Commentary Magazine


Topic: Cuba

Blue (State) Travel to Cuba

A friend has forwarded me a solicitation from the University of Michigan’s Alumni Association to join them on a “Cultural Connection” visit to Cuba. It is a depressing piece of moral blindness. For $3,845, Wolverines can enjoy an eight-day trip, complete with “a visit to a local health clinic” to “learn about socialized medicine and the delivery of social services in Cuba,” a trip to an art institute to “compare and contrast the role of the arts in Cuba and the United States” and “identify any differences in the opportunities for artistic expression,” and a “substantive discussion” with the management team of a dance company to explore “the political and financial challenges they face” (i.e. the U.S. embargo) in exporting Cuban dance culture. There is a good deal more in the same vein, including a visit to the Museum of the Revolution and dinner at the Restaurante Vieja Havana, “formerly the American Club,” but you get the picture.

It would be pleasant if moral blindness was all that was involved here, but sadly, it’s not. Michigan alumni who sign on are demonstrating the kind of sympathies that will bring them to the attention of Cuban intelligence which, as the Myers case showed, knows how to take advantage of gullible Americans with an academic bent. As a defector from the Cuban Intelligence Service noted in 2002, visitors from U.S. universities are targeted “very often and in a massive way. For example, there was recently a cruise ship in Cuba with students from the University of Pennsylvania.  There were hundreds of students who automatically became objects of interest to the CuIS. . . . [who] using covers from the Foreign Ministry, or any other governmental organization like ICAP (Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) . . . . come into contact with students and even lodge where the foreign students lodge and participate with them in all their activities.” The essence of this visit, apart from
providing hard currency to the fading Castro regime and giving it a bit of blue-washing, is that the University of Michigan is naively signing on to have its alumni spied upon and tested for any willingness to betray the United States.

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A friend has forwarded me a solicitation from the University of Michigan’s Alumni Association to join them on a “Cultural Connection” visit to Cuba. It is a depressing piece of moral blindness. For $3,845, Wolverines can enjoy an eight-day trip, complete with “a visit to a local health clinic” to “learn about socialized medicine and the delivery of social services in Cuba,” a trip to an art institute to “compare and contrast the role of the arts in Cuba and the United States” and “identify any differences in the opportunities for artistic expression,” and a “substantive discussion” with the management team of a dance company to explore “the political and financial challenges they face” (i.e. the U.S. embargo) in exporting Cuban dance culture. There is a good deal more in the same vein, including a visit to the Museum of the Revolution and dinner at the Restaurante Vieja Havana, “formerly the American Club,” but you get the picture.

It would be pleasant if moral blindness was all that was involved here, but sadly, it’s not. Michigan alumni who sign on are demonstrating the kind of sympathies that will bring them to the attention of Cuban intelligence which, as the Myers case showed, knows how to take advantage of gullible Americans with an academic bent. As a defector from the Cuban Intelligence Service noted in 2002, visitors from U.S. universities are targeted “very often and in a massive way. For example, there was recently a cruise ship in Cuba with students from the University of Pennsylvania.  There were hundreds of students who automatically became objects of interest to the CuIS. . . . [who] using covers from the Foreign Ministry, or any other governmental organization like ICAP (Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) . . . . come into contact with students and even lodge where the foreign students lodge and participate with them in all their activities.” The essence of this visit, apart from
providing hard currency to the fading Castro regime and giving it a bit of blue-washing, is that the University of Michigan is naively signing on to have its alumni spied upon and tested for any willingness to betray the United States.

If any of the UMich alumni are inclined to give Cuba the benefit of the doubt, they might contrast the harbor of Miami with that of Havana. The former, as Google shows, has hundreds of small private boats going to and fro, whereas the latter is almost entirely devoid of them. The reason is that anyone in Cuba who has a boat is a risk to flee to the United States, whereas no one in Miami is going to use a boat to flee to Cuba.

Perhaps one of the Michigan alumni who partakes of this miserable venture will retain enough self-possession to ask why it seems no one in Havana likes to sail, or why, in spite of recent and limited changes, Freedom House places Cuba among the world’s most repressive regimes and finds that 92 percent of Cubans get their news from government sources.

What is it about dictatorial regimes that give universities such a thrill up the leg? UMich would not survive for 24 hours in Cuba, but it is far from the only university that is willing to cozy up to totalitarians. The LSE’s ties to Qaddafi’s regime were notorious even before cracks appeared in his feet of clay, and the number of U.S. universities that can’t get enough China –especially including Yale –is vast. And it’s not just universities per se: academics of all stripes are evidently easy marks. Last summer, presumably because I’m a member of the American Historical Association, I was solicited by a mailing from People to People for a visit to Russia  that featured “unprecedented access” to such easy-to-access attractions as the Bolshoi Ballet and a Faberge egg (though not the graves of the journalists Putin has murdered). Evidently academics are easily impressed as well as gullible.

