Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bashar Assad

Assad Won’t Be Toppled by Words

In the last year, President Obama loudly denounced Syria dictator Bashar al-Assad for human rights abuses and confidently predicted the regime’s fall. But as in virtually every other difficult foreign policy question, the president has preferred to “lead from behind,” which in this case means doing absolutely nothing while Assad slaughters thousands. The most recent Syrian atrocity has brought this shameful inaction back into the spotlight, but as Mitt Romney’s justified criticism of Obama on the issue yesterday makes clear, both the president and his challenger need to come up with more coherent positions.

The administration has tried to have it both ways on Syria ever since the protests there began more than a year ago. On the one hand, Obama wants to pose as the scourge of tyrants and a supporter of human rights, so he has claimed it was only a matter of time before Assad was driven out. But he has done nothing to match those words, and the result is that the atrocities continue with no end in sight. Romney rightly criticized this inaction yesterday as an example of the president’s feckless and cowardly foreign policy. But though this critique is warranted, Romney’s own prescription for U.S. action on Syria isn’t a heckuva lot better. As the New York Times reports:

He called for the United States to “work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves” — a policy that goes somewhat further than Mr. Obama’s but falls short of the airstrikes advocated by Republicans like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The problem here is that despite the blithe assumptions commonly heard in the West about Assad’s inevitable doom, there is no reason to believe that he cannot sustain himself in power so long as the security services remain loyal to him.

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In the last year, President Obama loudly denounced Syria dictator Bashar al-Assad for human rights abuses and confidently predicted the regime’s fall. But as in virtually every other difficult foreign policy question, the president has preferred to “lead from behind,” which in this case means doing absolutely nothing while Assad slaughters thousands. The most recent Syrian atrocity has brought this shameful inaction back into the spotlight, but as Mitt Romney’s justified criticism of Obama on the issue yesterday makes clear, both the president and his challenger need to come up with more coherent positions.

The administration has tried to have it both ways on Syria ever since the protests there began more than a year ago. On the one hand, Obama wants to pose as the scourge of tyrants and a supporter of human rights, so he has claimed it was only a matter of time before Assad was driven out. But he has done nothing to match those words, and the result is that the atrocities continue with no end in sight. Romney rightly criticized this inaction yesterday as an example of the president’s feckless and cowardly foreign policy. But though this critique is warranted, Romney’s own prescription for U.S. action on Syria isn’t a heckuva lot better. As the New York Times reports:

He called for the United States to “work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves” — a policy that goes somewhat further than Mr. Obama’s but falls short of the airstrikes advocated by Republicans like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The problem here is that despite the blithe assumptions commonly heard in the West about Assad’s inevitable doom, there is no reason to believe that he cannot sustain himself in power so long as the security services remain loyal to him.

Having already killed so many of his countrymen, why would having a few hundred more corpses do him in when he hasn’t been toppled despite the thousands already slain? The iron law of history teaches us that tyrannies fall when they weaken or lose their willingness to shed blood and not before. The material support Assad is getting from his ally Iran and their Hezbollah auxiliaries have helped offset any harm incurred by Western sanctions, which are largely meaningless because of the limited scope of trade with Syria.

The only thing that will put an end to Assad’s reign of terror is Western military intervention or direct aid to the Syrian rebels. There are, as the White House has pointed out, good reasons to worry about arming the Syrian opposition. As a top-ranking Israeli military official pointed out today, should Assad fall, elements of al-Qaeda that may be sympathetic to the opposition in Syria could be empowered or at least be given free reign to conduct terror operations against Israel or the West.

The Times is right to point out that few in this country on either side of the political aisle are eager for another foreign adventure, even one that really would be a matter of saving thousands of lives. There is also good reason to believe that intervention in Syria would not be as easy as last year’s European-led effort to oust Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. But that is no excuse for standing by while hundreds, if not thousands are slaughtered in Syria by Assad, while Western leaders like Obama preen ineffectually about their support for human rights.

The analogy to Libya also breaks down because the stakes in Syria are far higher. The atrocities in Syria dwarf those in Libya. It should also be pointed out that toppling the Assad regime would be a telling blow to Iran and its terrorist allies. Though we don’t know what a post-Assad Syria would look like, in the long run, regime change there would be good for the region as well as the Syrian people.

Absent a commitment to take action, nothing Obama or Romney says about Syria has much credibility. It may be too much to expect either man to embrace the possibility of armed conflict in Syria, but anything less will not solve the crisis.

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The West is Complicit in Assad’s Massacres

For months we have been hearing prominent Americans from media pundits to President Obama promising that Bashar Assad’s Syrian tyranny was on its way out. Most of this optimism was based on a faulty understanding of the grip that the Assad clan and its Alawite allies have on the Syrian military and security services as well as a misapprehension about what constitutes the tipping point in toppling despotic regimes.

But as Assad’s forces expand their bloodthirsty crackdowns to other cities in the country after squelching the opposition in the north, it is also fair to point out that he is only getting away with this because neither President Obama and the European Union nor the Arab League which professes to be horrified by these atrocities is willing to lift a finger to stop him. Thousands have already been slaughtered and thousands more thrust into Syrian dungeons where they are being tortured by the regime. But all these people have gotten from the West are empty words such as those uttered by the president on the subject.

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For months we have been hearing prominent Americans from media pundits to President Obama promising that Bashar Assad’s Syrian tyranny was on its way out. Most of this optimism was based on a faulty understanding of the grip that the Assad clan and its Alawite allies have on the Syrian military and security services as well as a misapprehension about what constitutes the tipping point in toppling despotic regimes.

But as Assad’s forces expand their bloodthirsty crackdowns to other cities in the country after squelching the opposition in the north, it is also fair to point out that he is only getting away with this because neither President Obama and the European Union nor the Arab League which professes to be horrified by these atrocities is willing to lift a finger to stop him. Thousands have already been slaughtered and thousands more thrust into Syrian dungeons where they are being tortured by the regime. But all these people have gotten from the West are empty words such as those uttered by the president on the subject.

It needs to be re-emphasized that the difference between what is going on in Syria and what happened in Tunisia and Egypt last year is that unlike the heads of those regimes, the ruler of Damascus hasn’t lost his willingness to kill in order to hold onto power. It is an iron rule of history that such governments only fall when, as in the French Revolution, the collapse of the Shah’s regime in Iran or the end of the Soviet Union, the elites in power are no longer able to summon the will to violently suppress dissent. So long as Assad hasn’t lost his taste for blood  — and he obviously hasn’t — he won’t be heading for the exits.

That means if the West really cares about the wholesale slaughter going on in Syria, it is going to have to do something whether it means arming and/or training the rebels or authorizing some sort of international intervention.

Getting into a conflict, even a limited one, in Syria is something that any administration, let alone one facing re-election would be reluctant to do. But given the scale of the suffering in Syria, President Obama needs to understand that if he wants his rhetoric about human rights to have any credibility, he’s going to have show some real leadership. But given the Obama administration’s predilection for “leading from behind” as well as its obvious lack of interest in doing anything more than talk about Syria and its Iranian ally, Assad’s victims shouldn’t expect help from America anytime in the foreseeable future.

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Venezuelan Oil and Iranian Arms Mean More to Syria Than American Hints

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued another ringing condemnation of the brutal oppression going on in Syria. Clinton said that in today’s Internet culture, the Assad regime’s tactics could not be sustained indefinitely, as a “breaking point” would soon be reached. What’s more, Clinton also hinted that the Syrian opposition would be “increasingly capable,” a phrase that made it clear Washington would either arm the rebels or see to it that other nations did. She also expressed the hope that Russia and China, who have served as Syria’s diplomatic bodyguards in recent weeks and vetoed United Nations resolutions aimed at Assad, would also give way to pressure.

With the world watching helplessly as Bashar al-Assad continues to slaughter his own people, one would hope Clinton is right. But evidence continues to mount that Assad’s allies are betting the dictator will not only not crack but will succeed in suppressing the protests that have been going on there since last spring. Earlier this week, I noted the reports about Iranian naval vessels, including a supply ship, visiting a Syrian port where they may well have dropped off badly needed weapons for Assad’s security forces. Now a new report indicates that the international sanctions on Syria are being flouted by Venezuela, which is shipping oil directly to Assad. With the dictator showing no sign of losing his will to resist, and with the support of Iran, Venezuela as well as that of Russia and China, Clinton’s predictions are looking more like wishful thinking than a cogent analysis of the situation.

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Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued another ringing condemnation of the brutal oppression going on in Syria. Clinton said that in today’s Internet culture, the Assad regime’s tactics could not be sustained indefinitely, as a “breaking point” would soon be reached. What’s more, Clinton also hinted that the Syrian opposition would be “increasingly capable,” a phrase that made it clear Washington would either arm the rebels or see to it that other nations did. She also expressed the hope that Russia and China, who have served as Syria’s diplomatic bodyguards in recent weeks and vetoed United Nations resolutions aimed at Assad, would also give way to pressure.

