Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lebanon

Uprising Goes Straight for the Canal

Navies and merchant fleets the world over are watching the riots in Egypt with concern. Friday’s news that protesters have attacked the main police station in the city of Suez is a grim development: it transforms the threat to the Suez Canal from a distant consideration to an immediate possibility. The port city of Suez overlooks the southern entrance to the canal; it hosts — along with Port Said, at the northern entrance on the Mediterranean side — Egypt’s security, administrative, and maritime-service forces. Ships queue up daily outside Port Suez to await the north-bound convoy through the canal, which leaves as soon as the south-bound convoy has finished its transit. Egypt provides security along the canal’s 120-mile length, a swath of desert abutting the 200-foot waterway on either side. Veterans of Suez transits know that nothing but armed vigilance will hinder enterprising terrorists or insurgents operating from the banks.

There can be no doubt that the uprising in Egypt, like the one in Tunisia, is fueled by popular sentiment. Ordinary Egyptians have many reasons to want to change their government. But reporting about the riots, in Suez and elsewhere, contains indications that the popular protests are being exploited by more organized groups. The police station in Suez was not stormed by a wave of bodies: it was firebombed by “protesters” wearing surgical masks. In a rural area of the northern Sinai, “protesters” fired RPGs at a police station from nearby rooftops, while several hundred Bedouins exchanged small-arms fire with police.

These are the not the typical actions of frustrated citizens. Mass protests, flag-waving, chanting, impromptu speeches, perhaps the burning of tires and garbage, as in Lebanon this week: these are the things angry citizens do, and the Egyptians have been doing them. But both Hamas and Hezbollah have recent histories of operating in the Sinai; the organized attacks on police are characteristic of their methods and weaponry. Egypt has been gravely concerned about the influence of their principal backer, Iran, for several years — and the organized attack on the main police station in the port city of Suez, situated on one of the world’s major choke points, bears the hallmark of Iranian strategic thinking.

As with Tunisia, the unrest in Egypt is erupting for good reasons and appears spontaneous. But self-appointed revolutionaries have long honed the art of exploiting popular unrest. We can expect Egypt to be beset by organized cells — some undoubtedly backed by Iran — in the coming days. The security of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean is at risk. No outcome is predestined, but this uprising is attended by the same kinds of predators who have sought their fortunes in the uprisings of desperate peoples since 1789.

We are taking a detour back into history, if by a new route — and the same thing is true that has been true since the end of World War II: no nation other than the United States is capable of addressing this emerging problem with an equal concern for freedom and security. Other nations will have to form coalitions to take it on, if Obama’s America sits on the sidelines. We won’t like the outcome if it is handled that way.

Navies and merchant fleets the world over are watching the riots in Egypt with concern. Friday’s news that protesters have attacked the main police station in the city of Suez is a grim development: it transforms the threat to the Suez Canal from a distant consideration to an immediate possibility. The port city of Suez overlooks the southern entrance to the canal; it hosts — along with Port Said, at the northern entrance on the Mediterranean side — Egypt’s security, administrative, and maritime-service forces. Ships queue up daily outside Port Suez to await the north-bound convoy through the canal, which leaves as soon as the south-bound convoy has finished its transit. Egypt provides security along the canal’s 120-mile length, a swath of desert abutting the 200-foot waterway on either side. Veterans of Suez transits know that nothing but armed vigilance will hinder enterprising terrorists or insurgents operating from the banks.

There can be no doubt that the uprising in Egypt, like the one in Tunisia, is fueled by popular sentiment. Ordinary Egyptians have many reasons to want to change their government. But reporting about the riots, in Suez and elsewhere, contains indications that the popular protests are being exploited by more organized groups. The police station in Suez was not stormed by a wave of bodies: it was firebombed by “protesters” wearing surgical masks. In a rural area of the northern Sinai, “protesters” fired RPGs at a police station from nearby rooftops, while several hundred Bedouins exchanged small-arms fire with police.

These are the not the typical actions of frustrated citizens. Mass protests, flag-waving, chanting, impromptu speeches, perhaps the burning of tires and garbage, as in Lebanon this week: these are the things angry citizens do, and the Egyptians have been doing them. But both Hamas and Hezbollah have recent histories of operating in the Sinai; the organized attacks on police are characteristic of their methods and weaponry. Egypt has been gravely concerned about the influence of their principal backer, Iran, for several years — and the organized attack on the main police station in the port city of Suez, situated on one of the world’s major choke points, bears the hallmark of Iranian strategic thinking.

As with Tunisia, the unrest in Egypt is erupting for good reasons and appears spontaneous. But self-appointed revolutionaries have long honed the art of exploiting popular unrest. We can expect Egypt to be beset by organized cells — some undoubtedly backed by Iran — in the coming days. The security of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean is at risk. No outcome is predestined, but this uprising is attended by the same kinds of predators who have sought their fortunes in the uprisings of desperate peoples since 1789.

We are taking a detour back into history, if by a new route — and the same thing is true that has been true since the end of World War II: no nation other than the United States is capable of addressing this emerging problem with an equal concern for freedom and security. Other nations will have to form coalitions to take it on, if Obama’s America sits on the sidelines. We won’t like the outcome if it is handled that way.

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Why Did Peace Talks Fail? Abbas Wouldn’t Take the Pen and Sign

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status. Read More

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status.

These concessions represented grave setbacks to Israeli security and Jewish rights. Israel’s past experience with international security forces along its borders are mixed, though the horrible record of United Nations forces in Lebanon — which allowed terrorists free access to the frontier — is a reminder of the cost of relying on foreign troops to guarantee Israeli security. Similarly, it should be noted that the only period during which Jews — and members of other faiths — have had full access to sacred spots has been since 1967. Prior to that, Jewish access to the holy places was virtually nonexistent. Olmert’s reliance on the goodwill of an international community that has never been particularly concerned with Jewish rights was extraordinary. And as for the refugees, his willingness to allow some back into Israel and to compensate the others completely ignores the fact that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced out of their homes after 1948 seem to have been completely forgotten in his pact with Abbas.

Olmert would have had a difficult time selling such a terrible deal to Israelis, but the odds are they would have accepted it if it meant that the Palestinians were truly willing to end the conflict. But it never came to that. Why? It was simply because Abbas couldn’t bring himself to take yes for an answer. For all the chatter about how many concessions the Palestinians were willing to make, when it came to actually making peace and taking the best deal possible, Abbas was no different from his old boss Yasir Arafat, who turned down Bill Clinton and the Israelis at Camp David in 2000.

As Olmert tells it, on Sept. 16, 2008, in a meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli handed Abbas a map showing his Palestinian state including parts of Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] said that he could not decide and that he needed time,” Mr. Olmert writes. “I told him that he was making an historic mistake.

“ ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is fairer or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving this.’”

Abbas and Olmert never met again. Faced with an opportunity to end the conflict and create the Palestinian state that has supposedly been his movement’s goal, Abbas couldn’t take the pen and sign because he knew that the culture of Palestinian politics was such that he could not persuade his people to compromise. The essence of Palestinian nationalism has always been and remains the negation of both Zionism and the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Concede that and there is no Palestinian nationalism. So once again, the Palestinians walked away from peace.

