Commentary Magazine


Topic: Yemen

UN Clearly Not Serious About Syria

The Obama administration has staked its Syria policy on winning consensus at the United Nations Security Council, a near impossibility given Russia’s desire to protect Bashar al-Assad at all costs. Alas, it is not only the Kremlin whose resistance empowers Assad’s murderous regime.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly appointed Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, a former Yemeni minister for human rights, to be his task force leader on Syria. The problem is that Amat was a representative and functionary for the brutal regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

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The Obama administration has staked its Syria policy on winning consensus at the United Nations Security Council, a near impossibility given Russia’s desire to protect Bashar al-Assad at all costs. Alas, it is not only the Kremlin whose resistance empowers Assad’s murderous regime.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly appointed Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, a former Yemeni minister for human rights, to be his task force leader on Syria. The problem is that Amat was a representative and functionary for the brutal regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

When the UN chooses a Qaddafi regime functionary to oversee human rights, an Islamic Republic of Iran official to handle proliferation concerns, and a representative of an Arab dictator to chair a task force handling the Assad’s “brotherly regime,” then it loses all credibility. The Syrian people deserve better.

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Lebanon: To Encourage the Others

John Bolton has a superb opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today reminding us that Lebanon is a nearer prospective loss to liberalism than Egypt. Today’s concern for Egypt is about the opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power. The nature of the potential stakes remains uncertain; Mubarak and Omar Suleiman have made explicit declarations of intent, but there is no clarity or political coherence from the opposition forces.

In Lebanon, by contrast, Hezbollah has already made its move. It has run the course the Muslim Brotherhood could in Egypt, first securing a role in the coalition government — without renouncing terrorism or political thuggery — and then leveraging that role to install the government of its choice. The choices for foreign governments are clear in Lebanon: either reject Hezbollah’s control of the country or accept it.

Ambassador Bolton is categorical: “We must refuse to recognize any Hezbollah-dominated government as legitimate, at least until Hezbollah fully disarms and becomes a real political party.” The timetable for concrete action will be driven in part by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, whose next public event, on February 7, is a hearing related to the confidential indictments issued in January for the 2005 assassinations. That timetable is a good thing; an independent process with scheduled events is guaranteed to present public decision points for foreign leaders. If a new Hezbollah-backed government terminates Lebanese cooperation with the tribunal, the reaction of the U.S. and other nations, one way or another, will be impossible to spin.

There is grave danger, as Bolton suggests, in failing to counter Hezbollah’s effective coup in Lebanon. Conversely, the payoff from countering it would be particularly high. Hezbollah’s method of government infiltration is a model for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements across the Arab world. It can be allowed to stand or it can be opposed and reversed; either response will encourager les autres — encourage the others.

The number of others who need “encouraging,” one way or the other, is growing with the unrest in Egypt. In their different ways, Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen have all, in the past 48 hours, joined Tunisia in opening doors formerly closed to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a great deal at stake, but the timing could hardly be better for making an example of Hezbollah. Its takeover of Lebanon, opposed by the Arab world, adds urgency to the theme retailed by the Muslim Brotherhood that the old governments are corrupt and ineffective. If we want the Arab nations to have breathing room in which to take genuine steps toward pluralism and democracy, one of the best things we could do is decisively block Hezbollah’s assault on those elements in Lebanon.

John Bolton has a superb opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today reminding us that Lebanon is a nearer prospective loss to liberalism than Egypt. Today’s concern for Egypt is about the opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power. The nature of the potential stakes remains uncertain; Mubarak and Omar Suleiman have made explicit declarations of intent, but there is no clarity or political coherence from the opposition forces.

In Lebanon, by contrast, Hezbollah has already made its move. It has run the course the Muslim Brotherhood could in Egypt, first securing a role in the coalition government — without renouncing terrorism or political thuggery — and then leveraging that role to install the government of its choice. The choices for foreign governments are clear in Lebanon: either reject Hezbollah’s control of the country or accept it.