The easy answer is that universities are on the left, so they naturally overlook the sins of left-wing dictators. True, it’s hard to imagine UMich promoting a similar trip to Franco’s Spain, and true, the People to People visit was led by Elaine Tyler May, a past president of the Organization of American Historians and a well-known critic of both the Cold War and anti-communism. But Qaddafi was not on the left or the right as conventionally defined, and Putin, with his reactionary nostalgia, his corporate statism, and his pro-natalist policies (it would be interesting to know what Prof. May, as a feminist historian, makes of those), has more in common with fascism than Communism, so the ideological explanation doesn’t fully cut it. Academics are only leftists in passing. Fundamentally, they’re oppositional, a sentiment that in the U.S. expresses itself as leftism–and makes them natural allies of any regime that opposes the United States.

On the university level, blindness and bias probably take second place to a simpler desire: they want the money. That’s understandable, if far from glorious. And I’m not entirely opposed to visiting totalitarian societies: I visited the USSR in 1989, just before the Wall came down, and it opened my eyes to the fact that Ronald Reagan talked more sense about Communism than all his opponents combined. But ventures like Michigan’s offer the promise of access and the reality of a fully-programmed and controlled experience, and place educational institutions funded by the taxpayers in the position of tacitly endorsing and enabling oppressive regimes. That’s a dirty business, and the sooner Michigan – or its alumni, or the Michigan legislature – puts a stop to it, the better.

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Cuba Suspends Postal Service to the U.S.

Last weekend, the Obama administration eased travel restrictions to Cuba. And now the Cuban government has decided to thank them by suspending postal service to the U.S. indefinitely:

The suspension follows the introduction of stricter security measures by the US last year after the attempted mailing of explosives from Yemen.

The Cuban postal service says large amounts of mail were refused entry and returned in the following months.

Correspondents say the cost of so many returns may have led to the decision to stop the service.

It was President Obama who resumed postal service between the U.S. and Cuba (via third-party countries) back in 2009. Before that, it had been blocked for 42 years.

Establishing better relations with Cuba was one of Obama’s campaign promises, and so far it’s turned out to be a total failure. Despite the administration’s attempts to ease the embargo on Cuba, Havana has responded with indifference — and now this. Obama’s election was supposed to herald a new age of diplomacy between the U.S. and South America. Instead, his overtures toward both Cuba and Venezuela have blown up in his face.

Last weekend, the Obama administration eased travel restrictions to Cuba. And now the Cuban government has decided to thank them by suspending postal service to the U.S. indefinitely:

The suspension follows the introduction of stricter security measures by the US last year after the attempted mailing of explosives from Yemen.

The Cuban postal service says large amounts of mail were refused entry and returned in the following months.

Correspondents say the cost of so many returns may have led to the decision to stop the service.

It was President Obama who resumed postal service between the U.S. and Cuba (via third-party countries) back in 2009. Before that, it had been blocked for 42 years.

Establishing better relations with Cuba was one of Obama’s campaign promises, and so far it’s turned out to be a total failure. Despite the administration’s attempts to ease the embargo on Cuba, Havana has responded with indifference — and now this. Obama’s election was supposed to herald a new age of diplomacy between the U.S. and South America. Instead, his overtures toward both Cuba and Venezuela have blown up in his face.

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China and Those Tensions that Remain

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

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Morning Commentary

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

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Not So Fast with the “1962” Allusions

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

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A Modest Middle East Proposal

In an article published in Al-Hayat, the Washington Institute’s David Schenker analyzes “President Obama’s First Two Years in the Middle East.” He says it is hard to avoid the conclusion Obama has been ineffective or worse: (1) the mishandling of Israeli-Palestinian talks produced a complete cessation of them; (2) the attempted dialogue with Iran and Syria produced predictable failures; and (3) the uncertain support for U.S. allies in Lebanon produced dramatic setbacks for them. Schenker reverses Samuel Johnson’s remark about remarriage and hopes the next two years produce a more realistic vision — the triumph of experience over hope.

Here is a realistic appraisal of the Middle East situation, followed by a modest proposal:

In the case of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, one cannot effect a two-state solution when (a) half the putative Palestinian state is run by a terrorist group allied with Iran, and (b) the other half is run by an unelected regime with no ability to make peace. In one half, there is no one to negotiate with; in the other, the one to negotiate with is unwilling to negotiate — and thus rejects seriatim offers of a state in favor of unrealistic demands for a “right of return,” indefensible borders, and the division of Israel’s capital on the 1949 armistice lines.