Yesterday Abbas’s top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claimed in an article in the Guardian that the Al Jazeera documents show that the Palestinians had no partner for peace. We will continue to hear more big lies from the Palestinians and their Western cheerleaders in the future. But the truth is, as Abbas’s refusal to take the pen proves, even the most moderate Palestinian leaders still can’t make peace.

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Who Is Najib Miqati?

So Hezbollah did it. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been replaced with Najib Miqati, a man billed as a “compromise” leader who is time zones away from being a Hezbollah member but who nevertheless agrees with Hezbollah on the few things — which ultimately add up to everything — that matter most.

Miqati says he’s an independent centrist who disagrees with Hezbollah as much as he disagrees with everyone else in Lebanon. I believe him, actually, so long as he’s referring to the number of things he disagrees with Hezbollah about. He’s a Sunni and therefore obviously not a cheerleader for the parochial Shia sectarian interests that Hezbollah champions. There’s no chance he endorses the Iranian government’s reigning ideology of Velayat-e faqih, the totalitarian theocratic system Hezbollah would love to impose on Lebanon if it had the strength — which it doesn’t. Miqati is a billionaire businessman and does not even remotely share Hezbollah’s cartoonish paranoia about global capitalism and how it’s supposedly a nefarious Jewish-American plot.

What Miqati will do, however, is safeguard “the resistance,” as he has promised — meaning he won’t ask Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the authorities — which is one of only two things Hezbollah requires of him. The second is repudiate the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Everyone now expects the tribunal to indict Hezbollah for the assassination of the Sunni former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an event that may severely damage Hezbollah’s standing in the majority-Sunni Arab world even if it does have a prominent Sunni willing to provide some cover.

Hezbollah also needs, and will get, the same from Lebanon’s Christian president Michel Suleiman. Anything else these two leaders do in their official capacities is irrelevant from Hezbollah’s perspective.

Lebanon won’t likely ever resemble Gaza, which is under the complete control of an Islamist terrorist army. Hamas rules that beleaguered territory as the virtual Taliban of the eastern Mediterranean, but the Lebanese will blow their country to hell and gone all over again before submitting to something like that. Hezbollah knows it, as do the Syrians and the Iranians. They also know, or at least think they know, that they can bully the rest of the country into surrendering on the two most crucial items on its agenda, the ones that give Hezbollah the latitude to do whatever it wants in the Shia-majority areas that it does control directly.

We’re about to find out if that’s actually true. We’ll also most likely find out how true it remains if Israel takes the gloves off the next time there’s war.

So Hezbollah did it. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been replaced with Najib Miqati, a man billed as a “compromise” leader who is time zones away from being a Hezbollah member but who nevertheless agrees with Hezbollah on the few things — which ultimately add up to everything — that matter most.

Miqati says he’s an independent centrist who disagrees with Hezbollah as much as he disagrees with everyone else in Lebanon. I believe him, actually, so long as he’s referring to the number of things he disagrees with Hezbollah about. He’s a Sunni and therefore obviously not a cheerleader for the parochial Shia sectarian interests that Hezbollah champions. There’s no chance he endorses the Iranian government’s reigning ideology of Velayat-e faqih, the totalitarian theocratic system Hezbollah would love to impose on Lebanon if it had the strength — which it doesn’t. Miqati is a billionaire businessman and does not even remotely share Hezbollah’s cartoonish paranoia about global capitalism and how it’s supposedly a nefarious Jewish-American plot.

What Miqati will do, however, is safeguard “the resistance,” as he has promised — meaning he won’t ask Hezbollah to hand over its weapons to the authorities — which is one of only two things Hezbollah requires of him. The second is repudiate the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Everyone now expects the tribunal to indict Hezbollah for the assassination of the Sunni former prime minister Rafik Hariri, an event that may severely damage Hezbollah’s standing in the majority-Sunni Arab world even if it does have a prominent Sunni willing to provide some cover.

Hezbollah also needs, and will get, the same from Lebanon’s Christian president Michel Suleiman. Anything else these two leaders do in their official capacities is irrelevant from Hezbollah’s perspective.

Lebanon won’t likely ever resemble Gaza, which is under the complete control of an Islamist terrorist army. Hamas rules that beleaguered territory as the virtual Taliban of the eastern Mediterranean, but the Lebanese will blow their country to hell and gone all over again before submitting to something like that. Hezbollah knows it, as do the Syrians and the Iranians. They also know, or at least think they know, that they can bully the rest of the country into surrendering on the two most crucial items on its agenda, the ones that give Hezbollah the latitude to do whatever it wants in the Shia-majority areas that it does control directly.

We’re about to find out if that’s actually true. We’ll also most likely find out how true it remains if Israel takes the gloves off the next time there’s war.

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Irrelevance Is a Choice

The Obama administration is making policy with its effective silence on the events in Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt. As Rick and Max both pointed out, Obama last night said nothing that mattered about these portentous developments. Hillary Clinton’s State Department has been notable only for its meaningless bromides. Clinton herself crowned a week of ineffectual gestures by expressing the “hope” today “that it will be the people of Lebanon themselves, not outside forces, that will sustain the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.”

We’ve been watching the Hezbollah train wreck unfold for nearly two weeks now, and the U.S. government is doing nothing. It doesn’t even matter if there are minor things being done in secret somewhere: the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are the kinds of events that cry out for public statements of U.S. policy, interests, and intention. The most important thing our president can do is frame the issues of freedom, consensual government, and national self-determination as strategic interests of the United States and the community of nations.

These are not abstractions we are dealing with. It’s not as if the locations in question are distant from global tradeways. They are hardly irrelevant to the security of our allies or the worldwide threat of Islamist terrorism. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the aspirants to regional leadership with the potential of countering Iran’s influence, have stepped back from Lebanon to regroup. Their prospects have, until now, always depended on a reliably dominant and interested posture from the United States — but that condition is absent today. Their abandonment of the unity-government process in Lebanon is an even more significant development than Hezbollah’s outmaneuvering of France and the last-minute, Sarkozy-sponsored “contact group.”

I’m not sure the Obama administration understands what many in the blogosphere have already seen: that a geopolitical transformation is underway — one more fundamental than any we have seen since 1945. There was always a likelihood that modern Arab peoples would rise up against their despotic leaders. And we have known for years what Hezbollah was up to in Lebanon. But it was not and is not inevitable that their dramas would play out without intervention from or reference to the United States. That aspect of the events is our president’s choice.

“Smart power” — diplomacy, rhetoric, engagement, aid, the forming of coalitions, the leveraging of the UN, the dispatching of singular individuals as envoys and inspirational leaders — these measures are exactly what is called for in the current circumstances. U.S. leadership in the Lebanese crisis — which would have benefited from common goals with France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — could have signaled Hezbollah that the time was not ripe for a summary action. A similar principle applies to Tunisia and Egypt; engagement and the guarding of our interests could be quite effective without having a military character.