Ambassador Bolton is categorical: “We must refuse to recognize any Hezbollah-dominated government as legitimate, at least until Hezbollah fully disarms and becomes a real political party.” The timetable for concrete action will be driven in part by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, whose next public event, on February 7, is a hearing related to the confidential indictments issued in January for the 2005 assassinations. That timetable is a good thing; an independent process with scheduled events is guaranteed to present public decision points for foreign leaders. If a new Hezbollah-backed government terminates Lebanese cooperation with the tribunal, the reaction of the U.S. and other nations, one way or another, will be impossible to spin.

There is grave danger, as Bolton suggests, in failing to counter Hezbollah’s effective coup in Lebanon. Conversely, the payoff from countering it would be particularly high. Hezbollah’s method of government infiltration is a model for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements across the Arab world. It can be allowed to stand or it can be opposed and reversed; either response will encourager les autres — encourage the others.

The number of others who need “encouraging,” one way or the other, is growing with the unrest in Egypt. In their different ways, Jordan, Algeria, and Yemen have all, in the past 48 hours, joined Tunisia in opening doors formerly closed to the Muslim Brotherhood. There is a great deal at stake, but the timing could hardly be better for making an example of Hezbollah. Its takeover of Lebanon, opposed by the Arab world, adds urgency to the theme retailed by the Muslim Brotherhood that the old governments are corrupt and ineffective. If we want the Arab nations to have breathing room in which to take genuine steps toward pluralism and democracy, one of the best things we could do is decisively block Hezbollah’s assault on those elements in Lebanon.

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The Slap Heard Round the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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It’s Not Now, Nor Has It Ever Been, About Israel

In the New York Post today, I argue that the Egyptian street revolution will bring to an end the decades-long argument that the causes of instability in the Middle East have their root in the relations between Israel and the Arabs:

If there were a Palestinian state today, and Israel had been crammed back into its pre-1967 borders, would this week’s street revolt in Cairo look any different?

If there were a Palestinian embassy in Washington today, would Hosni Mubarak have been any more mindful of the eventual consequences of his iron-fisted fecklessness in refusing a transition to a more representative Egypt because there was an ambassador from Palestine in Washington?

No one has ever been able to offer a convincing explanation for what role the anti-Zionist struggle, emotionally stirring though it may be, might play when it comes to, say, the price of bread in Tunis, the unemployment rate in Cairo or the prospects for economic growth in Yemen.

You can find the piece here.

In the New York Post today, I argue that the Egyptian street revolution will bring to an end the decades-long argument that the causes of instability in the Middle East have their root in the relations between Israel and the Arabs:

If there were a Palestinian state today, and Israel had been crammed back into its pre-1967 borders, would this week’s street revolt in Cairo look any different?

If there were a Palestinian embassy in Washington today, would Hosni Mubarak have been any more mindful of the eventual consequences of his iron-fisted fecklessness in refusing a transition to a more representative Egypt because there was an ambassador from Palestine in Washington?

No one has ever been able to offer a convincing explanation for what role the anti-Zionist struggle, emotionally stirring though it may be, might play when it comes to, say, the price of bread in Tunis, the unemployment rate in Cairo or the prospects for economic growth in Yemen.

You can find the piece here.

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Clinton, Jordanian FM: No. 1 Priority Is Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

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Vindication for Bush’s Freedom Agenda

As popular unrest sweeps the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunisia to Yemen to Egypt, it’s worth recalling the words and warning of President George W. Bush – in this case, his November 19, 2003, address at Whitehall Palace in London, where Bush said this:

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. …

As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.

Now we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror. We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region, and we will meet our responsibilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq by finishing the work of democracy we have begun.

During the course of the Bush presidency, his “freedom agenda” was criticized from several different quarters, including foreign-policy “realists” who believed that the bargain Bush spoke about — tolerating oppression for the sake of “stability” — was worth it.

It wasn’t. The core argument Bush made, which is that America must stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity — the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance — was right. No people on earth long to live in oppression and servitude, as slaves instead of free people, to be kept in chains or experience the lash of the whip.

How this conviction should play itself out in the real world is not self-evident; the success of such a policy depends on the wisdom and prudence of statesmen. Implementing a policy is a good deal harder than proclaiming one. Still, it seems to be that events are vindicating the freedom agenda as a strategy and a moral insight, as even the Obama administration is coming to learn.

