even advance it, is to complain about Israel. The appearance of terms like “a certain colonial power,” in other words, is a reliable indicator not just that the UN is up to its old game of slandering the Middle East’s only democracy, but that the autocratic powers are gathering and signaling to each other for nefarious purposes of their own.

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Another (Self-Induced) Diplomatic Headache for Obama

For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

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For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

The irony of the Falklands is that those who either oppose British sovereignty over the islands or simply refuse to support it have contributed far more to the U.K.’s lasting control over the islands than anyone on the British side. They have turned what was a faraway and costly remnant of a disintegrating empire into an issue of national pride. This was certainly what Argentina did when it chose to invade the islands in 1982. Argentinean junta leaders correctly read signals indicating the British had no real desire to hold on to the islands, and a bit of patience would have almost certainly been rewarded. Instead, they attacked.

In his history of the Cold War, Norman Stone recounts the scene with typically colorful flourishes. Both Argentina and the British seemed to think that a quiet transfer of authority of the islands to Argentina would be in everyone’s interest. Stone describes the unfolding of a genuinely stupid miscalculation on the part of the junta:

In December 1981 a General Leopoldo Galtieri seized the dominant role in the Buenos Aires military junta, and he appeared as the ultimate in comic, circus-uniformed rulers, an “El Supremo” out of Hornblower. In March 1982 he tested the waters: his troops landed on South Georgia, a remote, frozen place from which the British had conducted surveys of the Antarctic. Then, on 2 April, he invaded the Falklands. In London there was disbelief: a senior Foreign Office man caught the mood when he gasped, they cannot treat a major power in this way.

Parliament was furious and Margaret Thatcher took action, sending forces to repel the invasion. Stone notes that public opinion was rallied to the cause. Had the Argentine junta been smart, even the island’s inhabitants who wanted to remain under the crown could have been relocated to other islands still controlled by Britain and for a fraction of the cost of the Falklands war. Yet the junta “behaved with grotesque obstinacy.” The junta seemed to think they’d have American support; they of course did not. Stone suggests the junta leaders may have even misread Jeane Kirkpatrick’s COMMENTARY essay on “Dictatorships and Double Standards” to think they had some latitude in acting out their delusional fantasies. The French helped the British effort, which was successful. Thatcher was able to say “we have ceased to be a nation in retreat.”

The junta fell and Thatcher was venerated as a liberator. British national pride received a much-needed jolt and, Stone writes, “in some ways it marked the high point of the Thatcher period: a courageous budget was associated with economic recovery, and the Falklands campaign with a great sea-change in international affairs.”

The Falklands were an artifact; they were not exactly the jewel in the crown. But just like that they had become a new kind of Dunkirk, a symbol of British strength and resolve. As the AP story notes, some are raising questions about the logic of retaining the islands in an age of austerity. The vote was less a message to the United States than it was to David Cameron not to cut them loose to free up some spare change. But that decision, if taken, will ultimately be Britain’s. Denying British sovereignty remains silly. You can’t ask for much more of a mandate than 99.8 percent agreement among the population.

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Iran Isolated? Don’t Ask Argentina

Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

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Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

The idea of a joint commission to investigate the crime supposedly is an effort to solve the mystery behind the explosion. But as the Argentines have already proven, there is no mystery. Iran is the culprit and giving it the right to name half of the jurists who will make up the investigating body assures them of the ability to block any honest finding.

But the main point here is not so much the notion that Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries will not be held accountable for mass murder. That was already a given. It is the brazen nature of Argentina’s decision to allow the Iranians to evade justice that really stings. It also ought to serve as one more wake-up call for the White House and State Department about Iran’s ability to continue to act on the international stage despite being branded as a terror sponsor. Under the circumstances, does anyone doubt that Iran believes the talk coming out of Washington about preventing them from going nuclear is mere bluster that they can ignore with impunity?

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Buenos Aires Bombing Remembered

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, an attack that killed 85 and seriously injured hundreds. The attack was planned and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its mastermind, Ahmad Vahidi, is now Iran’s defense minister. Argentine authorities ultimately convicted several Iranians and Hezbollah activists in absentia for their roles; Interpol currently has a red notice out for Vahidi. Ahmad Rezai, the son of then-Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Chief Mohsen Rezai, later fingered his father’s role in the affair, and acknowledges that he was an eyewitness to the operation’s planning; Ahmad died under mysterious circumstances in Dubai late last year.