With the world watching helplessly as Bashar al-Assad continues to slaughter his own people, one would hope Clinton is right. But evidence continues to mount that Assad’s allies are betting the dictator will not only not crack but will succeed in suppressing the protests that have been going on there since last spring. Earlier this week, I noted the reports about Iranian naval vessels, including a supply ship, visiting a Syrian port where they may well have dropped off badly needed weapons for Assad’s security forces. Now a new report indicates that the international sanctions on Syria are being flouted by Venezuela, which is shipping oil directly to Assad. With the dictator showing no sign of losing his will to resist, and with the support of Iran, Venezuela as well as that of Russia and China, Clinton’s predictions are looking more like wishful thinking than a cogent analysis of the situation.

The alliance between Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez and Iran is sufficiently close that his decision to come to the aid of Tehran’s beleaguered ally is hardly surprising. But the brazen nature of this gesture is one more sign that Syria’s friends are convinced Western optimism about Assad’s imminent fall is at best premature. Indeed, so long as they are able to keep him supplied with ammunition and oil and watch his back in the United Nations, the only thing that could lead to his demise is if he loses his nerve.

Clinton’s assumption about the inevitable end of any regime such as that of Assad is based on the idea that in an era of instant communication, violent tyrannies cannot sustain themselves. But it bears repeating that Assad is cut from a different stripe than the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt who went quietly to the chopping block last year. And Syria’s geographic position and military strength make a repeat of the rebel victory in Libya over a crumbling Qaddafi regime most unlikely.

So long as Assad doesn’t lose his willingness to shed his compatriots’ blood and has the loyalty of the majority of the members of his equally bloodthirsty security services, he has an excellent chance of surviving this crisis. Moreover, unless the West is prepared to take an active role in aiding and abetting the Syrian opposition as they did for the rebels in Libya, the contest there will continue to be a mismatch. Absent an American decision to do more about Syria than make empty predictions, Assad and his allies are unlikely to give up the struggle.

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Iran Knows More About Syria Than Obama

The imminent demise of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria has become such an article of faith among many American pundits that most have come to discuss the subject as no longer a matter of if, but merely when, his fall will occur. Unfortunately, for Western talking heads as well as President Obama, who has also predicted imminent regime change in Damascus, Assad has preferred to ignore their advice and instead stick to what his family has always done best: slaughter any and all domestic foes. After watching the fall of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the assumption was the logic of the Arab Spring would inevitably force out the Syrian member of a rapidly diminishing club of Arab autocrats. Few in the West believed Assad could survive. But it appears there was at least one group of observers who may have pegged the Syrian as a keeper: his Iranian allies.

The news that a pair of Iranian naval vessels just left a Syrian port and are now heading home through the Suez Canal ought to have brought home the fact that the Iranian ayatollahs may understand their client better than Western editorial writers. Combined with the decision of Russia to boycott a diplomatic effort aimed at bolstering Assad’s domestic foes, it is now clear that Syria’s two major foreign sponsors have not given up on the regime. Unlike Westerners who simply took it for granted that Assad must go, Ayatollah Khamenei and Vladimir Putin have remembered an ironclad rule of history: tyrants fall when they lose their taste for spilling their people’s blood, not when they loosen the reins.

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The imminent demise of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria has become such an article of faith among many American pundits that most have come to discuss the subject as no longer a matter of if, but merely when, his fall will occur. Unfortunately, for Western talking heads as well as President Obama, who has also predicted imminent regime change in Damascus, Assad has preferred to ignore their advice and instead stick to what his family has always done best: slaughter any and all domestic foes. After watching the fall of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the assumption was the logic of the Arab Spring would inevitably force out the Syrian member of a rapidly diminishing club of Arab autocrats. Few in the West believed Assad could survive. But it appears there was at least one group of observers who may have pegged the Syrian as a keeper: his Iranian allies.

The news that a pair of Iranian naval vessels just left a Syrian port and are now heading home through the Suez Canal ought to have brought home the fact that the Iranian ayatollahs may understand their client better than Western editorial writers. Combined with the decision of Russia to boycott a diplomatic effort aimed at bolstering Assad’s domestic foes, it is now clear that Syria’s two major foreign sponsors have not given up on the regime. Unlike Westerners who simply took it for granted that Assad must go, Ayatollah Khamenei and Vladimir Putin have remembered an ironclad rule of history: tyrants fall when they lose their taste for spilling their people’s blood, not when they loosen the reins.

While the Pentagon was saying it had no knowledge of the Iranian ships ever docking in Syria, the brazen dash through the Mediterranean by Tehran’s mariners may have been more than just a morale boost for Assad. The ships, which reportedly consisted of a supply ship and an accompanying destroyer, may have delivered vital munitions to the Syrian security forces just as they were in the process of leveling the opposition stronghold of Homs.

Though defections from his army are a lethal threat to Assad, so long as he retains the loyalty of most of his regime’s security forces, the belief that his fall is inevitable is more a matter of wishful thinking than hardheaded analysis. Assad understands the stakes in the fighting in the streets of Homs and other cities where dissent has flourished is a life and death matter for him and his family. Moreover, it is often forgotten that unlike other dictatorial regimes where military elites can easily switch sides, many, if not most, of Assad’s praetorian guards don’t have that option. Since Bashar’s father first seized power in 1970, the government there has always been as much a sinecure for the Alawite minority to which his clan belonged as it was for the Assad family. The fate of the Alawites in a post-Assad Syria will be difficult, and that gives the many members of this group in positions of power within the army and security forces the same motive for hanging on no matter what the cost.

Iran also has much to lose if their Syrian ally falls, so it is to be expected it will do all in its power to help him prevail. With Russia and China prepared to prevent the United Nations from even condemning Assad, let alone sanctioning support for the opposition, that leaves the opposition looking to Europe and the United States for help. Even though Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham voiced their support for arming the Syrian rebels over the weekend, it isn’t likely that President Obama or the European Union will follow the same pattern that led to intervention in Libya last year as Qaddafi tottered, despite the fact that the situation was far less desperate than the human catastrophe unfolding in Homs.

The Arab Spring led many Westerners to believe that a paradigm shift in which murderous regimes could no longer get away with atrocities had rendered men like Assad obsolete. But Iran may have figured out that as long as Assad is willing to go on killing his countrymen, there is no reason to assume he can’t hold onto power. That’s an important lesson Western diplomats and leaders like President Obama–who have also underestimated Iran’s own willingness to abandon its nuclear ambitions–should learn.

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A Syrian Intervention Scenario

I do not often find myself in agreement with political scientist Robert Pape whose “research” into suicide bombings I roundly panned in a lengthy review for his unconvincing attempts to blame “foreign occupation” for all suicide bombings–even in countries that have never been occupied. So I was stunned to find myself in a large measure of agreement with Pape’s New York Times oped today arguing that civilized states should not wait until genocide is actually being committed to intervene. He writes:

A new standard for humanitarian intervention is needed. If a continuing government-sponsored campaign of mass homicide — in which thousands have died and many thousands more are likely to die — is occurring, a coalition of countries, sanctioned by major international and regional institutions, should intervene to stop it, as long as they have a viable plan, with minimal risk of casualties for the interveners.

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I do not often find myself in agreement with political scientist Robert Pape whose “research” into suicide bombings I roundly panned in a lengthy review for his unconvincing attempts to blame “foreign occupation” for all suicide bombings–even in countries that have never been occupied. So I was stunned to find myself in a large measure of agreement with Pape’s New York Times oped today arguing that civilized states should not wait until genocide is actually being committed to intervene. He writes:

A new standard for humanitarian intervention is needed. If a continuing government-sponsored campaign of mass homicide — in which thousands have died and many thousands more are likely to die — is occurring, a coalition of countries, sanctioned by major international and regional institutions, should intervene to stop it, as long as they have a viable plan, with minimal risk of casualties for the interveners.

I couldn’t agree more, and Syria seems to be a case in point of exactly the kind of situation where Pape would justify intervention. Of course, he backs out at the end by arguing that intervention wouldn’t be prudent because of “the absence of a viable, low-casualty military solution”:

Unlike Libya, where much of the coastal core of the population lived under rebel control, the opposition to Syria’s dictatorial president, Bashar al-Assad, has not achieved sustained control of any major population area. So air power alone would probably not be sufficient to blunt the Assad loyalists entrenched in cities, and a heavy ground campaign would probably face stiff and bloody resistance.

But just because Syria doesn’t conform to the template of Libya doesn’t mean there is nothing outside powers can do. In fact, there is quite a bit: Steps that have been discussed include increasing Bashar Assad’s diplomatic isolation with a total international cutoff of his regime, embargoing the import of further arms to his regime, setting up humanitarian safe zones along the border with Turkey that would be policed by Turkish troops, arming and training the Syrian opposition, and launching air strikes on regime targets. It’s true the opposition does not currently control a region of Syria as the Libyan opposition controlled Benghazi and its environs. But nor is the regime in secure control of the country—major cities like Homs slip in and out of its control and even the Damascus suburbs have seen fighting in recent days. Although Assad continues to get shameful support from Russia and Syria, it is not inconceivable that a little more Western pressure could nudge him out of power. And a ground invasion—something no one is discussing—would not be required.