But instead of smart power, there is simply a void. The nature of democratic leadership is to act visibly, openly, and persuasively; if there are no visible actions being taken, there is no leadership. The cost of this feckless inaction will be very high, but there has been nothing dictating our posture of disengagement. Each step of the way, it has been a choice.

The Obama administration is making policy with its effective silence on the events in Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt. As Rick and Max both pointed out, Obama last night said nothing that mattered about these portentous developments. Hillary Clinton’s State Department has been notable only for its meaningless bromides. Clinton herself crowned a week of ineffectual gestures by expressing the “hope” today “that it will be the people of Lebanon themselves, not outside forces, that will sustain the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.”

We’ve been watching the Hezbollah train wreck unfold for nearly two weeks now, and the U.S. government is doing nothing. It doesn’t even matter if there are minor things being done in secret somewhere: the Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are the kinds of events that cry out for public statements of U.S. policy, interests, and intention. The most important thing our president can do is frame the issues of freedom, consensual government, and national self-determination as strategic interests of the United States and the community of nations.

These are not abstractions we are dealing with. It’s not as if the locations in question are distant from global tradeways. They are hardly irrelevant to the security of our allies or the worldwide threat of Islamist terrorism. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the aspirants to regional leadership with the potential of countering Iran’s influence, have stepped back from Lebanon to regroup. Their prospects have, until now, always depended on a reliably dominant and interested posture from the United States — but that condition is absent today. Their abandonment of the unity-government process in Lebanon is an even more significant development than Hezbollah’s outmaneuvering of France and the last-minute, Sarkozy-sponsored “contact group.”

I’m not sure the Obama administration understands what many in the blogosphere have already seen: that a geopolitical transformation is underway — one more fundamental than any we have seen since 1945. There was always a likelihood that modern Arab peoples would rise up against their despotic leaders. And we have known for years what Hezbollah was up to in Lebanon. But it was not and is not inevitable that their dramas would play out without intervention from or reference to the United States. That aspect of the events is our president’s choice.

“Smart power” — diplomacy, rhetoric, engagement, aid, the forming of coalitions, the leveraging of the UN, the dispatching of singular individuals as envoys and inspirational leaders — these measures are exactly what is called for in the current circumstances. U.S. leadership in the Lebanese crisis — which would have benefited from common goals with France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia — could have signaled Hezbollah that the time was not ripe for a summary action. A similar principle applies to Tunisia and Egypt; engagement and the guarding of our interests could be quite effective without having a military character.

But instead of smart power, there is simply a void. The nature of democratic leadership is to act visibly, openly, and persuasively; if there are no visible actions being taken, there is no leadership. The cost of this feckless inaction will be very high, but there has been nothing dictating our posture of disengagement. Each step of the way, it has been a choice.

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Middle East Optimism Requires Blinders

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end. Read More

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end.

The chief of these is the power of Hamas. Optimists like Goldberg acknowledge the fact that Gaza is a Hamas state and that no peace can be signed without its agreement. Unacknowledged in the Goldberg-Ibish piece is the fact that Abbas’s hold on the West Bank rests not on his legitimacy or the strength of his forces but on Israel’s unwillingness to allow it to fall into the hands of Hamas, as happened in Gaza in 2006. After all, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 and was turned down flat. President Obama’s foolish insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze even in those areas (as the recently released Al Jazeera documents show) the PA had already agreed would stay in Israeli hands has made it impossible for those talks to be renewed. But even if Abbas were to return to the table, he would be faced with the same dilemma he had before. Were he to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, he would face the wrath of his own people (as the reaction from the released documents proves), and even Israel’s support might not be enough to keep him in power, or alive.

Goldberg and Ibish conclude their lengthy article by calling for both Netanyahu and Abbas to visit the other side and acknowledge their antagonists’ respective rights and pain much in the way that Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan once did. But they forget that the original Oslo Accords were just such an acknowledgment, and that while Israelis swooned over such gestures (even though Yasir Arafat’s credibility was very much doubtful), Palestinians merely took Israel’s willingness to make concessions as a sign of weakness and lack of faith in the rightness of their cause. Moreover, Abbas doesn’t dare do more. In a region where both Israel and the PA are faced with the growing influence of Iran and its allies Hezbollah (which is moving toward control of Lebanon) and Hamas, the tide of extremism is more than a match for Fayyad’s pragmatism. Under such circumstances, optimism about peace requires the sort of tunnel vision that comes only with blind faith.

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The Peepless SOTU Address

Judith Levy at Ricochet is surprised Obama said not a peep about the peace process (“I could have sworn it was a fairly high priority for the administration”). She understands the lack of a peep about Egypt (“Hey, it’s fresh; it’s complicated. Cut the guy some slack.”). But she is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot incredulous about the peepless issue of Lebanon:

How do you not mention Lebanon after what happened this week? A US-friendly prime minister — a guy you just hosted in the Oval Office two weeks ago, Mr. President; remember him? — was overthrown by an Iran- and Syria-backed terrorist organization that assassinated his pro-Western father and has handpicked his successor. Hello?

In last year’s SOTU address, Obama extolled America’s “engagement” around the world:

As we have for over 60 years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores.  But we also do it because it is right. … That’s why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; why we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; why we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity. (Applause.) Always. (Applause.)

Last night, the only peeps on this subject were his praise for the vote in south Sudan and “that same desire to be free in Tunisia.” At least Tunisia got the coveted let-me-be-clear moment, in a sentence that perhaps technically also covered Egypt and Lebanon:

And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. (Applause.)

Judith Levy at Ricochet is surprised Obama said not a peep about the peace process (“I could have sworn it was a fairly high priority for the administration”). She understands the lack of a peep about Egypt (“Hey, it’s fresh; it’s complicated. Cut the guy some slack.”). But she is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot incredulous about the peepless issue of Lebanon:

How do you not mention Lebanon after what happened this week? A US-friendly prime minister — a guy you just hosted in the Oval Office two weeks ago, Mr. President; remember him? — was overthrown by an Iran- and Syria-backed terrorist organization that assassinated his pro-Western father and has handpicked his successor. Hello?

In last year’s SOTU address, Obama extolled America’s “engagement” around the world:

As we have for over 60 years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores.  But we also do it because it is right. … That’s why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; why we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; why we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity. (Applause.) Always. (Applause.)

Last night, the only peeps on this subject were his praise for the vote in south Sudan and “that same desire to be free in Tunisia.” At least Tunisia got the coveted let-me-be-clear moment, in a sentence that perhaps technically also covered Egypt and Lebanon:

And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. (Applause.)

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Obama’s Moment to Redefine the Modern Middle East

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution. Read More

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution.

Unfortunately, instead of someone like Bush, who had served as an ambassador, CIA director, and vice president, we have in the Oval Office a president with no foreign-policy credentials. This president seems to think that the entire region revolves around the moribund Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Already Obama missed a crucial opportunity in the summer of 2009 to encourage the Green Revolution in Iran. Let us hope that will be a learning experience. This time around, we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

For all his lack of experience, Obama is no newcomer to the job. He is a fast learner, and he has a gift for rhetoric the likes of which always eluded George H.W. Bush. This may very well be his moment: the moment for redefining the modern Middle East. He should seize it — if he’s not too distracted with the domestic priorities that as usual dominated the State of the Union.