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Today marks the 18th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, an attack that killed 85 and seriously injured hundreds. The attack was planned and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its mastermind, Ahmad Vahidi, is now Iran’s defense minister. Argentine authorities ultimately convicted several Iranians and Hezbollah activists in absentia for their roles; Interpol currently has a red notice out for Vahidi. Ahmad Rezai, the son of then-Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Chief Mohsen Rezai, later fingered his father’s role in the affair, and acknowledges that he was an eyewitness to the operation’s planning; Ahmad died under mysterious circumstances in Dubai late last year.

Almost two decades on, it is important to remember three things:

  • While Iran’s apologists say that Tehran’s problem with Israel is political, and isn’t motivated by religious hatred, the bombing in Buenos Aires targeted not the Israel embassy (which Iran had bombed two years earlier) but rather the Jewish cultural center. The target was not political; it was religious.
  • No Iranian authority, be they hardliner or reformer, has ever apologized for Iran’s role in hostage-taking or terrorism. That Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter embrace former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami as a genuine believer in Dialogue of Civilizations is shameful. Khatami is, to this day, an apologist for terrorism.
  • Iran remains a terror sponsor of global reach; no amount of dialogue during the past two decades has changed that. Perhaps the problem isn’t a regime grievance, but the regime itself.

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Is Obama Repeating April Glaspie’s Gaffe?

On July 25, 1990, April Glaspie, a career foreign service officer and ambassador to Iraq, made what in hindsight was one of the biggest gaffes in State Department history. During a rare meeting with Saddam Hussein, she assured the Iraqi dictator that the United States would not take sides in the dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait,” she reportedly told the Iraqi dictator. Just over a week later, he invaded his tiny neighbor, setting off a cascade of events which would lead to two wars and devastating sanctions.

Fast forward more than two decades. Thirty years after an Argentine military junta for largely populist reasons invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory populated by British citizens, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner is at it again. Perhaps she wants to deflect attention from her own mismanagement, or perhaps the fact that the British have discovered significant oil reserves off-shore has led her to renew Argentina’s increasingly militant claim. Enter President Obama. Putting aside his gaffe of his calling the islands the “Maldives” (an Indian Ocean archipelago) instead of Las Malvinas, Argentina’s name for the islands, Obama sought to play the neutral card. From The Daily Telegraph:

In his address, Mr Obama maintained the USA’s stance of neutrality over the Falklands, saying he wanted to ensure good relations with both Argentina and Britain. “This is something in which we would not typically intervene,” he said.

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On July 25, 1990, April Glaspie, a career foreign service officer and ambassador to Iraq, made what in hindsight was one of the biggest gaffes in State Department history. During a rare meeting with Saddam Hussein, she assured the Iraqi dictator that the United States would not take sides in the dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait,” she reportedly told the Iraqi dictator. Just over a week later, he invaded his tiny neighbor, setting off a cascade of events which would lead to two wars and devastating sanctions.

Fast forward more than two decades. Thirty years after an Argentine military junta for largely populist reasons invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory populated by British citizens, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner is at it again. Perhaps she wants to deflect attention from her own mismanagement, or perhaps the fact that the British have discovered significant oil reserves off-shore has led her to renew Argentina’s increasingly militant claim. Enter President Obama. Putting aside his gaffe of his calling the islands the “Maldives” (an Indian Ocean archipelago) instead of Las Malvinas, Argentina’s name for the islands, Obama sought to play the neutral card. From The Daily Telegraph:

In his address, Mr Obama maintained the USA’s stance of neutrality over the Falklands, saying he wanted to ensure good relations with both Argentina and Britain. “This is something in which we would not typically intervene,” he said.

Alas, there is a thin line between neutrality and moral equivalence. The fact of the matter is that the islands are British, the people residing on the islands are British, and every time anyone has bothered to ask the residents of the Falkland Islands, they have expressed an overwhelming desire to remain fully British. The problem with neutrality is that it legitimizes outrageous claims. There really is nothing to talk about, but by suggesting there is, Obama is fanning the flames of conflict, allowing rhetorical momentum to build, perhaps to the point where Kirchner will look at Obama’s studied neutrality the same way Saddam interpreted Glaspie’s.

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More on the Freedom Agenda

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

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The Slap Heard Round the World

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has.