As popular unrest sweeps the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunisia to Yemen to Egypt, it’s worth recalling the words and warning of President George W. Bush – in this case, his November 19, 2003, address at Whitehall Palace in London, where Bush said this:

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. …

As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.

Now we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror. We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region, and we will meet our responsibilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq by finishing the work of democracy we have begun.

During the course of the Bush presidency, his “freedom agenda” was criticized from several different quarters, including foreign-policy “realists” who believed that the bargain Bush spoke about — tolerating oppression for the sake of “stability” — was worth it.

It wasn’t. The core argument Bush made, which is that America must stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity — the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance — was right. No people on earth long to live in oppression and servitude, as slaves instead of free people, to be kept in chains or experience the lash of the whip.

How this conviction should play itself out in the real world is not self-evident; the success of such a policy depends on the wisdom and prudence of statesmen. Implementing a policy is a good deal harder than proclaiming one. Still, it seems to be that events are vindicating the freedom agenda as a strategy and a moral insight, as even the Obama administration is coming to learn.

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Is It 1848 in the Arab World?

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

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Cuba Suspends Postal Service to the U.S.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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USAID: Mend It, Don’t End It

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

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Defense Cuts Invite Someone to Test Our Will — and Power

My editorial in the new Weekly Standard criticizing plans to cut back defense, and especially to cut back ground forces, has sparked a fair amount of Internet chatter. Leaving aside the vast volume of ad hominem attacks (one of which I dealt with in my last post), much of the criticism has focused on two sentences.

Complaining about the 32 percent decline in army strength between 1991 and 2001, I wrote: “That 32 percent decline in active-duty strength severely limited our options for a military response to 9/11, practically dictating that the forces sent to Afghanistan and Iraq would be too small to pacify two countries with a combined population of nearly 60 million.”

Then, suggesting that President Obama cannot be certain that there will not be some contingency in the near future that will require large ground forces, I wrote: “How certain is he that Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia won’t be the staging ground for another 9/11, thereby requiring another massive commitment of U.S. troops?”

Regarding the first point: critics say that Bush and his civilian and military officials decided to send a small force to Afghanistan and then Iraq not because of force constraints but because they were wedded to the ideology of the “small footprint.” There is a great deal of merit in this assertion, but even if they had been convinced that sending a large force was the way to go, they would have been hard-pressed to do so because of the post–Cold War cuts in army strength. Indeed as the Iraq war went along, it became clear that our force was too small to get the job done, but senior generals such as Casey and Abizaid did not push Rumsfeld to send more troops, in part because they thought there simply were not enough army troops available and they didn’t want to “break” the army. I recognize that they had other reasons for preferring to keep the force too small, but this was certainly a major part of their calculus.

Finally, in late 2006, Bush decided to disregard their (bad) advice and send more troops. He was able to send only five brigades when the architects of the surge had hoped for eight or nine at least. But there were only five available and even that was a stretch. Increasing our troop strength by just 30,000 required placing a huge strain on the force; many units were extended from 12-month deployments to 18 months, a long time to be in combat. Luckily, the five-brigade surge proved sufficient, but what if the situation had been so bad that we really needed eight or nine? In that case, we would have lost the war. That’s a risk we shouldn’t have to run.

Indeed, even as we were winning in Iraq, we were losing in Afghanistan, because we didn’t have enough troops to adequately garrison both countries. In the 1990s, it never occurred to force planners from the Bush and Clinton administrations that we would be making such large ground-force commitments, so they did not create an army big enough to handle such commitments. Today we are hearing the same refrain we heard back then: that there is scant chance we will fight a major ground war in the future, so why bother preparing for one? Unfortunately, history has a tendency to make a mockery of such certainties, in part because our very unreadiness to fight increases the odds that we will have to do so by encouraging potential enemies to test our will.

My editorial in the new Weekly Standard criticizing plans to cut back defense, and especially to cut back ground forces, has sparked a fair amount of Internet chatter. Leaving aside the vast volume of ad hominem attacks (one of which I dealt with in my last post), much of the criticism has focused on two sentences.