In the case of Iran, if crippling sanctions did not produce results in Cuba, Iraq, or North Korea, Swiss-cheese sanctions are not going to produce them in Iran. American allies will gravitate toward Iran (they already are), unless they soon hear a public commitment from the U.S. president to deal with the problem by whatever means necessary. Talks with Iran cannot succeed absent its belief such means will, if necessary, be used.

The time and place for the president to return to realism is a trip to Israel in the first part of 2011. Obama was invited by Netanyahu six months ago and pronounced himself “ready”; the continued failure to schedule it sends another unfortunate signal to the Middle East. The trip offers the opportunity to reassert in the Knesset the commitment to America’s democratic ally; to issue a long-overdue call for Arab states to “tear down those camps” and make peace possible; and to state, in a place where the statement will be noticed, that the U.S. will not participate indefinitely in unproductive talks nor rely only on sanctions if sanctions do not work.

If he wants to “reset” the situation in the Middle East, President Obama should take that trip and make that speech.

In an article published in Al-Hayat, the Washington Institute’s David Schenker analyzes “President Obama’s First Two Years in the Middle East.” He says it is hard to avoid the conclusion Obama has been ineffective or worse: (1) the mishandling of Israeli-Palestinian talks produced a complete cessation of them; (2) the attempted dialogue with Iran and Syria produced predictable failures; and (3) the uncertain support for U.S. allies in Lebanon produced dramatic setbacks for them. Schenker reverses Samuel Johnson’s remark about remarriage and hopes the next two years produce a more realistic vision — the triumph of experience over hope.

Here is a realistic appraisal of the Middle East situation, followed by a modest proposal:

In the case of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, one cannot effect a two-state solution when (a) half the putative Palestinian state is run by a terrorist group allied with Iran, and (b) the other half is run by an unelected regime with no ability to make peace. In one half, there is no one to negotiate with; in the other, the one to negotiate with is unwilling to negotiate — and thus rejects seriatim offers of a state in favor of unrealistic demands for a “right of return,” indefensible borders, and the division of Israel’s capital on the 1949 armistice lines.

In the case of Iran, if crippling sanctions did not produce results in Cuba, Iraq, or North Korea, Swiss-cheese sanctions are not going to produce them in Iran. American allies will gravitate toward Iran (they already are), unless they soon hear a public commitment from the U.S. president to deal with the problem by whatever means necessary. Talks with Iran cannot succeed absent its belief such means will, if necessary, be used.

The time and place for the president to return to realism is a trip to Israel in the first part of 2011. Obama was invited by Netanyahu six months ago and pronounced himself “ready”; the continued failure to schedule it sends another unfortunate signal to the Middle East. The trip offers the opportunity to reassert in the Knesset the commitment to America’s democratic ally; to issue a long-overdue call for Arab states to “tear down those camps” and make peace possible; and to state, in a place where the statement will be noticed, that the U.S. will not participate indefinitely in unproductive talks nor rely only on sanctions if sanctions do not work.

If he wants to “reset” the situation in the Middle East, President Obama should take that trip and make that speech.

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Morning Commentary

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed by Congress yesterday, but the military says that implementing the new rules will take some time: “Under the expected procedure, the Defense Department will conduct servicewide training and education for all active duty, reserve and national guard forces, and make whatever adjustments in procedures and facilities are necessary. … A servicewide memo will be sent instructing any gay or lesbian servicemembers not to openly declare their sexual orientation because they could potentially be subject to separation from the military.”

And in the aftermath of the DADT repeal, liberals have found a surprising new hero — Joe Lieberman: “‘He’s certainly one of my heroes today,’ said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. ‘His determination, his tenacity has kept this going all year. This would have not happened without Sen. Lieberman.’”

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez is planning to take full advantage of his new “temporary” power to rule by decree: “Venezuela’s lame-duck, pro-government congress has given temporary one-man rule to President Hugo Chavez, less than three weeks before a newly elected National Assembly with enough government foes to hamper some of his socialist initiatives takes office. … Speaking to supporters in a televised address Friday, Chavez left little doubt that he would use his powers to push through a range of economic and political measures that would accelerate the oil-rich country’s transformation into a socialist state.”

A soldier reflects on Time magazine’s Person of the Year: “I am not upset that [war hero and Congressional Medal of Honor winner] Staff Sgt. [Salvatore] Giunta wasn’t selected for the award. I don’t shame the periodical for not putting him on the short list. What makes me cringe is the fact that such heroic acts as Giunta’s in defense of our most beloved nation are still not ‘influential’ enough — not valued enough — to move and inspire us as a country: a country for which so many of us cry fierce patriotism, yet feel so little of its burdens.”