The danger is that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, hijacks the revolution. The goal of U.S policy must therefore be to influence this revolution, to the degree we can, in a way that advances U.S. interests and American ideals. This means taking an active role, both publicly and behind the scenes, in support of those who stand for liberal democracy (for more, see here).

The hour has grown quite late. As Max Boot points out, the equivocation of the Obama administration needs to end. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading Egyptian dissident who appears to be rapidly gaining power, is right when he said the United States is “losing credibility by the day” by its support for the Egyptian dictator. Mr. Mubarak is, politically speaking, a Dead Man Walking. There is still time, but not much time, for the president to get on the right side of this revolution and the right side of history. Secretary of State Clinton’s comments yesterday, in which she called for an “orderly transition” to a representative government, were certainly an improvement from where the administration was last week, when she was assuring the world of the staying power of Mr. Mubarak and Vice President Biden was declaring, against three decades of evidence, that the Egyptian president was not a dictator.

Having worked in three administrations and in the White House during a series of crises, I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to navigate through roiling waters, when one has to act on incomplete information in the midst of chaotic and constantly changing events, the outcome of which is impossible to know. In that respect, the Obama administration deserves some empathy. It’s never as easy to guide events when you’re in government as it is to critique events when you’re outside of government.

Still, as my former colleague William Inboden has written, it seems to me that the Obama administration can be held responsible for two important errors: (a) its failure to anticipate what is happening in Egypt and prepare contingency plans. and (b) its neglect of human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Egypt for the previous two years. “These failures should be front and center in any post-mortem policy review,” Professor Inboden writes. “The Mubarak regime’s brittleness and Egypt’s stagnation have long been apparent to many observers.” But not, apparently, to the Obama administration, which seems to have been caught completely off guard. If the spark that set the region afire was impossible to anticipate, the dry tinder of the region was not.

One Arab nation that so far hasn’t been convulsed by the political revolution now sweeping the Middle East is Iraq — the one Arab nation whose government is legitimate, the produce of free elections and political compromise, and that has the consent of the people. When it came to Iraqi democracy, most of the foreign-policy establishment assured us that self-government there could never take root, that Iraq would simply be a pawn of Iran, that the ethnic divisions in Iraq were too deep to overcome, and that (as Joe Biden argued at the time) the only solution was partition. At this stage, it’s reasonable to conclude that these judgments were quite wrong. And while one can certainly debate whether the Iraq war was worth the blood, treasure, and opportunities it cost, it appears as if the Egyptian people, and not only the Egyptian people, are longing for what the people of Iraq have embraced: self-government. It isn’t perfect by any means — but for the Arab Middle East, it is a model for other nations to aspire.

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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Time Magazine Takes Its Israel Hatred to a New Level

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

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Block This Sale

The bad ideas just keep coming. A few bloggers and news outlets picked up this week on the report that a Russian company wants to acquire a 51 percent stake in a U.S. uranium-mining operation. Four congressmen have written to Timothy Geithner asking him to block the sale, pointing out that if it goes through, a Russian corporation will control 20 percent of America’s uranium resources.

The sale should be blocked. The congressmen fear – with reason – that Russia could deliver uranium from the Wyoming mine to Iran, but that’s not the only consideration. Russia acquiring a 51 percent interest in a natural-resources operation creates unnecessary vulnerabilities for the nations involved. Multiple rounds of natural-gas extortion in Europe have made that clear. Russia behaves badly in its natural-resources dealings, using them alternately to build leverage with the wealthy and to strong-arm the struggling.

Russia and China are competing vigorously to acquire control of natural resources in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Besides its gas and oil investments in the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia, Russia has signed uranium-development agreements with Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Russians are also prospecting for oil and gas off Cuba’s West coast in the Gulf of Mexico, an enterprise unaffected by President Obama’s moratorium on U.S. drilling. (See here for an extended treatment of Russia’s oil and gas acquisitions.) Between them, Russia and China are gradually narrowing the resource options of the U.S., the EU, and Japan; if geopolitical shifts drive us to seek new suppliers, we will find, wherever we look, that the Asian giants are already there. We certainly don’t need to collude in their strategy by handing our own resources over to their companies.

In turning markedly against Japan last week over the Kuril Islands issue – which carries major implications for undersea resources – the Putin-Medvedev regime sent a very clear signal about where it is headed. If we invite Russia to control the commercial destiny of a significant amount of our natural resources, we will be buying political problems for the future. Our current ability to stand up to extortion is no excuse for courting it unnecessarily. The Russia factor makes this sale an issue of national security; it is inherently political and should be decided for political reasons. The sale should be blocked.