Complaining about the 32 percent decline in army strength between 1991 and 2001, I wrote: “That 32 percent decline in active-duty strength severely limited our options for a military response to 9/11, practically dictating that the forces sent to Afghanistan and Iraq would be too small to pacify two countries with a combined population of nearly 60 million.”

Then, suggesting that President Obama cannot be certain that there will not be some contingency in the near future that will require large ground forces, I wrote: “How certain is he that Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia won’t be the staging ground for another 9/11, thereby requiring another massive commitment of U.S. troops?”

Regarding the first point: critics say that Bush and his civilian and military officials decided to send a small force to Afghanistan and then Iraq not because of force constraints but because they were wedded to the ideology of the “small footprint.” There is a great deal of merit in this assertion, but even if they had been convinced that sending a large force was the way to go, they would have been hard-pressed to do so because of the post–Cold War cuts in army strength. Indeed as the Iraq war went along, it became clear that our force was too small to get the job done, but senior generals such as Casey and Abizaid did not push Rumsfeld to send more troops, in part because they thought there simply were not enough army troops available and they didn’t want to “break” the army. I recognize that they had other reasons for preferring to keep the force too small, but this was certainly a major part of their calculus.

Finally, in late 2006, Bush decided to disregard their (bad) advice and send more troops. He was able to send only five brigades when the architects of the surge had hoped for eight or nine at least. But there were only five available and even that was a stretch. Increasing our troop strength by just 30,000 required placing a huge strain on the force; many units were extended from 12-month deployments to 18 months, a long time to be in combat. Luckily, the five-brigade surge proved sufficient, but what if the situation had been so bad that we really needed eight or nine? In that case, we would have lost the war. That’s a risk we shouldn’t have to run.

Indeed, even as we were winning in Iraq, we were losing in Afghanistan, because we didn’t have enough troops to adequately garrison both countries. In the 1990s, it never occurred to force planners from the Bush and Clinton administrations that we would be making such large ground-force commitments, so they did not create an army big enough to handle such commitments. Today we are hearing the same refrain we heard back then: that there is scant chance we will fight a major ground war in the future, so why bother preparing for one? Unfortunately, history has a tendency to make a mockery of such certainties, in part because our very unreadiness to fight increases the odds that we will have to do so by encouraging potential enemies to test our will.

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Don’t Balance the Budget on the Back of Defense

I am struck by the juxtaposition of two news items. First, it is being reported that Bob Gates is proposing $100 billion in defense cuts over the next five years, including the cancellation of the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Second it is being reported that China’s military modernization program is moving ahead faster than expected. In recent days, China has unveiled a new stealth fighter, the J-20, and a new ballistic missile that has been dubbed a “carrier killer” because it is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also reportedly building its own aircraft carriers and taking other actions to beef up its arsenal.

Granted, China has a long way to go before it approaches parity with the U.S. — but then again, it doesn’t need parity. Much of our military spending goes to enable operations thousands of miles from home. China, by contrast, seems to lack global ambitions, at least for the moment. It is concerned with dominating its region. And that does not require that it match U.S. military capacity across the board. All it has to do is raise the cost to the U.S. of taking action to keep in check Chinese expansionism, whereas the U.S. must worry not only about the threat from China but also about North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, Somalia, Yemen, and myriad other concerns.

The cuts proposed by Secretary Gates do not seriously threaten America’s military position in the world. Heck, I’ve expressed my own skepticism about the utility of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. I am also not that alarmed about the cancellation of the F-22 or the pushing back of the Marine Corps’s vertical-takeoff version of the F-35; I think the Marine version of the F-35 could be canceled altogether, because the vertical takeoff and landing capability of the Harrier jump jet has so seldom been utilized in combat.

But I am concerned about talk of delaying or downsizing the overall F-35 program at a time when China and Russia are both fielding their own stealth fighters. More than that, I am worried that Gates’s cuts may be only the beginning of a drawdown that is happening even as we are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan. Already proposals are circulating — see, for instance, this Foreign Affairs article — for massive cutbacks, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of service personnel, that would eviscerate American power-projection capabilities. Alas, many in Congress, even some Republicans, appear to be open to deeper defense cuts.