Assad’s removal is an objective worth seeking urgently because as Charles Krauthammer and Jackson Diehl point out in typically cogent Washington Post op-eds, the stakes in Syria are not just humanitarian. This is a huge opportunity to strike an indirect blow against Assad’s patrons in Syria and to change the balance of power in the Middle East. The Obama administration should be doing more to take advantage of the moment.

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Don’t Bet on Assad’s Imminent Fall

As Michael Totten noted yesterday, speculation about the imminent collapse of the Assad regime in Syria has now risen to the point where people are openly discussing the possibility of a massive influx of Alawite refugees pouring across the border to the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. The New York Times’s article on the subject today continues the discussion by trying to put in the context of not only the fate of Syria but also Israel’s other refugee problems. But I doubt that this will happen. If members of the Alawite sect that has dominated Syria for the last 40 years are forced by the collapse of their regime to flee, I suspect they would go to Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan before Israel. Even though the Jewish state is the only place where they could find religious freedom or democracy, it’s unlikely that supporters of a brutal dictatorship would prioritize those factors when seeking a new home.

However, that’s not the only element of this story that I’m skeptical about. Though Israeli officials as well as leaders in the Arab world and Europe have all spoken as if Bashar Assad’s fall is only a matter of time, they may be assuming too much. Since Assad has continued to not only state his willingness to use force to repress dissent in his country but to murder his critics by the thousands in the last year, the certitude that is being expressed about his demise may be a bit premature. Dictatorships only fall when dictators lose their taste for blood. And so far, Assad has shown no signs of such a human weakness.

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As Michael Totten noted yesterday, speculation about the imminent collapse of the Assad regime in Syria has now risen to the point where people are openly discussing the possibility of a massive influx of Alawite refugees pouring across the border to the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. The New York Times’s article on the subject today continues the discussion by trying to put in the context of not only the fate of Syria but also Israel’s other refugee problems. But I doubt that this will happen. If members of the Alawite sect that has dominated Syria for the last 40 years are forced by the collapse of their regime to flee, I suspect they would go to Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan before Israel. Even though the Jewish state is the only place where they could find religious freedom or democracy, it’s unlikely that supporters of a brutal dictatorship would prioritize those factors when seeking a new home.

However, that’s not the only element of this story that I’m skeptical about. Though Israeli officials as well as leaders in the Arab world and Europe have all spoken as if Bashar Assad’s fall is only a matter of time, they may be assuming too much. Since Assad has continued to not only state his willingness to use force to repress dissent in his country but to murder his critics by the thousands in the last year, the certitude that is being expressed about his demise may be a bit premature. Dictatorships only fall when dictators lose their taste for blood. And so far, Assad has shown no signs of such a human weakness.

It is true the cracks in his regime seem to be widening. The growing number of deserters from the army and security forces is the worst sign for Assad. So, too, is the willingness of his former allies in the Arab League to throw him under the bus.

But it is an immutable rule of history that tyrannies only collapse when their leadership is no longer willing to kill to maintain their grip on power. The French Revolution occurred during the reign of the most benevolent of the Bourbon absolute rulers, not the most brutal. The Shah of Iran was forced to flee because he hesitated to murder demonstrators in the streets of Tehran, a weakness that one couldn’t accuse his Islamist successers of having. And Hosni Mubarak’s decades-long rule in Egypt ended because he was unwilling or unable to order his army to mow down protesters in Tahir Square.

Based on the record of the last year of protests, that is not something anyone is likely to accuse Bashar Assad of doing. Yesterday, Assad vowed to use an “iron hand” to continue to repress dissent that he claimed was solely the work of “outsiders” and “terrorists.” With so much blood already on his hands, why would anyone doubt he would continue to kill?

If Assad lost control of the army or the security forces, that might force him to quit. But because much of the security apparatus is in the hands of Assad’s fellow Alawites, they have an incentive to be loyal to him as they know they will be out of luck after his departure. The very fact that Alawites understand their fate will be a bad one in the post-Assad era and that flight is not an option for most, makes them unlikely to buckle.

Knowing he faces an uncertain future out of power, Assad has every reason to dig in. While anything can happen, so long as he doesn’t run out of bullets, it may be a mistake to assume Assad is about to be ousted.

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The Resistance Bloc’s Weak Point

Syrian strongman Bashar Assad is willing to fight Israel to the last Lebanese Shia, but he won’t risk one of his own. It’s far easier — and safer — to let third-party guerrillas drunk on their own martyrdom ideology wage his war against the “Zionist Entity” for him. That way he gets to pocket credit as a “resistance” leader without having to do any resisting himself. He knows he’d lose a conventional war within weeks, if not days, even if Israel were forced to fight Iran and Hezbollah at the same time.

His government said as much to the Iranian government recently, according to a leaked U.S. Embassy cable.

Last year, an Iranian delegation to Damascus asked Syria to commit to joining its military forces with Iran’s and Hezbollah’s because they think an Israeli attack on their nuclear weapons facilities is inevitable. “It is not a matter of if, but when,” an unnamed Syrian official was supposedly told. The official answered, however, that “we’re too weak” to retaliate.

So Syria is not much of an Iranian ally then, is it?

Assad may be weak, but he is not stupid. Terrorists, guerrillas, and insurgents can absorb punishment for years before going under. Police states are brittle things that can be easily shattered. He knows he can’t risk it. And he must find it amazing that Israel has been willing to spend decades fighting unwinnable asymmetric proxy wars instead of cleaning up in a short conventional war like it used to.

The U.S. and France have been trying to woo Syria away from Iran with baskets of carrots, but an Israeli stick would almost certainly be more effective. The Syrians have all but said so themselves. They will not go to war against Israel, not even if their allies are under attack. The only thing Assad is willing to do is help the Iranians arm someone else, and that’s only because he has so far gotten away with it.

If the Israelis say his support for and arming of Hezbollah is a casus belli for a conventional war, he might finally stop.

Syrian strongman Bashar Assad is willing to fight Israel to the last Lebanese Shia, but he won’t risk one of his own. It’s far easier — and safer — to let third-party guerrillas drunk on their own martyrdom ideology wage his war against the “Zionist Entity” for him. That way he gets to pocket credit as a “resistance” leader without having to do any resisting himself. He knows he’d lose a conventional war within weeks, if not days, even if Israel were forced to fight Iran and Hezbollah at the same time.

His government said as much to the Iranian government recently, according to a leaked U.S. Embassy cable.

Last year, an Iranian delegation to Damascus asked Syria to commit to joining its military forces with Iran’s and Hezbollah’s because they think an Israeli attack on their nuclear weapons facilities is inevitable. “It is not a matter of if, but when,” an unnamed Syrian official was supposedly told. The official answered, however, that “we’re too weak” to retaliate.

So Syria is not much of an Iranian ally then, is it?

Assad may be weak, but he is not stupid. Terrorists, guerrillas, and insurgents can absorb punishment for years before going under. Police states are brittle things that can be easily shattered. He knows he can’t risk it. And he must find it amazing that Israel has been willing to spend decades fighting unwinnable asymmetric proxy wars instead of cleaning up in a short conventional war like it used to.

The U.S. and France have been trying to woo Syria away from Iran with baskets of carrots, but an Israeli stick would almost certainly be more effective. The Syrians have all but said so themselves. They will not go to war against Israel, not even if their allies are under attack. The only thing Assad is willing to do is help the Iranians arm someone else, and that’s only because he has so far gotten away with it.

If the Israelis say his support for and arming of Hezbollah is a casus belli for a conventional war, he might finally stop.

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Middle East Chaos

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

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Iran Arms Syria

Obama’s efforts to engage Syria continue to produce evidence that Syria wants not to be engaged by us, but to move ever closer to the rising power in the region — Iran. This report explains:

Iran has sent Syria a sophisticated radar system that could threaten Israel’s ability to launch a surprise attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, say Israeli and U.S. officials, extending an alliance aimed at undermining Israel’s military dominance in the region.

The radar could bolster Syria’s defenses by providing early warning of Israeli air-force sorties. It could also benefit Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group based in Lebanon and widely believed to receive arms from Syria. …

The increased sophistication of the weapons transfers and military cooperation among [Iran, Syria and Hezbollah] signal an increased risk of conflict on Israeli’s northern border. U.S. officials worry any new fighting would be more likely to include Syria, which hasn’t directly engaged Israeli in combat since 1974.

The radar transfer could potentially violate a 2007 United Nations Security Council resolution that bans Iran from supplying, selling or transferring “any arms or related materiel.”

You will recall that Syria has already tested our resolve and found it wanting when it comes to rearming Hezbollah — also in violation of the UN resolution. So Syria and its senior partner continue to exploit American weakness and Obama’s overeagerness for engagement. The Syria-Iran-Turkey alliance has figured out there is no price to be paid for threatening Israel.

The recent frolic in Damascus now looks even more absurd:

The radar report is likely to place greater pressure on the Syria strategy of the Obama administration, which has aimed to tamp down tensions with Syria as it tries to rebuild diplomatic ties. U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who sent a high-level trade delegation to Damascus in June, continue to argue that Washington has the best hope of altering Syrian President Bashar Assad’s behavior, and weakening his alliance with Tehran, through diplomatic dialogue.

At some point will the Obami concede that the effort to “pry” Syria away from Iran with concessions and obsequiousness is a failure? Hard to say — no facts to date have made any impression on them.