The bad ideas just keep coming. A few bloggers and news outlets picked up this week on the report that a Russian company wants to acquire a 51 percent stake in a U.S. uranium-mining operation. Four congressmen have written to Timothy Geithner asking him to block the sale, pointing out that if it goes through, a Russian corporation will control 20 percent of America’s uranium resources.

The sale should be blocked. The congressmen fear – with reason – that Russia could deliver uranium from the Wyoming mine to Iran, but that’s not the only consideration. Russia acquiring a 51 percent interest in a natural-resources operation creates unnecessary vulnerabilities for the nations involved. Multiple rounds of natural-gas extortion in Europe have made that clear. Russia behaves badly in its natural-resources dealings, using them alternately to build leverage with the wealthy and to strong-arm the struggling.

Russia and China are competing vigorously to acquire control of natural resources in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Besides its gas and oil investments in the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia, Russia has signed uranium-development agreements with Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Russians are also prospecting for oil and gas off Cuba’s West coast in the Gulf of Mexico, an enterprise unaffected by President Obama’s moratorium on U.S. drilling. (See here for an extended treatment of Russia’s oil and gas acquisitions.) Between them, Russia and China are gradually narrowing the resource options of the U.S., the EU, and Japan; if geopolitical shifts drive us to seek new suppliers, we will find, wherever we look, that the Asian giants are already there. We certainly don’t need to collude in their strategy by handing our own resources over to their companies.

In turning markedly against Japan last week over the Kuril Islands issue – which carries major implications for undersea resources – the Putin-Medvedev regime sent a very clear signal about where it is headed. If we invite Russia to control the commercial destiny of a significant amount of our natural resources, we will be buying political problems for the future. Our current ability to stand up to extortion is no excuse for courting it unnecessarily. The Russia factor makes this sale an issue of national security; it is inherently political and should be decided for political reasons. The sale should be blocked.

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The Economic and Budget Issue Brief: Read It and Weep

The CBO’s July 27 Economic and Budget Issue Brief, “Federal Debt and the Risk of a Fiscal Crisis,” is short (8 pages), accessible, and worth reading. It covers past and projected federal debt held by the public, some of the consequences of growing debt, the increased chance of a fiscal crisis (including a brief review of fiscal crises in Argentina, Ireland, and Greece), and how a fiscal crisis might affect the United States. Among the many interesting data points, you’ll find is this:

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) projections, federal debt held by the public will stand at 62 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2010, having risen from 36 percent at the end of fiscal year 2007, just before the recession began. In only one other period in U.S. history—during and shortly after World War II—has that figure exceeded 50 percent.

Read the whole thing — and weep. (h/t: Yuval Levin/NRO)

The CBO’s July 27 Economic and Budget Issue Brief, “Federal Debt and the Risk of a Fiscal Crisis,” is short (8 pages), accessible, and worth reading. It covers past and projected federal debt held by the public, some of the consequences of growing debt, the increased chance of a fiscal crisis (including a brief review of fiscal crises in Argentina, Ireland, and Greece), and how a fiscal crisis might affect the United States. Among the many interesting data points, you’ll find is this:

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) projections, federal debt held by the public will stand at 62 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2010, having risen from 36 percent at the end of fiscal year 2007, just before the recession began. In only one other period in U.S. history—during and shortly after World War II—has that figure exceeded 50 percent.

Read the whole thing — and weep. (h/t: Yuval Levin/NRO)

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The World Cup and American Exceptionalism

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

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Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

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Sorry, Obama, but Russia and China Are Never Going to Help You on Iran

The headline says it all: “Clinton appears to extend timeline for Iran sanctions.” The Secretary of State told reporters aboard her flight to Argentina:

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months.”

Why all the delays? The reason is that China and Russia are refusing to join a sanctions resolution. Obama’s response is becoming increasingly clear: deny that the Security Council is a dead end, extend deadlines, say that everyone’s coming around, and submerge the Iranian nuclear crisis in the interminable machinations of the “international community.”

China and Russia won’t play ball because they have no good strategic reason to help relieve America’s burden of global leadership. But it’s not so clear why the Obama administration is eager to participate in this charade.