Michael Moore gets burned by WikiLeaks: “[T]he memo reveals that when the film [Sicko, Moore’s fawning documentary about the Cuban health-care system,] was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so ‘disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room’. … Castro’s government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it ‘knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them.’”

Could government policies make smoking extinct? While laws and taxes have certainly reduced the number of smokers, Kyle Smith argues that the habit is never going to go away completely: “What’s striking about a little volume called ‘The Cigarette Book: The History and Culture of Smoking’ (Skyhorse Publishing), an alphabetical guide to ciggie factoids, is how consistently smoking has been treated as a menace down the centuries. C-sticks were always just about to be hounded out of polite company for 400 years of largely ineffective taxes, warnings and bans. None of it worked.”

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed by Congress yesterday, but the military says that implementing the new rules will take some time: “Under the expected procedure, the Defense Department will conduct servicewide training and education for all active duty, reserve and national guard forces, and make whatever adjustments in procedures and facilities are necessary. … A servicewide memo will be sent instructing any gay or lesbian servicemembers not to openly declare their sexual orientation because they could potentially be subject to separation from the military.”

And in the aftermath of the DADT repeal, liberals have found a surprising new hero — Joe Lieberman: “‘He’s certainly one of my heroes today,’ said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. ‘His determination, his tenacity has kept this going all year. This would have not happened without Sen. Lieberman.’”

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez is planning to take full advantage of his new “temporary” power to rule by decree: “Venezuela’s lame-duck, pro-government congress has given temporary one-man rule to President Hugo Chavez, less than three weeks before a newly elected National Assembly with enough government foes to hamper some of his socialist initiatives takes office. … Speaking to supporters in a televised address Friday, Chavez left little doubt that he would use his powers to push through a range of economic and political measures that would accelerate the oil-rich country’s transformation into a socialist state.”

A soldier reflects on Time magazine’s Person of the Year: “I am not upset that [war hero and Congressional Medal of Honor winner] Staff Sgt. [Salvatore] Giunta wasn’t selected for the award. I don’t shame the periodical for not putting him on the short list. What makes me cringe is the fact that such heroic acts as Giunta’s in defense of our most beloved nation are still not ‘influential’ enough — not valued enough — to move and inspire us as a country: a country for which so many of us cry fierce patriotism, yet feel so little of its burdens.”

Michael Moore gets burned by WikiLeaks: “[T]he memo reveals that when the film [Sicko, Moore’s fawning documentary about the Cuban health-care system,] was shown to a group of Cuban doctors, some became so ‘disturbed at the blatant misrepresentation of healthcare in Cuba that they left the room’. … Castro’s government apparently went on to ban the film because, the leaked cable claims, it ‘knows the film is a myth and does not want to risk a popular backlash by showing to Cubans facilities that are clearly not available to the vast majority of them.’”

Could government policies make smoking extinct? While laws and taxes have certainly reduced the number of smokers, Kyle Smith argues that the habit is never going to go away completely: “What’s striking about a little volume called ‘The Cigarette Book: The History and Culture of Smoking’ (Skyhorse Publishing), an alphabetical guide to ciggie factoids, is how consistently smoking has been treated as a menace down the centuries. C-sticks were always just about to be hounded out of polite company for 400 years of largely ineffective taxes, warnings and bans. None of it worked.”

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WikiLeaks, Treason, and Plot

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime. Read More

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime.

But we should note that the military already has an elaborate set of rules for information security. The problem in this case, if Manning’s own account is valid, is that some of those rules were not being enforced in his work facility in Iraq. There is nothing unusual about junior personnel having access to secret information; intelligence analysts need it to do their jobs. But Manning says he took writable CDs into a secure area and pretended to listen to music from them while copying files to them on a secret-level computer. Everything about this is a breach of sound security policy, and the military is well aware of that.

I signed a dozen oaths in my 20 years in Naval Intelligence to never do — on pain of severe penalties — what Bradley Manning is charged with doing. The rules to prevent it have long been in place. The apparent systemic failures in this case were the poor IT security at Manning’s former command and the inattention of supervisors to the red flags in Manning’s personnel profile, such as his propensity to get into fights with other soldiers. Better application of prudent policy guidelines could well have prevented the whole incident.

Expanding government supervision and control of the Internet, however, would be a disproportionate and mistargeted response. As with gunpowder, the inherent nature of the tool can’t be altered; it can only be made the pretext for restrictions and limitations on the human users. And as with 17th-century England’s prohibitions on the ownership of gunpowder by Catholics, such regulatory prophylaxis invites invidious application.