Obama’s efforts to engage Syria continue to produce evidence that Syria wants not to be engaged by us, but to move ever closer to the rising power in the region — Iran. This report explains:

Iran has sent Syria a sophisticated radar system that could threaten Israel’s ability to launch a surprise attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, say Israeli and U.S. officials, extending an alliance aimed at undermining Israel’s military dominance in the region.

The radar could bolster Syria’s defenses by providing early warning of Israeli air-force sorties. It could also benefit Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group based in Lebanon and widely believed to receive arms from Syria. …

The increased sophistication of the weapons transfers and military cooperation among [Iran, Syria and Hezbollah] signal an increased risk of conflict on Israeli’s northern border. U.S. officials worry any new fighting would be more likely to include Syria, which hasn’t directly engaged Israeli in combat since 1974.

The radar transfer could potentially violate a 2007 United Nations Security Council resolution that bans Iran from supplying, selling or transferring “any arms or related materiel.”

You will recall that Syria has already tested our resolve and found it wanting when it comes to rearming Hezbollah — also in violation of the UN resolution. So Syria and its senior partner continue to exploit American weakness and Obama’s overeagerness for engagement. The Syria-Iran-Turkey alliance has figured out there is no price to be paid for threatening Israel.

The recent frolic in Damascus now looks even more absurd:

The radar report is likely to place greater pressure on the Syria strategy of the Obama administration, which has aimed to tamp down tensions with Syria as it tries to rebuild diplomatic ties. U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who sent a high-level trade delegation to Damascus in June, continue to argue that Washington has the best hope of altering Syrian President Bashar Assad’s behavior, and weakening his alliance with Tehran, through diplomatic dialogue.

At some point will the Obami concede that the effort to “pry” Syria away from Iran with concessions and obsequiousness is a failure? Hard to say — no facts to date have made any impression on them.

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Syria Must Be Contained, Not Engaged

Nibras Kazimi suggests in the pages of the New Republic that the Middle East’s violent Islamists might go after the Syrian government after they’re finished in Iraq and Afghanistan. “On jihadist online discussion forums,” he writes, “they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria.”

It would make a certain amount of sense if they did decide Syria ought to be next. Most of the country’s leadership is from the Alawite minority sect, which branched off Twelver Shia Islam in the 10th century and became something else almost entirely. Both Sunnis and Shias have long considered them heretics. When French Mandate authorities ruled the area after World War One, many, if not most, Alawites yearned for their own sovereign homeland along the coast of the Mediterranean apart from Damascus and the largely Sunni interior.

“The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria,” Suleiman Assad, grandfather of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, wrote in a petition to France in 1943. “In Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels. … The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation.”

Western foreign-policy analysts rarely seem to take this into account, but the most dangerous people in the Middle East always do. “Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta,” Kazimi writes. “In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.”

One of the worst massacres in the modern Middle East occurred in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an armed insurgency against the government of Hafez Assad, the father of Syria’s current president. Assad killed thousands in a single weekend in the city of Hama and then boasted about it. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers declared war on the state, but they’ve been quietly nursing their grievances and patiently waiting for the chance of revenge. The only thing that keeps the Syrian government safe, aside from its demonstrated willingness to respond with the utmost brutality, is its championship of terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq as a way to purchase street cred with its sworn Sunni enemies.

If Assad were to work with the United States by promoting stability instead of terrorism, freelance jihadists all over the region would have every reason to bump him to the top of their to-do list. A secular non-Muslim Arab government at peace with Israel and the West and an enemy of the “resistance” movements would make an obvious next stop for roaming insurgents. That’s why Assad won’t likely ever do what Washington wants unless the region as a whole changes drastically or the United States threatens his survival more than the Islamists do. All we can really do in the meantime is try to contain him.

Nibras Kazimi suggests in the pages of the New Republic that the Middle East’s violent Islamists might go after the Syrian government after they’re finished in Iraq and Afghanistan. “On jihadist online discussion forums,” he writes, “they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria.”

It would make a certain amount of sense if they did decide Syria ought to be next. Most of the country’s leadership is from the Alawite minority sect, which branched off Twelver Shia Islam in the 10th century and became something else almost entirely. Both Sunnis and Shias have long considered them heretics. When French Mandate authorities ruled the area after World War One, many, if not most, Alawites yearned for their own sovereign homeland along the coast of the Mediterranean apart from Damascus and the largely Sunni interior.

“The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria,” Suleiman Assad, grandfather of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, wrote in a petition to France in 1943. “In Syria, the official religion of the state is Islam, and according to Islam, the Alawites are considered infidels. … The spirit of hatred and fanaticism imbedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion. There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation.”

Western foreign-policy analysts rarely seem to take this into account, but the most dangerous people in the Middle East always do. “Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta,” Kazimi writes. “In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.”

One of the worst massacres in the modern Middle East occurred in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an armed insurgency against the government of Hafez Assad, the father of Syria’s current president. Assad killed thousands in a single weekend in the city of Hama and then boasted about it. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers declared war on the state, but they’ve been quietly nursing their grievances and patiently waiting for the chance of revenge. The only thing that keeps the Syrian government safe, aside from its demonstrated willingness to respond with the utmost brutality, is its championship of terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq as a way to purchase street cred with its sworn Sunni enemies.

If Assad were to work with the United States by promoting stability instead of terrorism, freelance jihadists all over the region would have every reason to bump him to the top of their to-do list. A secular non-Muslim Arab government at peace with Israel and the West and an enemy of the “resistance” movements would make an obvious next stop for roaming insurgents. That’s why Assad won’t likely ever do what Washington wants unless the region as a whole changes drastically or the United States threatens his survival more than the Islamists do. All we can really do in the meantime is try to contain him.

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How to Stand with Israel

Not every Jewish organization is taking the path of least resistance in opposing Obama’s approach to Israel. This report explains:

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) declined to meet with a delegation from Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, this week. JINSA views the AKP invitation as an attempt by the Government of Turkey to avoid dealing with the Government of Israel by appealing to the American Jewish community. As such, the effort failed.

JINSA executive director Tom Neumann stated, “The negative trend in Turkish government statements and actions regarding the United States and Israel, however, ultimately has made the AKP an unacceptable interlocutor.” JINSA provides an ample list of Turkish actions to support its decision:

Examples of this negative trend include the Turkish government’s growing closeness with the Iranian government and Turkey’s negative vote in the UN on international sanctions aimed at preventing a nuclear-capable Iran; new military relations with Syria, which is on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorism supporting countries; increasing closeness with the Hamas government in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which are U.S.-designated terrorist organizations; open support for the flotilla that sought a violent confrontation with Israel as it attempted to break the Israeli-Egyptian security cordon designed to prevent the smuggling of weapons and materials to Hamas; and the poisonous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric the AKP has issued over the last several years.

Neumann added that, “JINSA regrets the choices made by the AKP and will not be used to provide political cover for those choices.”

Well, that’s a breath of fresh air — and certainly a far cry from the Woodrow Wilson Center, which is giving the Turkish foreign minister a pat on the back and a prize. There is no shortage of evidence of Turkey’s dangerous turn to the “radical camp,” Elliott Abrams recently wrote:

In the flotilla incident, it not only sided with but also sought to strengthen the terrorist group Hamas—a group that is anathema not just to the United States and Israel, but to the governments of Jordan and Egypt. The recent photo of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad in Damascus is an emblem of this change, and Turkey’s work to undermine U.N. sanctions against Iran shows its substance. Turkey’s U.N. Security Council vote against the newest round of sanctions this past week put it in Iran’s camp against Europe, the United States, Russia, and China. That’s quite a realignment for a NATO ally.

For now, however, most Jewish groups are not doing much at all to call attention to the growing Islamic, and hence anti-Israel, inclinations of the Turkish government. The Pope-Peters letter, for which AIPAC is rounding up support, lightly — almost invisibly — tiptoes around the Turkish connection. The letter has a single sentence on the topic that explains the “sinister element” that infiltrated the flotilla:

Furthermore, as confirmed by the State Department and intelligence agencies around the world, the Turkish aid group that sent out the flotilla … IHH, has met with senior officials of recognized terrorist groups over the last three years.

That’s it.

There are two approaches Jewish groups might take with regard to Turkey. The JINSA tactic is to call attention to Turkey’s role in the flotilla incident and its increasingly hostile behavior toward the West, thereby applying some pressure on the Obama administration to demand some answers on Turkey’s role in the flotilla and to rethink its policy toward a NATO ally that has turned unmistakably away from the West. The other is to ignore the whole thing and hope the Obama team doesn’t give Turkey a pass on its efforts to assist Hamas (which would thereby embolden the radical camp and undermine the “peace process” of which Obama is so enamored).

It is disturbing that so few groups have decided to follow JINSA. It is yet another failure to stand up to the administration — and stand with Israel.

Not every Jewish organization is taking the path of least resistance in opposing Obama’s approach to Israel. This report explains:

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) declined to meet with a delegation from Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, this week. JINSA views the AKP invitation as an attempt by the Government of Turkey to avoid dealing with the Government of Israel by appealing to the American Jewish community. As such, the effort failed.