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A Consequential Event, a Tectonic Shift, a Silent President

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

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Lebanon: An Inflection Point for the Status Quo

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. Read More

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

But the days when the Western navies had plenty of carriers to move around from crisis to crisis are behind us. Two carriers may be in the Mediterranean shortly, but not because they were urgently dispatched. Abraham Lincoln is tethered to our requirements in Southwest Asia; USS Enterprise, on the way to relieve Lincoln on-station, is transiting through the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, has been scheduled since her deployment in October to return home in February.

NATO’s non-U.S. carrier force is razor thin. Charles de Gaulle’s departure from France last fall was marred by a breakdown that delayed this very rare deployment by several weeks. Britain, once a reliable dispatcher of aircraft carriers, is in worse shape: just this weekend, the Royal Navy sent its last fighter-jet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, to be decommissioned. Britain won’t have a carrier that can deploy fighter jets again until 2020. In this capability, Italy now outstrips Britain: the Italians have two carriers that can each transport eight Harrier jump-jets. Spain has one.

For the U.S., as for France, putting a carrier off Lebanon entails rigorously prioritizing crises: either leaving some unattended or accepting schedule gaps down the road. With enough effort, the U.S. and France could still seek to affect the outcome in Lebanon with an offshore show of force. But the regional expectation implied by the Arab press rumor — the sense that Western navies can easily bring overwhelming force to a crisis — is outdated today.

Margin and latitude in our force options are casualties of the extended post–Cold War drawdown. At a juncture evocative of previous dilemmas for U.S. presidents, Obama would do better to take his cue from Harry Truman in the late 1940s than from Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. One way or another, this crisis in Lebanon will have a disproportionate impact on the future.

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The Fall of Beirut

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

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Lebanon: Too Quiet?

As the situation goes from bad to worse in Lebanon, there are odd little signs. Chief among them are the comments made by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal when he quit the Saudis’ mediation effort in Beirut on Wednesday. Saying the situation was dangerous, he told Al-Arabiya: “If the situation reaches full separation and (regional) partition, this means the end of Lebanon as a state that has this model of peaceful cohabitation between religions and ethnicities.”

These words have meaning. It’s arresting enough that the Saudis have pulled out; they have been particularly assiduous about diplomacy in Lebanon, overlaying repeated bromides about unity and cohabitation on their campaign to retain Sunni Arab influence there. Pulling out of the mediation effort with bridge-burning rhetoric is uncharacteristic of the Saudis to an even greater degree. Meanwhile, envoys from Turkey and Qatar also suspended their mediation efforts on Thursday, announcing that they needed to consult with their governments. All things being equal, these pullouts don’t make sense. The parties in question have a history of intensive prior engagement in Lebanon, particularly in the 2006 and 2008 crises. Nothing suggests they are suddenly content to leave Lebanon’s fate to Syria and Hezbollah.

But all things may not be equal. It’s quite possible that the regional nations are not losing their interest in Lebanon: they are losing their interest in the mediation process with the unity government. The Turks and the Sunni Arabs may not agree on all their strategic objectives, but they can see what is obvious: that the unity government of Lebanon has become, in key ways, a convenience for Hezbollah and Iran. Its perpetual weakness gives Hezbollah latitude, while at the same time making the commitment of other governments to it a net disadvantage for their long-term goals.

Nothing in Lebanon changes quickly. There is a prospect for a new unity government, with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt joining Hezbollah in backing perennial prime-minister-of-convenience Omar Karami. Karami’s stints as a figurehead have lasted only a few months each time, but the fiction of business as usual in Lebanon could persist for a while; it may even involve some passing interest in Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal for a multi-party contact group.

The words of Saud al-Faisal, however, are the most striking feature of the current crisis. Set next to the news that the chief of the Lebanese armed forces has been in Syria this week, consulting directly with Bashar al-Assad on military cooperation, they have an ominous ring. Any alternative to the status quo in Lebanon will involve foreign arms taking on Hezbollah. With regional nations abandoning the mediation effort, and the Saudi statement implying that something other than the unity-government construct is in prospect, the commitment to the status quo is looking weak.

The U.S. government might still play a decisive role, but the conditions are not propitious. The timing of Ambassador Robert Ford’s arrival in Syria — this week — makes it more likely that the U.S. will simply be seen as endorsing a Syrian-backed deal to install Omar Karami as prime minister. That move — a convenience to buy time — would merely put the status quo on life support. With no U.S. plan to prevent Hezbollah and Iran from exploiting the status quo in Lebanon, the other nations of the region are planning for a future beyond it.

As the situation goes from bad to worse in Lebanon, there are odd little signs. Chief among them are the comments made by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal when he quit the Saudis’ mediation effort in Beirut on Wednesday. Saying the situation was dangerous, he told Al-Arabiya: “If the situation reaches full separation and (regional) partition, this means the end of Lebanon as a state that has this model of peaceful cohabitation between religions and ethnicities.”

These words have meaning. It’s arresting enough that the Saudis have pulled out; they have been particularly assiduous about diplomacy in Lebanon, overlaying repeated bromides about unity and cohabitation on their campaign to retain Sunni Arab influence there. Pulling out of the mediation effort with bridge-burning rhetoric is uncharacteristic of the Saudis to an even greater degree. Meanwhile, envoys from Turkey and Qatar also suspended their mediation efforts on Thursday, announcing that they needed to consult with their governments. All things being equal, these pullouts don’t make sense. The parties in question have a history of intensive prior engagement in Lebanon, particularly in the 2006 and 2008 crises. Nothing suggests they are suddenly content to leave Lebanon’s fate to Syria and Hezbollah.

But all things may not be equal. It’s quite possible that the regional nations are not losing their interest in Lebanon: they are losing their interest in the mediation process with the unity government. The Turks and the Sunni Arabs may not agree on all their strategic objectives, but they can see what is obvious: that the unity government of Lebanon has become, in key ways, a convenience for Hezbollah and Iran. Its perpetual weakness gives Hezbollah latitude, while at the same time making the commitment of other governments to it a net disadvantage for their long-term goals.

Nothing in Lebanon changes quickly. There is a prospect for a new unity government, with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt joining Hezbollah in backing perennial prime-minister-of-convenience Omar Karami. Karami’s stints as a figurehead have lasted only a few months each time, but the fiction of business as usual in Lebanon could persist for a while; it may even involve some passing interest in Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal for a multi-party contact group.

The words of Saud al-Faisal, however, are the most striking feature of the current crisis. Set next to the news that the chief of the Lebanese armed forces has been in Syria this week, consulting directly with Bashar al-Assad on military cooperation, they have an ominous ring. Any alternative to the status quo in Lebanon will involve foreign arms taking on Hezbollah. With regional nations abandoning the mediation effort, and the Saudi statement implying that something other than the unity-government construct is in prospect, the commitment to the status quo is looking weak.