Criminalizing the role of Julian Assange, meanwhile, could easily carry unintended consequences. We in the liberal nations are not always aligned against the disclosers of government secrets. Should Iran or Cuba be able to demand extradition of a foreigner who publishes their governments’ secrets? Should Russia or China? There is the real danger of a misapplied remedy here. Bluster from our senators is about as close as we need to get to making bad law on the basis of a hard case.

The gunpowder analogy isn’t perfect. But the last two lines of the Gunpowder Plot ditty frame the correct priority for addressing the WikiLeaks Plot:

I see no reason why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

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RE: North Korea–Obama Sends a Stern Letter to the Editor

John, you’re being too hard on the president. He’s only writing the letter to the editor because Kim Jong-il refused to have a beer summit with him. I’m quite sure that had President Obama fulfilled his debate promise to have a little chit-chat with Kim, Ahmadinejad, and the Castro brothers, the former two would have abandoned their nuclear-weapons programs and Cuba would be libre today.

John, you’re being too hard on the president. He’s only writing the letter to the editor because Kim Jong-il refused to have a beer summit with him. I’m quite sure that had President Obama fulfilled his debate promise to have a little chit-chat with Kim, Ahmadinejad, and the Castro brothers, the former two would have abandoned their nuclear-weapons programs and Cuba would be libre today.

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Coming Apart at the Seams

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts. Read More

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts.

You get the picture. So Obama’s gambits become more and more desperate. Hence, the cockeyed attempt to spare himself the collapse of the non-direct, non-peace talks. “National security analysts say the price Obama is willing to pay for another three months of talks is high, in part because he set a one-year timeline for their successful conclusion. Many believe that the deadline, like other of Obama’s foreign policy goals, was overly optimistic.” Well, that’s a generous way of putting it. To be blunt, he’s made hash out of our relationship with Israel, diminished our credibility with every player in the Middle East, and now is panicked that it is all about to come tumbling down around his ears.

Likewise, out of desperation to get a “win,” Obama is trying to force a Senate vote on New START. Saner voices are trying to warn him:

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who held senior foreign-policy positions in both Bush administrations, said “it’s no big deal if gets kicked off until February, March, then passes.”

“You don’t want to bring this to a vote and lose,” Haass said. “You don’t want to have the Senate equivalent of going to Seoul and not getting a trade agreement.”

Funny how each new foreign policy fumble has a precursor. Seoul is like Copenhagen. New START is like the Syrian ambassador’s nomination. The handling of the Honduras “coup” is like pulling the rug out from under our Eastern European allies on missile defense. And on it goes — an endless series of half-baked ideas, offended allies, stalled negotiations, and poorly executed gambits. And we haven’t even gotten to the worst of it: an emboldened Iran racing toward membership in the nuclear power club.

It’s not all a disaster. Obama is showing some recognition that we must remain engaged in Iraq. He’s coming around to erasing the ill-advised Afghanistan deadline. And perhaps, after two years, he’s cluing into the need to get serious about human rights in Egypt and elsewhere. But the continuities with his predecessor (annoyingly accompanied by chest-puffing and refusal to credit President Bush) are outnumbered and overshadowed by the gaffes.

This is not a time for conservatives to cheer. It is deeply troubling that the president has imperiled our standing in the world. Congress is no substitute for a commander in chief, but responsible voices in the House and Senate should work — by resolution, oversight, private conversation, and funding — to guide the administration to more sober policymaking and less erratic execution. Unfortunately, once the credibility of the American president is diminished by hapless moves and unserious rhetoric, it’s hard to get it back.

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The Ghailani Debacle

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.'”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.'”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

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Human Rights Policy Gone Mad

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

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LIVE BLOG: The Son of Exiles

I agree with John about Marco Rubio’s potential for winning even higher offices in the future. While the Democrats spent most of this year trying to portray the conservative Rubio and his Tea Party supporters as extremist nuts, it may be that the real analogy here is with the rise of Barack Obama in his Senate race in Illinois. In his speech, Rubio reminded the country that no matter where he goes in life, he will “always be the son of exiles.” The rise of a Hispanic Republican, the son of immigrants who fled Communist Cuba, is, even on a night of great victories for his party, perhaps the most encouraging moment for the GOP.