There are two reasons, I think. The first is that acknowledging Russia and China’s unwillingness to help would strike the most powerful blow yet to Obama’s central foreign-policy message: that his personality and eagerness for engagement would open up doors for America that were slammed shut by the Bush administration’s alleged arrogance and quickness to go to war. Acknowledging that the Security Council will never allow strong sanctions would be tantamount to admitting that the very logic and premises of Obama’s foreign policy is flawed. Thus, this isn’t really about Iran. It’s about the politics of failure and Obama’s increasingly desperate attempt to shield his presidency from the hard realities of the world.

And there is a practical reason why Obama may never admit that the Security Council is a dead end: doing so would force him to move to a new strategy — and there is no new strategy. So instead of thinking seriously about a Plan B, the administration is simply burying Plan A in a process with no chance of success and no expiration date. This is passivity, and it puts Obama in the position of reacting to events instead of shaping them. That’s not a good position for the American president to be in.

The headline says it all: “Clinton appears to extend timeline for Iran sanctions.” The Secretary of State told reporters aboard her flight to Argentina:

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months.”

Why all the delays? The reason is that China and Russia are refusing to join a sanctions resolution. Obama’s response is becoming increasingly clear: deny that the Security Council is a dead end, extend deadlines, say that everyone’s coming around, and submerge the Iranian nuclear crisis in the interminable machinations of the “international community.”

China and Russia won’t play ball because they have no good strategic reason to help relieve America’s burden of global leadership. But it’s not so clear why the Obama administration is eager to participate in this charade.

There are two reasons, I think. The first is that acknowledging Russia and China’s unwillingness to help would strike the most powerful blow yet to Obama’s central foreign-policy message: that his personality and eagerness for engagement would open up doors for America that were slammed shut by the Bush administration’s alleged arrogance and quickness to go to war. Acknowledging that the Security Council will never allow strong sanctions would be tantamount to admitting that the very logic and premises of Obama’s foreign policy is flawed. Thus, this isn’t really about Iran. It’s about the politics of failure and Obama’s increasingly desperate attempt to shield his presidency from the hard realities of the world.

And there is a practical reason why Obama may never admit that the Security Council is a dead end: doing so would force him to move to a new strategy — and there is no new strategy. So instead of thinking seriously about a Plan B, the administration is simply burying Plan A in a process with no chance of success and no expiration date. This is passivity, and it puts Obama in the position of reacting to events instead of shaping them. That’s not a good position for the American president to be in.

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Quite a Legacy

For those of us accustomed to watching the Obami try very hard to do as little as possible on Iran, this should come as no surprise:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday it could take months for new UN sanctions against Iran, as she prepared for talks in Argentina and Brazil about the perceived Iranian nuclear threat. Speaking on the plane to Buenos Aires, the chief US diplomat appeared to back away from her contention before the US Senate last week that a new resolution could be obtained in the “next 30 to 60 days.”

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months,” she said before landing in the Argentine capital.

The Obami’s “deadlines” and “timelines” come and go with nary a backward glance. There is no resolve, no determination to draw a line, for that would require action and raise the prospect of conflict, something Obama studiously tries to avoid on the foreign-policy front, no doubt so he can pursue his true passions: health care and climate change, which also are going nowhere.

We seem to have no game plan for those crippling sanctions and no intention of using military force. Obama refuses to pursue regime change. So we sit and wait as the mullahs inch closer to obtaining a nuclear-weapons capability. And this, it seems, more than the catastrophic failure of his domestic agenda, will be the Obama legacy: a revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons.

For those of us accustomed to watching the Obami try very hard to do as little as possible on Iran, this should come as no surprise:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday it could take months for new UN sanctions against Iran, as she prepared for talks in Argentina and Brazil about the perceived Iranian nuclear threat. Speaking on the plane to Buenos Aires, the chief US diplomat appeared to back away from her contention before the US Senate last week that a new resolution could be obtained in the “next 30 to 60 days.”

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months,” she said before landing in the Argentine capital.

The Obami’s “deadlines” and “timelines” come and go with nary a backward glance. There is no resolve, no determination to draw a line, for that would require action and raise the prospect of conflict, something Obama studiously tries to avoid on the foreign-policy front, no doubt so he can pursue his true passions: health care and climate change, which also are going nowhere.

We seem to have no game plan for those crippling sanctions and no intention of using military force. Obama refuses to pursue regime change. So we sit and wait as the mullahs inch closer to obtaining a nuclear-weapons capability. And this, it seems, more than the catastrophic failure of his domestic agenda, will be the Obama legacy: a revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons.

Read Less




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