The U.S. government might still play a decisive role, but the conditions are not propitious. The timing of Ambassador Robert Ford’s arrival in Syria — this week — makes it more likely that the U.S. will simply be seen as endorsing a Syrian-backed deal to install Omar Karami as prime minister. That move — a convenience to buy time — would merely put the status quo on life support. With no U.S. plan to prevent Hezbollah and Iran from exploiting the status quo in Lebanon, the other nations of the region are planning for a future beyond it.

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Israel: 1991-2011

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Read More

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

The Habima Theater, for example, will have four underground floors, with entrances on each side. Jerusalem should see the opening of the largest nuclear bunker across the country: 80 feet underground to accommodate 5,000 people. Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, is building “the largest underground hospital in the world.” And the state is continuing the distribution of gas masks. These first appeared in 1991, when Benjamin Netanyahu, then the Israeli deputy foreign minister, appeared on CNN with a mask. Today thousands of private Israeli homes have been equipped with nuclear-proof shelters ranging from air filters to water-decontamination systems.

Drills have become a routine all over the country. Hospitals and emergency facilities have to be ready in case of necessity, and the municipalities have evacuation protocols. A postcard of the Home Front Command, delivered to Israeli citizens, divide the country into six regions, from the Negev to the Golan. Each region has different times of reaction in case of attack. If you live along the Gaza Strip, you have 20 seconds to shelter. In Jerusalem, it’s three minutes. But if you live close to Lebanon or Syria, the color red means that, unless you are already in a bunker, you just have to wait for the rocket. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is building a labyrinth of underground tunnels and rooms where the Jewish leadership would guide the country in case of attacks.

Twenty years after the first Gulf War, Israel remains the only “bunkered” democracy in the world and is now even more relentlessly demonized and ghettoized. But if in 1991 Israel responded with understatement and quiet civil courage, it will probably react differently to Iran’s nuclearization. Because, as Joe McCain wrote few years ago, “the Jews will not go quietly again.”

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Incitement Kills — but Not Always Its Intended Target

The Israel Defense Forces has finally published the conclusion of its inquiry into the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, the woman allegedly killed by Israeli tear gas while protesting the security fence in the West Bank town of Bili’in last month. The official conclusion of the inquiry, based on Abu Rahmah’s hospital records, is medical error: a misdiagnosis leading to inappropriate treatment. But if that conclusion is correct, then what really killed Abu Rahmah is not mere error but the Palestinians’ own anti-Israel incitement.

The inquiry concluded that “doctors believed Abu Rahmah was sickened by phosphorous fertilizer and nerve gas. She was therefore treated with atropine and fluids, without Palestinian doctors realizing that she had in fact inhaled tear gas.”

Atropine is the standard treatment for poisonous gas. But it can be deadly if given in large doses to someone who hasn’t inhaled poison gas.

And this is where incitement comes in. Anyone who knows anything about Israel would know that the IDF doesn’t even use nerve gas against combatants armed with sophisticated weapons, much less against rock-throwing demonstrators.

But wild allegations of preposterous Israeli crimes are standard fare among Palestinians, and indeed throughout the Arab world. Israel has been accused of everything from poisoning Palestinian wells with depleted uranium to sending sharks to attack Egypt’s Red Sea resorts in order to undermine that country’s tourist industry. And one staple of this genre is the claim that Israel uses poison gas against Palestinians. Indeed, the claim was publicly made by no less a person than Yasir Arafat’s wife in a 1999 meeting with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton: Suha Arafat charged that “intensive daily use of poison gas by Israeli forces” was causing cancer among Palestinians.

Had it not been for the fact that such preposterous claims are so routinely reported as fact that they have become widely believed, Abu Rahmah’s doctors would never have entertained the possibility that her symptoms were caused by poison gas. They would instead have focused on plausible causes of her complaint, and thereby avoided the fatal misdiagnosis.

Palestinian incitement has cost Israel thousands of dead and wounded and contributed to the blackening of its image overseas. But the Abu Rahmah case underscores the fact that the ultimate victim of such lies is the society that perpetrates them. For when the distinction between truth and falsehood loses all meaning, a society becomes dysfunctional.

You can’t run a functioning legal system if rampant conspiracy theories mean key verdicts will be widely disbelieved, as may well be the case with the inquiry into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. You can’t run an army if you fall so captive to your own propaganda that you misread both your own and the enemy’s capabilities — a fact that contributed to the Arabs states’ disastrous loss to Israel in 1967. And it turns out you can’t save lives if you let propaganda warp your diagnoses.

The Israel Defense Forces has finally published the conclusion of its inquiry into the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, the woman allegedly killed by Israeli tear gas while protesting the security fence in the West Bank town of Bili’in last month. The official conclusion of the inquiry, based on Abu Rahmah’s hospital records, is medical error: a misdiagnosis leading to inappropriate treatment. But if that conclusion is correct, then what really killed Abu Rahmah is not mere error but the Palestinians’ own anti-Israel incitement.

The inquiry concluded that “doctors believed Abu Rahmah was sickened by phosphorous fertilizer and nerve gas. She was therefore treated with atropine and fluids, without Palestinian doctors realizing that she had in fact inhaled tear gas.”

Atropine is the standard treatment for poisonous gas. But it can be deadly if given in large doses to someone who hasn’t inhaled poison gas.

And this is where incitement comes in. Anyone who knows anything about Israel would know that the IDF doesn’t even use nerve gas against combatants armed with sophisticated weapons, much less against rock-throwing demonstrators.

But wild allegations of preposterous Israeli crimes are standard fare among Palestinians, and indeed throughout the Arab world. Israel has been accused of everything from poisoning Palestinian wells with depleted uranium to sending sharks to attack Egypt’s Red Sea resorts in order to undermine that country’s tourist industry. And one staple of this genre is the claim that Israel uses poison gas against Palestinians. Indeed, the claim was publicly made by no less a person than Yasir Arafat’s wife in a 1999 meeting with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton: Suha Arafat charged that “intensive daily use of poison gas by Israeli forces” was causing cancer among Palestinians.

Had it not been for the fact that such preposterous claims are so routinely reported as fact that they have become widely believed, Abu Rahmah’s doctors would never have entertained the possibility that her symptoms were caused by poison gas. They would instead have focused on plausible causes of her complaint, and thereby avoided the fatal misdiagnosis.

Palestinian incitement has cost Israel thousands of dead and wounded and contributed to the blackening of its image overseas. But the Abu Rahmah case underscores the fact that the ultimate victim of such lies is the society that perpetrates them. For when the distinction between truth and falsehood loses all meaning, a society becomes dysfunctional.

You can’t run a functioning legal system if rampant conspiracy theories mean key verdicts will be widely disbelieved, as may well be the case with the inquiry into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. You can’t run an army if you fall so captive to your own propaganda that you misread both your own and the enemy’s capabilities — a fact that contributed to the Arabs states’ disastrous loss to Israel in 1967. And it turns out you can’t save lives if you let propaganda warp your diagnoses.

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Would U.S. Veto of Anti-Israel Security Council Resolution Be ‘Hypocritical’?