I am all for addressing our runaway federal spending — but we won’t balance the budget on the back of the Defense Department. Not when defense spending is less than 20 percent of the budget and less than 5 percent of GDP. Getting our fiscal house in order requires cutting entitlement spending. Downsizing the military, by contrast, will contribute to future insecurity and turn out to be the most costly option in the long run. That is a lesson we should have learned in the past, many times over (as I argued in this op-ed).

I am struck by the juxtaposition of two news items. First, it is being reported that Bob Gates is proposing $100 billion in defense cuts over the next five years, including the cancellation of the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Second it is being reported that China’s military modernization program is moving ahead faster than expected. In recent days, China has unveiled a new stealth fighter, the J-20, and a new ballistic missile that has been dubbed a “carrier killer” because it is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also reportedly building its own aircraft carriers and taking other actions to beef up its arsenal.

Granted, China has a long way to go before it approaches parity with the U.S. — but then again, it doesn’t need parity. Much of our military spending goes to enable operations thousands of miles from home. China, by contrast, seems to lack global ambitions, at least for the moment. It is concerned with dominating its region. And that does not require that it match U.S. military capacity across the board. All it has to do is raise the cost to the U.S. of taking action to keep in check Chinese expansionism, whereas the U.S. must worry not only about the threat from China but also about North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, Somalia, Yemen, and myriad other concerns.

The cuts proposed by Secretary Gates do not seriously threaten America’s military position in the world. Heck, I’ve expressed my own skepticism about the utility of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. I am also not that alarmed about the cancellation of the F-22 or the pushing back of the Marine Corps’s vertical-takeoff version of the F-35; I think the Marine version of the F-35 could be canceled altogether, because the vertical takeoff and landing capability of the Harrier jump jet has so seldom been utilized in combat.

But I am concerned about talk of delaying or downsizing the overall F-35 program at a time when China and Russia are both fielding their own stealth fighters. More than that, I am worried that Gates’s cuts may be only the beginning of a drawdown that is happening even as we are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan. Already proposals are circulating — see, for instance, this Foreign Affairs article — for massive cutbacks, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of service personnel, that would eviscerate American power-projection capabilities. Alas, many in Congress, even some Republicans, appear to be open to deeper defense cuts.

I am all for addressing our runaway federal spending — but we won’t balance the budget on the back of the Defense Department. Not when defense spending is less than 20 percent of the budget and less than 5 percent of GDP. Getting our fiscal house in order requires cutting entitlement spending. Downsizing the military, by contrast, will contribute to future insecurity and turn out to be the most costly option in the long run. That is a lesson we should have learned in the past, many times over (as I argued in this op-ed).

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U.S. Adopts Israeli Anti-Terror Tactics, but Waffles on Defending Israel’s Use of Them

One cable from the WikiLeaks trove raises a disturbing possibility: the Obama administration’s obsession with Israeli settlements could end up undermining America’s own war on terror.

Shortly before Israel announced a 10-month freeze on settlement construction last year, Germany urged Washington to threaten that absent such a moratorium, the U.S. would refuse to block a UN Security Council vote on the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. U.S. officials correctly responded that this would be “counterproductive” but agreed to tell Israel “that their policy on settlements was making it difficult for their friends to hold the line in the UNSC” — thus implying that Washington might so threaten in the future. And last month, the U.S. indeed implicitly conditioned future efforts to block Goldstone on another settlement freeze.

Yet America has a vital interest of its own in burying Goldstone: facing many of the same military problems in its war on terror that Israel does, it has increasingly adopted many of the same tactics.

Last month, for example, the New York Times reported that in Afghanistan’s Kandahar region, “American forces are encountering empty homes and farm buildings left so heavily booby-trapped by Taliban insurgents that the Americans have been systematically destroying hundreds of them” in order “to reduce civilian and military casualties.” They even destroyed houses that weren’t booby-trapped because “searching empty houses was often too dangerous.” And as an Afghan official correctly noted, “It’s the insurgents and the enemy of the country that are to blame for this destruction, because they have planted mines in civilian houses and main roads everywhere.”