I agree with John about Marco Rubio’s potential for winning even higher offices in the future. While the Democrats spent most of this year trying to portray the conservative Rubio and his Tea Party supporters as extremist nuts, it may be that the real analogy here is with the rise of Barack Obama in his Senate race in Illinois. In his speech, Rubio reminded the country that no matter where he goes in life, he will “always be the son of exiles.” The rise of a Hispanic Republican, the son of immigrants who fled Communist Cuba, is, even on a night of great victories for his party, perhaps the most encouraging moment for the GOP.

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How Will the GOP Be Able to Influence Foreign Policy After the Election?

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

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Chavez Still Chavez

It seems that a single meeting with Jewish leaders did not herald the dawning of a new age in Hugo Chavez’s relations with Jews or the Jewish state.

We saw Chavez literally wrap his arms around Ahmadinejad:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told reporters after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Tuesday that cooperation with Iran was a “holy task” for Venezuela, Iran’s Fars news agency said.

Ahmadinejad in turn welcomed Venezuela’s support against the Islamic Republic’s western “bullies.” …

The progressive and fraternal stance of Venezuela in condemning sanctions against Iran imposed by the bullying powers is indicative of the deep and firm ties between the two countries,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA. … It was the ninth visit to Iran by Chavez, who has often described the Islamic country as his “second home.”

The regional “bully,” in case there was any doubt, is Israel.

And now there is this:

On the Mideast leg of an international tour, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he and his Syrian counterpart are “on the offensive” against Western imperialism. …

“We’re on the offensive,” Chavez said. “We’re building an alternative.”

The two also discussed a proposed oil project and signed several economic agreements.

Chavez arrived in Syria on Wednesday from Tehran, where he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they are united in efforts to establish a “new world order” that will eliminate Western dominance over global affairs.

If the “new world order” sounds vaguely fascistic — and one possibly without Jews in its midst — you have understood their drift.

As the U.S. dallies, Iran gathers friends — in another presidency, it would be called the Axis of Evil. Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and to a large extent the increasingly Islamist Turkey have figured out that the U.S. is in retreat and that the new and potentially nuclear-armed Iran is where the action is.

It would be delightful if the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez turned over a new leaf with regard to Iran’s genocidal ambitions and Israel. But that is the stuff of fantasy and bamboozled liberal pundits.

It seems that a single meeting with Jewish leaders did not herald the dawning of a new age in Hugo Chavez’s relations with Jews or the Jewish state.

We saw Chavez literally wrap his arms around Ahmadinejad:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told reporters after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Tuesday that cooperation with Iran was a “holy task” for Venezuela, Iran’s Fars news agency said.

Ahmadinejad in turn welcomed Venezuela’s support against the Islamic Republic’s western “bullies.” …

The progressive and fraternal stance of Venezuela in condemning sanctions against Iran imposed by the bullying powers is indicative of the deep and firm ties between the two countries,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA. … It was the ninth visit to Iran by Chavez, who has often described the Islamic country as his “second home.”

The regional “bully,” in case there was any doubt, is Israel.

And now there is this:

On the Mideast leg of an international tour, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he and his Syrian counterpart are “on the offensive” against Western imperialism. …

“We’re on the offensive,” Chavez said. “We’re building an alternative.”

The two also discussed a proposed oil project and signed several economic agreements.

Chavez arrived in Syria on Wednesday from Tehran, where he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they are united in efforts to establish a “new world order” that will eliminate Western dominance over global affairs.

If the “new world order” sounds vaguely fascistic — and one possibly without Jews in its midst — you have understood their drift.

As the U.S. dallies, Iran gathers friends — in another presidency, it would be called the Axis of Evil. Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and to a large extent the increasingly Islamist Turkey have figured out that the U.S. is in retreat and that the new and potentially nuclear-armed Iran is where the action is.

It would be delightful if the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez turned over a new leaf with regard to Iran’s genocidal ambitions and Israel. But that is the stuff of fantasy and bamboozled liberal pundits.

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Block This Sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Scammed Again (Even Without the Dolphin Show)

Jeffrey Goldberg, fresh from flacking for Fidel Castro, moves on to Castro’s sidekick Hugo Chavez:

One day after I posted Fidel Castro’s condemnation of anti-Semitism on this blog, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, announced that he too, felt great “love and respect” for Jews, and he invited the leaders of his country’s put-upon Jewish community to meet with him. The meeting took place a short while later. Chavez’s statement, and the meeting that followed, were widely interpreted in Latin America as a signal from Chavez his mentor, Fidel, that he understood that Venezuela was developing a reputation as a hostile place for Jews.

And he relates an e-mail saying how thrilled Argentine Jews were to have the meeting.