Or at least that seems to be the new argument from the anti-Israel left. Some commentators have claimed that because the Obama administration has requested that Israel end settlement construction, the U.S. must therefore support a UN resolution condemning this construction. A draft of this resolution was introduced by Lebanon at the UN Security Council yesterday, but it hasn’t yet gone to a vote.

Over at UN Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg writes: “The resolution is clearly in line with the stated Obama administration position on the issue; deploying its traditional Israel-defending veto would be tantamount to undermining its own stated policy.”

At Time magazine, Tony Karon makes a similar argument, writing that the proposed resolution “creates an immediate headache for the Obama Administration, over whether to invoke the U.S. veto — as Washington has traditionally done on Council resolutions critical of Israel. The twist this time: the substance of the current resolution largely echoes the Administration’s own stated positions.”

But while the Obama administration might agree with the general gist of the resolution — that Israel should halt settlement construction — the wording of it is completely out of line with anything the U.S. would say to Israel.

The drafted document uses demonizing language, refers to the Jewish state as an “occupying Power,” and calls the settlements “illegal” — something the U.S. has stopped short of saying.

And as a neutral intermediary in the peace negotiations, it could also be seen as inappropriate for the U.S. to sign on to the resolution. The Obama administration has signaled that it will draft a separate statement on the settlements during a Quartet meeting in early February but said the issue can only be resolved through negotiations.

“We … consistently oppose attempts to bring these issues to this council, and we will continue to do so because such action moves us no closer to the goal of negotiated final settlement,” U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council on Wednesday, in a strongly worded opposition to the resolution.

So despite the best efforts of anti-Israel commentators to guilt the Obama administration out of vetoing the resolution, it seems much more likely that the U.S. will do just that.

Or at least that seems to be the new argument from the anti-Israel left. Some commentators have claimed that because the Obama administration has requested that Israel end settlement construction, the U.S. must therefore support a UN resolution condemning this construction. A draft of this resolution was introduced by Lebanon at the UN Security Council yesterday, but it hasn’t yet gone to a vote.

Over at UN Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg writes: “The resolution is clearly in line with the stated Obama administration position on the issue; deploying its traditional Israel-defending veto would be tantamount to undermining its own stated policy.”

At Time magazine, Tony Karon makes a similar argument, writing that the proposed resolution “creates an immediate headache for the Obama Administration, over whether to invoke the U.S. veto — as Washington has traditionally done on Council resolutions critical of Israel. The twist this time: the substance of the current resolution largely echoes the Administration’s own stated positions.”

But while the Obama administration might agree with the general gist of the resolution — that Israel should halt settlement construction — the wording of it is completely out of line with anything the U.S. would say to Israel.

The drafted document uses demonizing language, refers to the Jewish state as an “occupying Power,” and calls the settlements “illegal” — something the U.S. has stopped short of saying.

And as a neutral intermediary in the peace negotiations, it could also be seen as inappropriate for the U.S. to sign on to the resolution. The Obama administration has signaled that it will draft a separate statement on the settlements during a Quartet meeting in early February but said the issue can only be resolved through negotiations.

“We … consistently oppose attempts to bring these issues to this council, and we will continue to do so because such action moves us no closer to the goal of negotiated final settlement,” U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council on Wednesday, in a strongly worded opposition to the resolution.

So despite the best efforts of anti-Israel commentators to guilt the Obama administration out of vetoing the resolution, it seems much more likely that the U.S. will do just that.

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A ‘Historic Opportunity’ in Tunisia

The Washington Post has a typically excellent editorial on the situation in Tunisia. The Post, with deputy editorial-page editor Jackson Diehl in the lead, has long been a courageous voice in the wilderness championing the embattled cause of Arab democracy. Now the Post editors write that the Jasmine Revolution presents a “historic opportunity”:

Though the revolution has no clear leaders and organized opposition parties are weak, the country is in other respects ready for a democratic transition. Its population is relatively well educated and its middle class substantial, and its women are emancipated by regional standards; Islamic fundamentalist forces are not as strong as they are in Algeria or Egypt. The constitution calls for fresh presidential elections in 60 days, and the country’s interim president indicated that calendar would be respected. The United States can join with France and the European Union in supporting and even helping to organize truly fair elections and in pushing back against those in Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world, who will seek a quick restoration of autocracy.

Good advice.

The Obama administration came into office disdainful of President Bush’s pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Now some senior officials may be having a change of heart, as witnessed by Secretary of State Clinton’s recent speech taking Arab states to task for not doing more to reform themselves. We shouldn’t get our hopes up — an awful lot can still go wrong in Tunisia. Certainly in the past we have seen hopes of democracy in the region dashed (Lebanon) or delayed (Iraq). But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and Tunisia offers a great opportunity for the United States to show that it will stand with the Arab people, not just with their corrupt, unelected rulers.

The Washington Post has a typically excellent editorial on the situation in Tunisia. The Post, with deputy editorial-page editor Jackson Diehl in the lead, has long been a courageous voice in the wilderness championing the embattled cause of Arab democracy. Now the Post editors write that the Jasmine Revolution presents a “historic opportunity”:

Though the revolution has no clear leaders and organized opposition parties are weak, the country is in other respects ready for a democratic transition. Its population is relatively well educated and its middle class substantial, and its women are emancipated by regional standards; Islamic fundamentalist forces are not as strong as they are in Algeria or Egypt. The constitution calls for fresh presidential elections in 60 days, and the country’s interim president indicated that calendar would be respected. The United States can join with France and the European Union in supporting and even helping to organize truly fair elections and in pushing back against those in Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world, who will seek a quick restoration of autocracy.

Good advice.

The Obama administration came into office disdainful of President Bush’s pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Now some senior officials may be having a change of heart, as witnessed by Secretary of State Clinton’s recent speech taking Arab states to task for not doing more to reform themselves. We shouldn’t get our hopes up — an awful lot can still go wrong in Tunisia. Certainly in the past we have seen hopes of democracy in the region dashed (Lebanon) or delayed (Iraq). But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and Tunisia offers a great opportunity for the United States to show that it will stand with the Arab people, not just with their corrupt, unelected rulers.

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Morning Commentary

Lee Smith writes on the plight of Christians in Middle Eastern countries and notes that unless Christians are somehow able to establish representation in government and receive protection from Middle Eastern leaders (an unlikely possibility at this point), their existence will remain in jeopardy: “Both recent converts and ancient congregations—the Assyrians in Iraq, the Copts in Egypt, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, and more, long antedating Islam—are under fire. The land where Christianity began is being cleansed of Jesus’ followers. It is possible that we will soon see an event without precedent: the end of a living Christian witness in this region after more than 2,000 years.”

Is the Western response to the recent events in Tunisia evidence that the Freedom Agenda is back on the rise? At Pajamas Media, Richard Fernandez writes,After years of laughing at the idea that spreading democracy was America’s most useful foreign policy weapon and touting grand bargains with the worst regimes in world, even the New York Times sees in the departure of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali the startling idea that Arabs will not necessarily tolerate tyranny forever.”