JINSA executive director Tom Neumann stated, “The negative trend in Turkish government statements and actions regarding the United States and Israel, however, ultimately has made the AKP an unacceptable interlocutor.” JINSA provides an ample list of Turkish actions to support its decision:

Examples of this negative trend include the Turkish government’s growing closeness with the Iranian government and Turkey’s negative vote in the UN on international sanctions aimed at preventing a nuclear-capable Iran; new military relations with Syria, which is on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorism supporting countries; increasing closeness with the Hamas government in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which are U.S.-designated terrorist organizations; open support for the flotilla that sought a violent confrontation with Israel as it attempted to break the Israeli-Egyptian security cordon designed to prevent the smuggling of weapons and materials to Hamas; and the poisonous anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric the AKP has issued over the last several years.

Neumann added that, “JINSA regrets the choices made by the AKP and will not be used to provide political cover for those choices.”

Well, that’s a breath of fresh air — and certainly a far cry from the Woodrow Wilson Center, which is giving the Turkish foreign minister a pat on the back and a prize. There is no shortage of evidence of Turkey’s dangerous turn to the “radical camp,” Elliott Abrams recently wrote:

In the flotilla incident, it not only sided with but also sought to strengthen the terrorist group Hamas—a group that is anathema not just to the United States and Israel, but to the governments of Jordan and Egypt. The recent photo of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad in Damascus is an emblem of this change, and Turkey’s work to undermine U.N. sanctions against Iran shows its substance. Turkey’s U.N. Security Council vote against the newest round of sanctions this past week put it in Iran’s camp against Europe, the United States, Russia, and China. That’s quite a realignment for a NATO ally.

For now, however, most Jewish groups are not doing much at all to call attention to the growing Islamic, and hence anti-Israel, inclinations of the Turkish government. The Pope-Peters letter, for which AIPAC is rounding up support, lightly — almost invisibly — tiptoes around the Turkish connection. The letter has a single sentence on the topic that explains the “sinister element” that infiltrated the flotilla:

Furthermore, as confirmed by the State Department and intelligence agencies around the world, the Turkish aid group that sent out the flotilla … IHH, has met with senior officials of recognized terrorist groups over the last three years.

That’s it.

There are two approaches Jewish groups might take with regard to Turkey. The JINSA tactic is to call attention to Turkey’s role in the flotilla incident and its increasingly hostile behavior toward the West, thereby applying some pressure on the Obama administration to demand some answers on Turkey’s role in the flotilla and to rethink its policy toward a NATO ally that has turned unmistakably away from the West. The other is to ignore the whole thing and hope the Obama team doesn’t give Turkey a pass on its efforts to assist Hamas (which would thereby embolden the radical camp and undermine the “peace process” of which Obama is so enamored).

It is disturbing that so few groups have decided to follow JINSA. It is yet another failure to stand up to the administration — and stand with Israel.

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Barack Obama, Voting Present in the Middle East

The question of the hour is whether the Obama administration is actually going to sit on its hands and do nothing as the Middle East edges closer and closer toward a major conflict.

Where is the administration on Turkey’s dangerous provocations and outrageous rhetoric? Where does the administration stand on the Israeli blockade of Gaza — for it or against it? What does the administration think about the impending arrival of three Iranian “aid” vessels in the Mediterranean that intend to break that blockade? What does Obama think about the rising tide of eliminationist rhetoric coming from Bashar Assad, one of the primary beneficiaries of Obama’s “outreach”? Now would be a good time for the president to clear up where America stands. Instead, we have sunk to such a sordid and embarrassing place that the Obama administration’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council said nothing after the Syrian representative promoted a blood libel about Jews during the council proceedings.

What Barack Obama clearly is not learning is that his campaign to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel is creating serious strategic risks: it is an invitation to the region’s dictators and terrorists to test just how far they can needle and provoke Israel, knowing that when they push too far — such as we saw last week with the flotilla — there will be no consequences from an American president who has proved himself virtually incapable of speaking with moral clarity about the enemies of Israel.

Over the past few months, the Turkish prime minister has staged an Islamist coming-out party, with a display of thuggish bravado matched in the region only by Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad — and Obama says nothing. Syria is supplying ever more dangerous weapons to Hezbollah, and Obama not only says nothing but is also trying to reward Syria by returning the U.S. ambassador to Damascus. Iran conspires in ever more creative ways to extend its power across the Middle East and into the Mediterranean, and Obama does nothing. He appears not even to realize that these forces are escalating their war of words and deeds against Israel as a way of humiliating America and Barack Obama himself by showing the world that a great power is doing nothing as one of its closest allies is ambushed by terrorists and pummeled by the “international community.” What we lack in military and economic strength, the Islamists are saying, we more than make up for in audacity, willpower, and solidarity with our allies. And they are right.

I can understand Obama’s silence: doing anything else — anything more than repeating the same empty platitude about the U.S.-Israel bond being “unshakable” — would require him to be seen openly siding with the hated Zionists after he has invested so much in “outreach” to Muslims and demonstrated so much exquisite sensitivity to how offended the Islamic world is by American support for Israel.

This is steering us into dangerous waters. Seeing not just passivity from the White House but also a willingness to throw Israel to the jackals, the Jewish state’s enemies are aggressively testing the limits of what they can get away with. They do this largely because Barack Obama and American leadership and power are nowhere to be found. One gets the disturbing feeling that the president cannot bring himself to say or do anything that could be construed as an example of overtly and unambiguously taking Israel’s side against its Muslim antagonists. In transforming America into an “evenhanded” arbiter between Israelis and Arabs, Obama risks turning us into bystanders to war.

The question of the hour is whether the Obama administration is actually going to sit on its hands and do nothing as the Middle East edges closer and closer toward a major conflict.

Where is the administration on Turkey’s dangerous provocations and outrageous rhetoric? Where does the administration stand on the Israeli blockade of Gaza — for it or against it? What does the administration think about the impending arrival of three Iranian “aid” vessels in the Mediterranean that intend to break that blockade? What does Obama think about the rising tide of eliminationist rhetoric coming from Bashar Assad, one of the primary beneficiaries of Obama’s “outreach”? Now would be a good time for the president to clear up where America stands. Instead, we have sunk to such a sordid and embarrassing place that the Obama administration’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council said nothing after the Syrian representative promoted a blood libel about Jews during the council proceedings.

What Barack Obama clearly is not learning is that his campaign to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel is creating serious strategic risks: it is an invitation to the region’s dictators and terrorists to test just how far they can needle and provoke Israel, knowing that when they push too far — such as we saw last week with the flotilla — there will be no consequences from an American president who has proved himself virtually incapable of speaking with moral clarity about the enemies of Israel.

Over the past few months, the Turkish prime minister has staged an Islamist coming-out party, with a display of thuggish bravado matched in the region only by Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad — and Obama says nothing. Syria is supplying ever more dangerous weapons to Hezbollah, and Obama not only says nothing but is also trying to reward Syria by returning the U.S. ambassador to Damascus. Iran conspires in ever more creative ways to extend its power across the Middle East and into the Mediterranean, and Obama does nothing. He appears not even to realize that these forces are escalating their war of words and deeds against Israel as a way of humiliating America and Barack Obama himself by showing the world that a great power is doing nothing as one of its closest allies is ambushed by terrorists and pummeled by the “international community.” What we lack in military and economic strength, the Islamists are saying, we more than make up for in audacity, willpower, and solidarity with our allies. And they are right.

I can understand Obama’s silence: doing anything else — anything more than repeating the same empty platitude about the U.S.-Israel bond being “unshakable” — would require him to be seen openly siding with the hated Zionists after he has invested so much in “outreach” to Muslims and demonstrated so much exquisite sensitivity to how offended the Islamic world is by American support for Israel.

This is steering us into dangerous waters. Seeing not just passivity from the White House but also a willingness to throw Israel to the jackals, the Jewish state’s enemies are aggressively testing the limits of what they can get away with. They do this largely because Barack Obama and American leadership and power are nowhere to be found. One gets the disturbing feeling that the president cannot bring himself to say or do anything that could be construed as an example of overtly and unambiguously taking Israel’s side against its Muslim antagonists. In transforming America into an “evenhanded” arbiter between Israelis and Arabs, Obama risks turning us into bystanders to war.

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Iran Threatens War in the Mediterranean

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

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How Western Engagement Thwarts Israeli-Syrian Peace

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s candid interview this week with Lebanon’s As-Safir paper ought to be studied by anyone who still believes in either the possibility of Israeli-Syrian peace or the utility of Western engagement with Syria.

According to both the Jerusalem Post and Ynet (the website of Israel’s largest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth), Assad told As-Safir that Israeli President Shimon Peres sent a message via Russia offering him the entire Golan Heights if Syria would sever ties with Iran and with terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. But Assad said he wasn’t interested: He refuses to abandon the option of “resistance.”

Whether or not Peres actually made this offer (which his office vehemently denies) is irrelevant. The point is that Assad claims it was made. Yet his response was not to pursue it via direct or even indirect talks with Israel. It was to assert that Syria will never pressure Hamas and co. to disarm; that Israel doesn’t want peace anyway, so there’s no point in talking; and that it would be a “mistake” to “erase the resistance option,” thereby “becoming hostage to the peace option.”