There was such a meeting. The group presented Chavez with a dossier on anti-Jewish incidents, which Chavez “promised to read,” but it’s absurd to consider this anything more than a PR stunt. Does Goldberg really imagine his dolphin encounter has spurred Chavez to retreat from his state-sponsored anti-Semitism and voracious anti-Israel foreign policy? Read More

Jeffrey Goldberg, fresh from flacking for Fidel Castro, moves on to Castro’s sidekick Hugo Chavez:

One day after I posted Fidel Castro’s condemnation of anti-Semitism on this blog, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, announced that he too, felt great “love and respect” for Jews, and he invited the leaders of his country’s put-upon Jewish community to meet with him. The meeting took place a short while later. Chavez’s statement, and the meeting that followed, were widely interpreted in Latin America as a signal from Chavez his mentor, Fidel, that he understood that Venezuela was developing a reputation as a hostile place for Jews.

And he relates an e-mail saying how thrilled Argentine Jews were to have the meeting.

There was such a meeting. The group presented Chavez with a dossier on anti-Jewish incidents, which Chavez “promised to read,” but it’s absurd to consider this anything more than a PR stunt. Does Goldberg really imagine his dolphin encounter has spurred Chavez to retreat from his state-sponsored anti-Semitism and voracious anti-Israel foreign policy?

This June report explains:

In the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla affair, President Chavez cursed Israel as a “terrorist state” and an enemy of the Venezuelan revolution and claimed Israel’s Mossad spy agency was trying to assassinate him.

“Extreme criticism and the de-legitimization of Israel continue to be used by the government of Venezuela as a political tool,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.  “The atmosphere of extreme anti-Israel criticism and an unsettling focus on the Venezuelan Jewish community’s attitudes creates an environment for anti-Semitism to grow and flourish.  So far this hasn’t translated into attacks against individual Jews or Jewish institutions.  However, we cannot forget that the Jewish community in Venezuela has already witnessed violent anti-Semitic incidents in the past few years.”

In a new online report, the League documents recent anti-Semitic expressions in Venezuela in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla incident, including those of government and political leaders, conspiracy theories and accusations in the government-run media, and statements on various anti-Israel websites.

In a June 12 interview with the government-owned national television network, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro . . suggested that should a terrorist attack be carried out on Venezuelan soil, a likely culprit would be the “intelligence assassin apparatus of the State of Israel,” the Mossad.

Vilification of Zionism is particularly present in the government-run media and the so-called “alternative” media run by government sympathizers who are intricately intertwined with the government apparatus, according to the ADL.  Media and political leaders seem to take their cues from Chavez, who has in the past few years made his feelings about Israel all-too clear.

Moreover, Chavez’s overeager Atlantic scribe overlooks an inconvenient truth: Chavez has made common cause with Ahmadinejad. As the Washington Post explained last year:

Mr. Chávez was in Tehran again this week and offered his full support for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line faction. As usual, the caudillo made clear that he shares Iran’s view of Israel, which he called “a genocidal state.” He endorsed Iran’s nuclear program and declared that Venezuela would seek Iran’s assistance to construct a nuclear complex of its own. He also announced that his government would begin supplying Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day — a deal that could directly undercut a possible U.S. effort to curtail Iran’s gasoline imports.

Such collaboration is far from new for Venezuela and Iran. In the past several years Iran has opened banks in Caracas and factories in the South American countryside. Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau . . . says he believes Iran is using the Venezuelan banking system to evade U.S. and U.N. sanctions. He also points out that Iranian factories have been located “in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela” that lack infrastructure but that could be “ideal . . . for the illicit production of weapons.”

Moreover, Benny Avni writes in the New York Sun that Chavez’s mentor — notwithstanding the lovely visit with Goldberg — is behaving as he always does:

On the eve of hearings that had been set to open in the United States Congress on whether to ease the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, Havana’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, has been taking a hard, even strident line here at the United Nations, very much at odds with the way Fidel Castro is trying to portray Cuba in the American press these days.

It has prompted old hands here at the United Nations to quote another, albeit different kind of, Marxist —  Groucho, who famously asked: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? . . .

Mr. Parrilla, however, was, in his address at the annual General Assembly debate, as rigid as ever, blaming America’s aggression for all the isle’s troubles, saying Israel is behind all that’s wrong in the Middle East, and expressing solidarity with Venezuela’s caudillo, Hugo Chavez.

Avni chastises Goldberg for stunning naivete and relaying Cuba’s business-as-usual rhetoric:

And no, for Cuba the holocaust-denying Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not the aggressor. “As Comrade Fidel has pointed out, powerful and influential forces in the United States and Israel are paving the way to launch a military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr. Parrilla warned, adding that the General Assembly must stop such a plot to commit a “crime against the Iranian people” and such “an assault against international law” in order to prevent a nuclear war.