Reince Priebus was a largely unknown name until the Wisconsin GOP chair defeated Michael Steele last Friday in the race for Republican National Committee chair. On the surface, Priebus appears to be about as different from Steele as you can get; he’s likely to be more of a fundraising-focused, behind-the-scenes leader than a TV personality. Politico has more on his background: “Anti-abortion leaders see him as unwavering on the life issue. He talks often about his faith. Support from famous fiscal conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan, who represents Priebus’s district, gives him credibility with that wing of the party.”

Ron Reagan Jr.’s controversial new book — which claims that his father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease while in office — has understandably ruffled the feathers of some conservatives. But now it looks like some of Ron’s evidence is falling apart under scrutiny.

Jesse Jackson Jr. clearly has no idea what “homegrown terrorism” means: “However, from the shooting of Lincoln to the events in Tucson, there is a thread that liberals and conservatives have ignored. Each event traumatized our government and disrupted its business — and was carried out by anti-government activists. And that’s terror.”

Lee Smith writes on the plight of Christians in Middle Eastern countries and notes that unless Christians are somehow able to establish representation in government and receive protection from Middle Eastern leaders (an unlikely possibility at this point), their existence will remain in jeopardy: “Both recent converts and ancient congregations—the Assyrians in Iraq, the Copts in Egypt, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, and more, long antedating Islam—are under fire. The land where Christianity began is being cleansed of Jesus’ followers. It is possible that we will soon see an event without precedent: the end of a living Christian witness in this region after more than 2,000 years.”

Is the Western response to the recent events in Tunisia evidence that the Freedom Agenda is back on the rise? At Pajamas Media, Richard Fernandez writes,After years of laughing at the idea that spreading democracy was America’s most useful foreign policy weapon and touting grand bargains with the worst regimes in world, even the New York Times sees in the departure of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali the startling idea that Arabs will not necessarily tolerate tyranny forever.”

Reince Priebus was a largely unknown name until the Wisconsin GOP chair defeated Michael Steele last Friday in the race for Republican National Committee chair. On the surface, Priebus appears to be about as different from Steele as you can get; he’s likely to be more of a fundraising-focused, behind-the-scenes leader than a TV personality. Politico has more on his background: “Anti-abortion leaders see him as unwavering on the life issue. He talks often about his faith. Support from famous fiscal conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan, who represents Priebus’s district, gives him credibility with that wing of the party.”

Ron Reagan Jr.’s controversial new book — which claims that his father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease while in office — has understandably ruffled the feathers of some conservatives. But now it looks like some of Ron’s evidence is falling apart under scrutiny.

Jesse Jackson Jr. clearly has no idea what “homegrown terrorism” means: “However, from the shooting of Lincoln to the events in Tucson, there is a thread that liberals and conservatives have ignored. Each event traumatized our government and disrupted its business — and was carried out by anti-government activists. And that’s terror.”

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Lebanese Must Do More to Help Themselves

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

So Hezbollah fears the United Nations tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. That is the obvious implication of its decision to withdraw its ministers from the Lebanese government in protest of what are said to be upcoming indictments that could link the Party of God to the murder of the most acclaimed  and successful political leader in Lebanon’s recent history. All the more reason for the U.S. and our allies to support the tribunal and the embattled prime minister of Lebanon, Rafki’s son, Saad Hariri, in their commitment to see justice done.

Not that Hariri has much of a choice. As my colleague Elliott Abrams notes on his terrific new blog: “If Hariri complies with Hizballah’s demands, he is in my view finished as a national and as a Sunni leader, having compromised his own, his family’s, and his country’s honor.” Actually, it’s not even clear that he could comply with Hezbollah’s demands, since he does not control the UN tribunal.

In any case, Lebanon is now in the midst of its umpteenth political crisis, and we have little choice but to hang tough even if there is little we can do to affect the outcome. Hezbollah is well-armed by Syria and Iran. It is undoubtedly the strongest military force in the entire country — stronger than the Lebanese armed forces. It could perhaps be defeated by a Sunni-Druze-Christian coalition with American-French-Israeli support, but the result would be to propel the country back into the throes of civil war — something no one wants.

But the desire to avert civil war can also work against Hezbollah because it constrains its ability to use force against its internal opponents. Its supporters were willing to go on a rampage in Beirut in 2008, but it is not clear how much further they will decide to go. Moreover, Hezbollah obviously feels vulnerable if it is so concerned about the rumored indictments from the UN. That can give leverage to the many Lebanese who do not want to be dominated indefinitely by this Iranian-backed terrorist organization. But to effectively resist Hezbollah will first of all require a united front from the opposition, something that has been hard to come by in Lebanon’s fractious politics, where Hezbollah has even succeeded in forging an unlikely alliance with the Christian general Michel Aoun. It is hard for outsiders to help the Lebanese unless they do more to help themselves.

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The True ‘Cost’ of Defeat in Afghanistan

If you want any further evidence of conservative support for the war effort in Afghanistan, look no further than Grover Norquist’s laughable effort to organize a “center-right” coalition against the war. Apparently, Grover wants to pull out of Afghanistan as a money-saving measure — a line of argument, which if followed to its natural conclusion, should also have led us to pull out of World War II while Hitler or Tojo were still in power or to end the Civil War while Jefferson Davis still ruled the South. Think of all the millions we could have saved by ending wars prematurely — quite a bonanza, especially if you ignore the rather substantial costs of defeat.

Norquist seems quite enamored of Ronald Reagan’s pullout from Lebanon after the suicide car-bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. Perhaps he is not aware that this incident was routinely cited — along with the U.S. pullout from Somalia in 1993 — by Osama bin Laden in the 1990s to justify his belief that the U.S. was a “weak horse” that could be attacked with impunity. Note to Grover: Even the great Ronald Reagan was not infallible.

With arguments like that, it is no surprise that Norquist has attracted to his cause such conservative luminaries as … Steve Clemons? Jim Pinkerton? Charlie Kupchan? If those are genuine representatives of the conservative movement, then I’m Donald Duck.

Somehow I think the conservative base is pretty secure for the war effort, because it understands what Grover does not: that we are locked in an existential struggle against Islamist extremists and that defeat in Afghanistan would have severe consequences for us that make the cost of winning the war seem cheap by comparison. It’s the lack of liberal support for the war effort that we have to worry about.

If you want any further evidence of conservative support for the war effort in Afghanistan, look no further than Grover Norquist’s laughable effort to organize a “center-right” coalition against the war. Apparently, Grover wants to pull out of Afghanistan as a money-saving measure — a line of argument, which if followed to its natural conclusion, should also have led us to pull out of World War II while Hitler or Tojo were still in power or to end the Civil War while Jefferson Davis still ruled the South. Think of all the millions we could have saved by ending wars prematurely — quite a bonanza, especially if you ignore the rather substantial costs of defeat.

Norquist seems quite enamored of Ronald Reagan’s pullout from Lebanon after the suicide car-bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. Perhaps he is not aware that this incident was routinely cited — along with the U.S. pullout from Somalia in 1993 — by Osama bin Laden in the 1990s to justify his belief that the U.S. was a “weak horse” that could be attacked with impunity. Note to Grover: Even the great Ronald Reagan was not infallible.