This response has three noteworthy aspects. First, Israeli advocates of peace with Syria all claim that previous talks collapsed over one single issue: Jerusalem insisted that the border be the recognized international border, while Damascus demanded the pre-1967 border, which includes Israeli territory that Syria illegally occupied in 1948. Therefore, they argue, if Israel would just stop fussing over that sliver of land and cede it all, a deal would swiftly be signed.

Second, these advocates always said peace would bring one major benefit: Syria’s removal from the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis.

Yet now, Assad claims that Peres offered precisely what Israeli peace advocates always wanted: the whole Golan. And he contemptuously refused to pay the desired quid pro quo.

Most noteworthy of all, however, was his reason: Abandoning “resistance” would be foolish, because it works. And as evidence, he cited Syria’s renewed ties with the West, especially Washington. In short, he views the Obama administration’s engagement drive as proof that supporting terror pays.

Moreover, when asked to identify Syria’s key regional interests, peace with Israel didn’t make the list — but “dialogue with the U.S.” did. Thus peace with Israel no longer offers any compensation that would justify abandoning “resistance”: The one benefit it was traditionally thought to offer — an opening to Washington — has now been achieved by “resistance” instead.

This also explains why Assad eagerly engaged in indirect talks with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert just two years ago, but scorns the idea today. Then, he was being boycotted by the West, and especially by former President George W. Bush, so talks with Israel were needed to end the boycott. Today, he is courted by Europe and Washington alike. So who needs peace with Israel?

The conclusion is clear: As long as Assad can get everything he wants from the West without a peace deal, Israeli-Syrian peace will be unattainable. Only when the West starts punishing “resistance” rather than rewarding it will Assad’s strategic calculation change.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s candid interview this week with Lebanon’s As-Safir paper ought to be studied by anyone who still believes in either the possibility of Israeli-Syrian peace or the utility of Western engagement with Syria.

According to both the Jerusalem Post and Ynet (the website of Israel’s largest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth), Assad told As-Safir that Israeli President Shimon Peres sent a message via Russia offering him the entire Golan Heights if Syria would sever ties with Iran and with terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. But Assad said he wasn’t interested: He refuses to abandon the option of “resistance.”

Whether or not Peres actually made this offer (which his office vehemently denies) is irrelevant. The point is that Assad claims it was made. Yet his response was not to pursue it via direct or even indirect talks with Israel. It was to assert that Syria will never pressure Hamas and co. to disarm; that Israel doesn’t want peace anyway, so there’s no point in talking; and that it would be a “mistake” to “erase the resistance option,” thereby “becoming hostage to the peace option.”

This response has three noteworthy aspects. First, Israeli advocates of peace with Syria all claim that previous talks collapsed over one single issue: Jerusalem insisted that the border be the recognized international border, while Damascus demanded the pre-1967 border, which includes Israeli territory that Syria illegally occupied in 1948. Therefore, they argue, if Israel would just stop fussing over that sliver of land and cede it all, a deal would swiftly be signed.

Second, these advocates always said peace would bring one major benefit: Syria’s removal from the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis.

Yet now, Assad claims that Peres offered precisely what Israeli peace advocates always wanted: the whole Golan. And he contemptuously refused to pay the desired quid pro quo.

Most noteworthy of all, however, was his reason: Abandoning “resistance” would be foolish, because it works. And as evidence, he cited Syria’s renewed ties with the West, especially Washington. In short, he views the Obama administration’s engagement drive as proof that supporting terror pays.

Moreover, when asked to identify Syria’s key regional interests, peace with Israel didn’t make the list — but “dialogue with the U.S.” did. Thus peace with Israel no longer offers any compensation that would justify abandoning “resistance”: The one benefit it was traditionally thought to offer — an opening to Washington — has now been achieved by “resistance” instead.

This also explains why Assad eagerly engaged in indirect talks with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert just two years ago, but scorns the idea today. Then, he was being boycotted by the West, and especially by former President George W. Bush, so talks with Israel were needed to end the boycott. Today, he is courted by Europe and Washington alike. So who needs peace with Israel?

The conclusion is clear: As long as Assad can get everything he wants from the West without a peace deal, Israeli-Syrian peace will be unattainable. Only when the West starts punishing “resistance” rather than rewarding it will Assad’s strategic calculation change.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ben Smith sounds skeptical about this ad campaign: “If Alexi Giannoulias pulls this one off, it’ll be one for the annals of political history: He’s trying to cast the failure of his family’s bank — which he ran as recently as four years ago and which failed Friday, the latest casualty of the bad loans in the run-up to the financial crisis — as a reason to sympathize with him and vote for him.”

What — you’re skeptical that the SEC can investigate itself ? “The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) investigative office said Sunday it had begun an investigation into whether charges against Goldman Sachs were politically timed.”

Michael Rubin is skeptical about the Obami spin that we need an ambassador in Damascus because Syria’s ambassador here doesn’t accurately relay information to Bashar Assad. “We have an embassy in Damascus, and we can pass messages anytime we so choose. If the State Department seriously believes the Syrian ambassador in Washington doesn’t report things back to Damascus (too busy, as he is, taking trips to Oklahoma and California), then Secretary Clinton can make clear to Damascus through other means that it’s time Syria sent responsible diplomats. But the fact is that Bashar al-Assad wants an American ambassador because it would symbolize his rehabilitation. The only question that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama should answer is whether they think that rehabilitation is warranted at this point in time.”

Americans remain overwhelmingly skeptical about the benefits of ObamaCare: “Support for repeal of the recently-passed national health care plan remains strong as most voters believe the law will increase the cost of care, hurt quality and push the federal budget deficit even higher. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 58% of likely voters nationwide favor repeal, while 38% are opposed. … Sixty percent (60%) of voters nationwide believe the new law will increase the federal budget deficit, while just 19% say it will reduce the deficit. Fifty-seven percent (57%) think the law will increase the cost of health care, while 18% believe it will reduce costs.”

James Capretta is skeptical of HHS Secretary Katheleen Sebelius’s spin on ObamaCare: “The chief actuary for Medicare has released a memorandum providing cost estimates for the final health legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president. Amazingly, the HHS secretary tried to suggest that the memo confirms that the legislation will produce the favorable results that the legislation’s backers have touted for months. That’s nothing but spin. In truth, the memo is another devastating indictment of the bill. It contradicts several key assertions by made by the bill’s proponents, including the president. For starters, the actuary says that the legislation will increase health care costs, not reduce them — by about $300 billion over a decade. … The actuary also says that the financial incentives in the bill will lead many employers to stop offering coverage altogether.”

Skeptical of the chances for a “Palestinian nonviolent movement“? You should be: “Proponents hope civil disobedience, part of a strategy they call the White Intifada, also will flummox Israeli authorities in their efforts to crack down on protesters waving banners rather than shooting automatic rifles, and cast Israeli soldiers as oppressors. Unlike Ghandi [sic] or the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., however, the Palestinians who support this approach for the most part don’t appear to be embracing nonviolence as a philosophy. Rather they see it as part of a calculated strategy to achieve Palestinian goals.”

The Gallup poll bolsters skeptics (like me) who doubt Obama’s ability to turn out young voters for a midterm election: “Younger voters remain less enthusiastic about voting in this year’s midterm elections than those who are older, underscoring the challenge facing the Democratic Party in its efforts to re-energize these voters, who helped President Obama win the presidency in 2008.”

Mark Hemingway is right to be skeptical that the new head of the Service Employees International Union wants the union to be “less political.”

Ben Smith sounds skeptical about this ad campaign: “If Alexi Giannoulias pulls this one off, it’ll be one for the annals of political history: He’s trying to cast the failure of his family’s bank — which he ran as recently as four years ago and which failed Friday, the latest casualty of the bad loans in the run-up to the financial crisis — as a reason to sympathize with him and vote for him.”

What — you’re skeptical that the SEC can investigate itself ? “The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) investigative office said Sunday it had begun an investigation into whether charges against Goldman Sachs were politically timed.”

Michael Rubin is skeptical about the Obami spin that we need an ambassador in Damascus because Syria’s ambassador here doesn’t accurately relay information to Bashar Assad. “We have an embassy in Damascus, and we can pass messages anytime we so choose. If the State Department seriously believes the Syrian ambassador in Washington doesn’t report things back to Damascus (too busy, as he is, taking trips to Oklahoma and California), then Secretary Clinton can make clear to Damascus through other means that it’s time Syria sent responsible diplomats. But the fact is that Bashar al-Assad wants an American ambassador because it would symbolize his rehabilitation. The only question that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama should answer is whether they think that rehabilitation is warranted at this point in time.”

Americans remain overwhelmingly skeptical about the benefits of ObamaCare: “Support for repeal of the recently-passed national health care plan remains strong as most voters believe the law will increase the cost of care, hurt quality and push the federal budget deficit even higher. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 58% of likely voters nationwide favor repeal, while 38% are opposed. … Sixty percent (60%) of voters nationwide believe the new law will increase the federal budget deficit, while just 19% say it will reduce the deficit. Fifty-seven percent (57%) think the law will increase the cost of health care, while 18% believe it will reduce costs.”