Mr. Parrilla’s entire speech was an old-style Cuban assault on America and Israel, harking back to the glorious days of the Cold War when the Castros drew as much attention at international fora like the U.N. as is now reserved for Mr. Ahmadinejad or Mr. Chavez.

It’s bad enough that Goldberg was taken in by Soros Street (many liberals were), but he really should stay away from Latin American dictators.

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Another Questionable Appointee, Another Recess Appointment

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

Read Less

New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

Read Less

Christopher Hitchens, Jon Stewart, and More

In his moving article in Vanity Fair about his cancer, Christopher Hitchens disclosed that just before he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he violently threw up — the result of the illness he had learned about that morning, when he woke unable to breathe, was barely able to cross his hotel room to call for help, and was saved by emergency treatment by doctors who did “quite a lot” of work on his heart and lungs and told him he needed to consult an oncologist immediately.

That evening he nevertheless appeared as scheduled on Stewart’s show (and then at the 92nd Street Y, where he threw up again), unwilling to disappoint his friends or miss the chance to sell his memoir. In the article, he did not describe what he said on The Daily Show, but his appearance there is worth remembering for reasons going beyond his extraordinary fortitude in proceeding with it.

The video is here. At the end, after discussing his work in a camp for revolutionaries in Cuba in the 60s, there was this colloquy:

Stewart: If you had been young today, going through this same sort of [unintelligible], where do you think your alliances would be, where do you think you would have—

Hitchens: Well, I teach at the New School, and I teach English and a lot of journalists and would-be journalists come, and I often hang out with young people who are journalists, and I’m sorry for them, in a way. Because what are they gonna do – I mean, are they going to say ‘I’m a global warming activist’? It’s not quite the same, is it?

Stewart: Isn’t it all the same once you realize that your idealism — you can use it to further your aims, [if] you realize that nothing is nirvana, nothing is perfect?

Hitchens: Oscar Wilde used to say that a map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia isn’t worth looking at. I used to think that was a beautiful statement. I don’t think that at all anymore. I tell you, to be honest, the most idealistic and brave and committed and intelligent young people that I know have joined the armed forces. And they are now guarding us while we sleep in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. … I never would have expected that would be what I would say about the students I have to teach.

Stewart’s audience, which is often raucous, listened to this in silence.

Hitchens writes in Hitch-22 that these days he thinks about “the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest [for Utopia] has led” and that he came to realize that “the only historical revolution with any verve left in it, or any example to offer others, was the American one.” His appearance on the Daily Show was an example not only of his physical courage but also of the intellectual audacity that pervades his book.

In his moving article in Vanity Fair about his cancer, Christopher Hitchens disclosed that just before he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he violently threw up — the result of the illness he had learned about that morning, when he woke unable to breathe, was barely able to cross his hotel room to call for help, and was saved by emergency treatment by doctors who did “quite a lot” of work on his heart and lungs and told him he needed to consult an oncologist immediately.

That evening he nevertheless appeared as scheduled on Stewart’s show (and then at the 92nd Street Y, where he threw up again), unwilling to disappoint his friends or miss the chance to sell his memoir. In the article, he did not describe what he said on The Daily Show, but his appearance there is worth remembering for reasons going beyond his extraordinary fortitude in proceeding with it.

The video is here. At the end, after discussing his work in a camp for revolutionaries in Cuba in the 60s, there was this colloquy:

Stewart: If you had been young today, going through this same sort of [unintelligible], where do you think your alliances would be, where do you think you would have—

Hitchens: Well, I teach at the New School, and I teach English and a lot of journalists and would-be journalists come, and I often hang out with young people who are journalists, and I’m sorry for them, in a way. Because what are they gonna do – I mean, are they going to say ‘I’m a global warming activist’? It’s not quite the same, is it?

Stewart: Isn’t it all the same once you realize that your idealism — you can use it to further your aims, [if] you realize that nothing is nirvana, nothing is perfect?

Hitchens: Oscar Wilde used to say that a map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia isn’t worth looking at. I used to think that was a beautiful statement. I don’t think that at all anymore. I tell you, to be honest, the most idealistic and brave and committed and intelligent young people that I know have joined the armed forces. And they are now guarding us while we sleep in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. … I never would have expected that would be what I would say about the students I have to teach.

Stewart’s audience, which is often raucous, listened to this in silence.

Hitchens writes in Hitch-22 that these days he thinks about “the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest [for Utopia] has led” and that he came to realize that “the only historical revolution with any verve left in it, or any example to offer others, was the American one.” His appearance on the Daily Show was an example not only of his physical courage but also of the intellectual audacity that pervades his book.

Read Less




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