With arguments like that, it is no surprise that Norquist has attracted to his cause such conservative luminaries as … Steve Clemons? Jim Pinkerton? Charlie Kupchan? If those are genuine representatives of the conservative movement, then I’m Donald Duck.

Somehow I think the conservative base is pretty secure for the war effort, because it understands what Grover does not: that we are locked in an existential struggle against Islamist extremists and that defeat in Afghanistan would have severe consequences for us that make the cost of winning the war seem cheap by comparison. It’s the lack of liberal support for the war effort that we have to worry about.

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So What Was Human Rights Watch Up to in 2010?

It’s been continuing to single out the most humanitarian state in the Middle East for unwarranted criticism, of course. NGO Monitor just released a new analysis of the activities of Human Rights Watch over the past year and found that the organization continued to aim its ire at Israel while ignoring some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings:

• In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

• The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.”

• HRW’s credibility also suffered a blow last December when it threw in its lot with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The group’s report, titled “Separate and Unequal,” called on the U.S. to withhold funding equivalent to the amount spent on the settlements and to scrutinize the tax-exempt status of Americans organizations that give support to the settlements. I blogged more about this report here.

• The director of HRW’s Middle East division met with Hamas leaders, supported the anti-Israel Caterpillar boycott, and praised Lebanon on human rights.

• HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, has continued to publicly condemn the organization’s growing anti-Israel bias.

• HRW also reduced its transparency in 2010, removing its annual reports and the names of its staffers from the website. These changes allegedly came after media reports questioned the credibility and ideological bias of the organization’s employees and publications.

The entire report from the NGO Monitor can be read here. HRW’s bias against the Jewish state isn’t a new development, but this analysis really crystallizes the sheer amount of time and resources the group wastes on demonizing Israel while millions suffer under totalitarian regimes around the world. Hopefully, as organizations like the NGO Monitor continue to expose the ideological motivation behind HRW, the media and the public will finally begin to take its reports less seriously.

It’s been continuing to single out the most humanitarian state in the Middle East for unwarranted criticism, of course. NGO Monitor just released a new analysis of the activities of Human Rights Watch over the past year and found that the organization continued to aim its ire at Israel while ignoring some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings:

• In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

• The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.”

• HRW’s credibility also suffered a blow last December when it threw in its lot with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The group’s report, titled “Separate and Unequal,” called on the U.S. to withhold funding equivalent to the amount spent on the settlements and to scrutinize the tax-exempt status of Americans organizations that give support to the settlements. I blogged more about this report here.

• The director of HRW’s Middle East division met with Hamas leaders, supported the anti-Israel Caterpillar boycott, and praised Lebanon on human rights.

• HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, has continued to publicly condemn the organization’s growing anti-Israel bias.

• HRW also reduced its transparency in 2010, removing its annual reports and the names of its staffers from the website. These changes allegedly came after media reports questioned the credibility and ideological bias of the organization’s employees and publications.

The entire report from the NGO Monitor can be read here. HRW’s bias against the Jewish state isn’t a new development, but this analysis really crystallizes the sheer amount of time and resources the group wastes on demonizing Israel while millions suffer under totalitarian regimes around the world. Hopefully, as organizations like the NGO Monitor continue to expose the ideological motivation behind HRW, the media and the public will finally begin to take its reports less seriously.

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Let Us Not Praise Pro-Terrorist Newspapers

As Alana noted this morning, Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, wrote a devastating letter to the New York Times, expressing his irritation with a piece it ran praising the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper as, among other things, dynamic and daring. “Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests,” Feltman writes. “Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Al Akhbar is a totalitarian propaganda sheet and, like all such organs of disinformation, routinely publishes fiction as well as news and analysis. “The hilariously erroneous accounts of my activities reported as fact in [the] newspaper provoked morning belly laughs,” Feltman added.

I wish I could say it’s bizarre that a vastly superior and more professional newspaper such as the New York Times would find anything at all nice to say about a crude rag in a semi-democratic country that actually does have decent newspapers, but this is typical of a scandalously large percentage of Western reporters who parachute into or set up shop in Beirut.

Here is Feltman again: “One of the curiosities I discovered as ambassador to Lebanon was the number of Western journalists, academics and nongovernmental representatives who, while enjoying the fine wines and nightlife of Beirut, romanticized Hezbollah and its associates like Al Akhbar as somehow the authentic voices of the oppressed Lebanese masses. Yet, I don’t think that many of those Western liberals would wish to live in a state dominated by an unaccountable clerical militia and with Al Akhbar providing the news.”

The New York Times is usually better than this. Eli Khoury, one of the founders of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and publisher of the news website NOW Lebanon, once made a trip to the offices of the New York Times editorial board after they published some obnoxious articles about Lebanon’s pro-democracy movement.

“I said, ‘Listen guys,’” Khoury told me. “‘Lebanon is a country that didn’t need the help of the U.S. Army. You guys didn’t have to bomb our country. We’re talking about a bunch of grassroots democrats who went into the streets and seized their own thing with their own hands. And they expect democrats in the rest of the world to support them.’ Since then the New York Times has not done one single bad story about Lebanon.”

Maybe he needs to go back.

As Alana noted this morning, Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, wrote a devastating letter to the New York Times, expressing his irritation with a piece it ran praising the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper as, among other things, dynamic and daring. “Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests,” Feltman writes. “Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Al Akhbar is a totalitarian propaganda sheet and, like all such organs of disinformation, routinely publishes fiction as well as news and analysis. “The hilariously erroneous accounts of my activities reported as fact in [the] newspaper provoked morning belly laughs,” Feltman added.

I wish I could say it’s bizarre that a vastly superior and more professional newspaper such as the New York Times would find anything at all nice to say about a crude rag in a semi-democratic country that actually does have decent newspapers, but this is typical of a scandalously large percentage of Western reporters who parachute into or set up shop in Beirut.

Here is Feltman again: “One of the curiosities I discovered as ambassador to Lebanon was the number of Western journalists, academics and nongovernmental representatives who, while enjoying the fine wines and nightlife of Beirut, romanticized Hezbollah and its associates like Al Akhbar as somehow the authentic voices of the oppressed Lebanese masses. Yet, I don’t think that many of those Western liberals would wish to live in a state dominated by an unaccountable clerical militia and with Al Akhbar providing the news.”

The New York Times is usually better than this. Eli Khoury, one of the founders of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation and publisher of the news website NOW Lebanon, once made a trip to the offices of the New York Times editorial board after they published some obnoxious articles about Lebanon’s pro-democracy movement.

“I said, ‘Listen guys,’” Khoury told me. “‘Lebanon is a country that didn’t need the help of the U.S. Army. You guys didn’t have to bomb our country. We’re talking about a bunch of grassroots democrats who went into the streets and seized their own thing with their own hands. And they expect democrats in the rest of the world to support them.’ Since then the New York Times has not done one single bad story about Lebanon.”

Maybe he needs to go back.

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