James Capretta is skeptical of HHS Secretary Katheleen Sebelius’s spin on ObamaCare: “The chief actuary for Medicare has released a memorandum providing cost estimates for the final health legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president. Amazingly, the HHS secretary tried to suggest that the memo confirms that the legislation will produce the favorable results that the legislation’s backers have touted for months. That’s nothing but spin. In truth, the memo is another devastating indictment of the bill. It contradicts several key assertions by made by the bill’s proponents, including the president. For starters, the actuary says that the legislation will increase health care costs, not reduce them — by about $300 billion over a decade. … The actuary also says that the financial incentives in the bill will lead many employers to stop offering coverage altogether.”

Skeptical of the chances for a “Palestinian nonviolent movement“? You should be: “Proponents hope civil disobedience, part of a strategy they call the White Intifada, also will flummox Israeli authorities in their efforts to crack down on protesters waving banners rather than shooting automatic rifles, and cast Israeli soldiers as oppressors. Unlike Ghandi [sic] or the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., however, the Palestinians who support this approach for the most part don’t appear to be embracing nonviolence as a philosophy. Rather they see it as part of a calculated strategy to achieve Palestinian goals.”

The Gallup poll bolsters skeptics (like me) who doubt Obama’s ability to turn out young voters for a midterm election: “Younger voters remain less enthusiastic about voting in this year’s midterm elections than those who are older, underscoring the challenge facing the Democratic Party in its efforts to re-energize these voters, who helped President Obama win the presidency in 2008.”

Mark Hemingway is right to be skeptical that the new head of the Service Employees International Union wants the union to be “less political.”

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Iran Tests Obama — Again

A sharp-eyed reader calls my attention to this report over the weekend:

The Obama administration renewed calls Friday for Iran to immediately release three American hikers detained for nearly nine months and appealed to the Iranian government to issue their families visas to visit them.

A day after the families said two of the three are in poor health, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was no reason for their continued detention. He spoke after receiving a report from Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit the trio in Tehran’s Evin prison Thursday.

The administration puts out a meek statement, pleading for the Americans’ release:

“While we welcome this news, we continue to call for their release,” Crowley said. “We are aware of the families’ concerns about their children’s physical and emotional state of health.” He said the families should be given visas.

“These three Americans have been in detention for almost nine months without formal charges or access to legal representation,” he said. “They should be released without further delay.”

Well, we certainly know the mullahs see no downside to holding Americans. No serious consequences will be forthcoming and they might even get a diplomatic pat on the back if they let them go before they perish in Evin. They have learned from this president that whether it is violations of existing UN sanctions, missed deadlines in nuclear talks, aggression by their junior partner Bashar Assad, or grabbing Americans, the administration never lowers the boom.

If you have the sense you’ve seen this before — a radical Iranian regime kidnapping Americans to demonstrate the impotence of a naive American president — you’re right. But now, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, the stakes are much higher.

A sharp-eyed reader calls my attention to this report over the weekend:

The Obama administration renewed calls Friday for Iran to immediately release three American hikers detained for nearly nine months and appealed to the Iranian government to issue their families visas to visit them.

A day after the families said two of the three are in poor health, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was no reason for their continued detention. He spoke after receiving a report from Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit the trio in Tehran’s Evin prison Thursday.

The administration puts out a meek statement, pleading for the Americans’ release:

“While we welcome this news, we continue to call for their release,” Crowley said. “We are aware of the families’ concerns about their children’s physical and emotional state of health.” He said the families should be given visas.

“These three Americans have been in detention for almost nine months without formal charges or access to legal representation,” he said. “They should be released without further delay.”

Well, we certainly know the mullahs see no downside to holding Americans. No serious consequences will be forthcoming and they might even get a diplomatic pat on the back if they let them go before they perish in Evin. They have learned from this president that whether it is violations of existing UN sanctions, missed deadlines in nuclear talks, aggression by their junior partner Bashar Assad, or grabbing Americans, the administration never lowers the boom.

If you have the sense you’ve seen this before — a radical Iranian regime kidnapping Americans to demonstrate the impotence of a naive American president — you’re right. But now, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, the stakes are much higher.

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Obama’s Syrian Policy Collapses

Obama’s Syrian engagement policy is in shambles. The decision to return our ambassador to Damascus has earned us the contempt of Bashar al-Assad and has done nothing to halt his embrace of Iran. We’ve now seen that Assad has upped the ante with the transfer of scud missiles to Hezbollah. This report suggests that the Obami then went a step further in the appeasement dance — calling off an Israeli attack:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such [missile] technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

Besides increasing the possibility of violence along one of the world’s most tense borders, the claim of new weapons transfers had also had a debilitating effect on supporters of Syrian engagement in Washington and might be responsible for a “hold” put on the February nomination of Robert Ford as the US ambassador to Syria.

So what did we gain by waving off the Israelis? Another dollop of contempt. We have conveyed — both to Syria and its Iranian partner — that we will not respond to provocation and, in fact, will restrain Israel from doing so. In a neat package we have all the elements of Obama’s foolish and dangerous Middle East policy — ingratiation with despots, unilateral gestures, the failure to project American power, and the collapse of the U.S.-Israel alliance that has acted as a successful deterrent for decades. A more complete picture of failure would be hard to paint. Are we  realpolitiking yet?

Obama’s Syrian engagement policy is in shambles. The decision to return our ambassador to Damascus has earned us the contempt of Bashar al-Assad and has done nothing to halt his embrace of Iran. We’ve now seen that Assad has upped the ante with the transfer of scud missiles to Hezbollah. This report suggests that the Obami then went a step further in the appeasement dance — calling off an Israeli attack:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such [missile] technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

Besides increasing the possibility of violence along one of the world’s most tense borders, the claim of new weapons transfers had also had a debilitating effect on supporters of Syrian engagement in Washington and might be responsible for a “hold” put on the February nomination of Robert Ford as the US ambassador to Syria.

So what did we gain by waving off the Israelis? Another dollop of contempt. We have conveyed — both to Syria and its Iranian partner — that we will not respond to provocation and, in fact, will restrain Israel from doing so. In a neat package we have all the elements of Obama’s foolish and dangerous Middle East policy — ingratiation with despots, unilateral gestures, the failure to project American power, and the collapse of the U.S.-Israel alliance that has acted as a successful deterrent for decades. A more complete picture of failure would be hard to paint. Are we  realpolitiking yet?

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Playing with Fire in the Levant

The National, a paper in the UAE, fleshes out the Scud missile story:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

As Tony Badran points out, Bashar Assad “is known to have a penchant for brinksmanship.” In this case, he appears to have been saved from the consequences of a particularly foolish gambit by the Obama administration.

But this doesn’t mean the red line hasn’t been crossed. Syria is in fact now in more danger than the Israelis. The IDF’s Arrow missile-defense system can knock Scuds out of the sky with great reliability, so they don’t pose a tremendous a threat. What they do provide to Israel is an opportunity — and they impose a requirement. The fact that they were transferred to Hezbollah in violation of tacit but well-understood red lines gives Israel clear and credible casus belli, should hostilities break out, to expand any conflict to Syria.

The crossing of the Scud-missile red line carries its own inexorable logic: since Syria has chosen to become a provider of military-grade weapons to Hezbollah, Israel has little choice but to include Syria in any future war with Hezbollah. And if Israel goes to war with Syria, there will be little rationale, given the risks involved and the immense reward of ridding the region of Iran’s only ally, from going for regime change.

Badran:

The Syrian president made a telling remark at the last Arab League summit to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. He observed that “the price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace.” And therein lays the problem. Assad has not been made to feel that the costs of continued destabilization can be prohibitive. Instead, all he gets from Washington are weak statements in response to his actions.

What Barack Obama appears not to understand is that the harder he presses Israel and the more he protects Syria, the more self-reliant Israel has to become — and that is going to involve things that Obama might discover he dislikes more than close relations with the Jewish state.

The National, a paper in the UAE, fleshes out the Scud missile story:

Although US officials contacted by The National could not completely confirm that such technology had been transferred to Hizbollah by Syria, one official privy to intelligence briefings confirmed a story previously reported in the Israeli press that in the weeks before Senator John Kerry’s visit to Damascus on April 1, Israel almost bombed what it claimed was a convoy of advanced weaponry headed from Syrian military bases to Hizbollah along the shared border with Lebanon.

“I can’t promise you that planes were actually in the air, but it was close, very close,” said the official. “The White House had to talk them down from the attack and promised that Kerry would use strong language” with the Syrian president, Bashar Assad.

When asked about the outcome of the meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Assad on the issue, the source tartly responded: “In light of where we are now, what do you think?”

As Tony Badran points out, Bashar Assad “is known to have a penchant for brinksmanship.” In this case, he appears to have been saved from the consequences of a particularly foolish gambit by the Obama administration.

But this doesn’t mean the red line hasn’t been crossed. Syria is in fact now in more danger than the Israelis. The IDF’s Arrow missile-defense system can knock Scuds out of the sky with great reliability, so they don’t pose a tremendous a threat. What they do provide to Israel is an opportunity — and they impose a requirement. The fact that they were transferred to Hezbollah in violation of tacit but well-understood red lines gives Israel clear and credible casus belli, should hostilities break out, to expand any conflict to Syria.

The crossing of the Scud-missile red line carries its own inexorable logic: since Syria has chosen to become a provider of military-grade weapons to Hezbollah, Israel has little choice but to include Syria in any future war with Hezbollah. And if Israel goes to war with Syria, there will be little rationale, given the risks involved and the immense reward of ridding the region of Iran’s only ally, from going for regime change.

Badran:

The Syrian president made a telling remark at the last Arab League summit to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. He observed that “the price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace.” And therein lays the problem. Assad has not been made to feel that the costs of continued destabilization can be prohibitive. Instead, all he gets from Washington are weak statements in response to his actions.

What Barack Obama appears not to understand is that the harder he presses Israel and the more he protects Syria, the more self-reliant Israel has to become — and that is going to involve things that Obama might discover he dislikes more than close relations with the Jewish state.

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Bashar Assad Takes the Measure of Barack Obama

There is an important story in today’s Wall Street Journal that says a lot about how the Middle East is changing in the era of smart diplomacy:

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has transferred long-range Scud missiles to the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in a move that threatens to alter the Middle East’s military balance, Israeli and U.S. officials alleged. …

Officials briefed on the intelligence said Israeli and American officials believe Lebanon transferred Scud D missiles to Hezbollah that were built with either North Korean or Russian technology.

The Scuds are believed to have a range of over 430 miles, placing Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s nuclear installations at Dimona all within range of Hezbollah’s military forces. …

Israeli officials said this week that Scud D missiles were “game-changing” armaments that marked a new escalation in the Mideast conflict. They charged Mr. Assad with further fusing Syria’s military command with Hezbollah’s and Iran’s and breaking clearly defined red-lines established by Israel’s defense forces.

The Scud-D has been around for decades; why is it being transferred to Hezbollah at this particular moment? There are two likely reasons: (1) the White House has become the most prominent Western critic of Israel, and Syria is confident that President Obama will not do much to either punish an Israeli enemy or speak clearly in Israel’s defense. (2) Under the Obama Doctrine, many enemies of America are treated with kindness in order to prove that they should not fear us, under the theory that once the fear is gone, there will be very little to obstruct the progression of smooth relations. The engagement policy thus requires the overlooking of all kinds of bad behavior.

Syria, it appears, has made an accurate calculation on both of the above counts.

Remember how critics of the Bush administration always said that the neocon cowboys in the White House clung stubbornly to failed policies out of ideological conviction? Here’s the final paragraph of the WSJ story:

U.S. officials stressed, however, that the White House wasn’t second-guessing its engagement strategy and was pushing forward with Mr. Ford’s nomination. “Sending an Ambassador to Syria who can press the Syrian government in a firm and coordinated fashion … is part of our strategy to achieve comprehensive peace in the region,” the White House said in a statement.

I’m sure Mr. Ford is a talented diplomat, but is there any chance that his presence in Damascus would have stopped the transfer of long-range missiles to Hezbollah?

There is an important story in today’s Wall Street Journal that says a lot about how the Middle East is changing in the era of smart diplomacy:

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has transferred long-range Scud missiles to the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in a move that threatens to alter the Middle East’s military balance, Israeli and U.S. officials alleged. …

Officials briefed on the intelligence said Israeli and American officials believe Lebanon transferred Scud D missiles to Hezbollah that were built with either North Korean or Russian technology.

The Scuds are believed to have a range of over 430 miles, placing Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s nuclear installations at Dimona all within range of Hezbollah’s military forces. …

Israeli officials said this week that Scud D missiles were “game-changing” armaments that marked a new escalation in the Mideast conflict. They charged Mr. Assad with further fusing Syria’s military command with Hezbollah’s and Iran’s and breaking clearly defined red-lines established by Israel’s defense forces.

The Scud-D has been around for decades; why is it being transferred to Hezbollah at this particular moment? There are two likely reasons: (1) the White House has become the most prominent Western critic of Israel, and Syria is confident that President Obama will not do much to either punish an Israeli enemy or speak clearly in Israel’s defense. (2) Under the Obama Doctrine, many enemies of America are treated with kindness in order to prove that they should not fear us, under the theory that once the fear is gone, there will be very little to obstruct the progression of smooth relations. The engagement policy thus requires the overlooking of all kinds of bad behavior.

Syria, it appears, has made an accurate calculation on both of the above counts.

Remember how critics of the Bush administration always said that the neocon cowboys in the White House clung stubbornly to failed policies out of ideological conviction? Here’s the final paragraph of the WSJ story:

U.S. officials stressed, however, that the White House wasn’t second-guessing its engagement strategy and was pushing forward with Mr. Ford’s nomination. “Sending an Ambassador to Syria who can press the Syrian government in a firm and coordinated fashion … is part of our strategy to achieve comprehensive peace in the region,” the White House said in a statement.

I’m sure Mr. Ford is a talented diplomat, but is there any chance that his presence in Damascus would have stopped the transfer of long-range missiles to Hezbollah?

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Syria Disses Obama Once Again

The Obami’s engagement of Syria — like its engagement of Iran, its bow-and-scrape routine with China, and its quietude on human rights atrocities — really hasn’t panned out. To the contrary, it is earning the contempt of the Syrian regime, which senses that no behavior, no public statement, and no human rights abuses are too egregious to put it on the wrong side of its overeager suitors in Washington. The latest:

Syria and Libya teamed up Sunday to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to quit peace talks with Israel and return to violence, delegates to an Arab leadership summit said.

In the wake of that call, Arab leaders gathered at their summit Sirte, Libya on Sunday failed to reach a consensus on whether the Palestinians should resume stalled talks with Israel. …

Syrian President Bashar Assad urged Abbas to withdraw from a U.S.-supported peace strategy and resume armed resistance to Israel, according to two delegates who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

They said Assad also urged Arab countries to halt any contacts with Israel, though only Cairo and Amman have peace deals with Israel.

“The price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace,” one delegate quoted Assad as telling Abbas.

This follows Obama’s decision — without any sign of cooperation or behavior modification by Assad — to return our ambassador to Damascus. This has earned us a joint press conference featuring Assad and Ahmadinejad bashing the U.S. and turning up the genocidal language, a refusal by Assad to acknowledge let alone curb arms transfers to Hezbollah, and now a blast aimed at disrupting the peace process. Does any of this earn a “condemnation” by the Obama government? No, that sort of thing is reserved for our democratic ally Israel. Does it cause us to rethink the merits of unilateral gestures toward Assad? No sign of that yet.

The Obami seem blissfully unaware that suck-uppery to the Muslim World is earning us no credit and quite a bit of contempt. That one deluded gambit (Syrian engagement) collides with another (proximity talks with Palestinians unwilling even to meet directly with Israel) seems not to matter. They are driven by an ideological fervor immune to reason and impervious to facts. It seems there is nothing the objects of their affection could do to cause the Obami to reconsider — and as the despots realize this, they are encouraged to engage in even more aggressive and outlandish behavior. There is nothing remotely “smart” about the Obama’s Middle East policy.

The Obami’s engagement of Syria — like its engagement of Iran, its bow-and-scrape routine with China, and its quietude on human rights atrocities — really hasn’t panned out. To the contrary, it is earning the contempt of the Syrian regime, which senses that no behavior, no public statement, and no human rights abuses are too egregious to put it on the wrong side of its overeager suitors in Washington. The latest:

Syria and Libya teamed up Sunday to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to quit peace talks with Israel and return to violence, delegates to an Arab leadership summit said.

In the wake of that call, Arab leaders gathered at their summit Sirte, Libya on Sunday failed to reach a consensus on whether the Palestinians should resume stalled talks with Israel. …

Syrian President Bashar Assad urged Abbas to withdraw from a U.S.-supported peace strategy and resume armed resistance to Israel, according to two delegates who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

They said Assad also urged Arab countries to halt any contacts with Israel, though only Cairo and Amman have peace deals with Israel.

“The price of resistance is not higher than the price of peace,” one delegate quoted Assad as telling Abbas.

This follows Obama’s decision — without any sign of cooperation or behavior modification by Assad — to return our ambassador to Damascus. This has earned us a joint press conference featuring Assad and Ahmadinejad bashing the U.S. and turning up the genocidal language, a refusal by Assad to acknowledge let alone curb arms transfers to Hezbollah, and now a blast aimed at disrupting the peace process. Does any of this earn a “condemnation” by the Obama government? No, that sort of thing is reserved for our democratic ally Israel. Does it cause us to rethink the merits of unilateral gestures toward Assad? No sign of that yet.

The Obami seem blissfully unaware that suck-uppery to the Muslim World is earning us no credit and quite a bit of contempt. That one deluded gambit (Syrian engagement) collides with another (proximity talks with Palestinians unwilling even to meet directly with Israel) seems not to matter. They are driven by an ideological fervor immune to reason and impervious to facts. It seems there is nothing the objects of their affection could do to cause the Obami to reconsider — and as the despots realize this, they are encouraged to engage in even more aggressive and outlandish behavior. There is nothing remotely “smart” about the Obama’s Middle East policy.

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