This is precisely what Israel did in its 2008-09 Gaza war, for the same reason: it found hundreds of booby-trapped houses, schools, even a zoo. But Goldstone, like the so-called human rights organizations, pooh-poohed this claim, accusing Israel of wantonly destroying civilian property in a deliberate effort to target civilians. Far from blaming Hamas for booby-trapping houses, they blamed Israel for destroying the traps.

The same goes for drone strikes on wanted terrorists — not just in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and Yemen. Israel has used this tactic for years, also for the same reason: sometimes, it’s the only way to neutralize a dangerous terrorist short of a major ground operation with massive casualties on both sides. But aerial strikes can also produce unintended civilian casualties.

The U.S. recently defended this tactic to the UN Human Rights Council, stressing that targeted killings are “lawful, they constitute neither extrajudicial killing nor political assassination.”

But human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced similar Israeli strikes as “extrajudicial executions” even when there have been no civilian casualties. And the outcry has been much worse when there were. Just last year, for instance, a Spanish court considered indicting several senior Israeli officials over a 2002 strike on Hamas mastermind Salah Shehadeh that, due to flawed intelligence, also killed 14 other people. (The case was halted after Spain moved to amend its universal-jurisdiction law.)

In short, America’s own self-interest demands that it thwart legal assaults on Israeli counterterrorism tactics. Otherwise, it’s liable to find itself in the dock next.

One cable from the WikiLeaks trove raises a disturbing possibility: the Obama administration’s obsession with Israeli settlements could end up undermining America’s own war on terror.

Shortly before Israel announced a 10-month freeze on settlement construction last year, Germany urged Washington to threaten that absent such a moratorium, the U.S. would refuse to block a UN Security Council vote on the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. U.S. officials correctly responded that this would be “counterproductive” but agreed to tell Israel “that their policy on settlements was making it difficult for their friends to hold the line in the UNSC” — thus implying that Washington might so threaten in the future. And last month, the U.S. indeed implicitly conditioned future efforts to block Goldstone on another settlement freeze.

Yet America has a vital interest of its own in burying Goldstone: facing many of the same military problems in its war on terror that Israel does, it has increasingly adopted many of the same tactics.

Last month, for example, the New York Times reported that in Afghanistan’s Kandahar region, “American forces are encountering empty homes and farm buildings left so heavily booby-trapped by Taliban insurgents that the Americans have been systematically destroying hundreds of them” in order “to reduce civilian and military casualties.” They even destroyed houses that weren’t booby-trapped because “searching empty houses was often too dangerous.” And as an Afghan official correctly noted, “It’s the insurgents and the enemy of the country that are to blame for this destruction, because they have planted mines in civilian houses and main roads everywhere.”

This is precisely what Israel did in its 2008-09 Gaza war, for the same reason: it found hundreds of booby-trapped houses, schools, even a zoo. But Goldstone, like the so-called human rights organizations, pooh-poohed this claim, accusing Israel of wantonly destroying civilian property in a deliberate effort to target civilians. Far from blaming Hamas for booby-trapping houses, they blamed Israel for destroying the traps.

The same goes for drone strikes on wanted terrorists — not just in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and Yemen. Israel has used this tactic for years, also for the same reason: sometimes, it’s the only way to neutralize a dangerous terrorist short of a major ground operation with massive casualties on both sides. But aerial strikes can also produce unintended civilian casualties.

The U.S. recently defended this tactic to the UN Human Rights Council, stressing that targeted killings are “lawful, they constitute neither extrajudicial killing nor political assassination.”

But human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced similar Israeli strikes as “extrajudicial executions” even when there have been no civilian casualties. And the outcry has been much worse when there were. Just last year, for instance, a Spanish court considered indicting several senior Israeli officials over a 2002 strike on Hamas mastermind Salah Shehadeh that, due to flawed intelligence, also killed 14 other people. (The case was halted after Spain moved to amend its universal-jurisdiction law.)

In short, America’s own self-interest demands that it thwart legal assaults on Israeli counterterrorism tactics. Otherwise, it’s liable to find itself in the dock next.

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More Long-Term Repercussions of WikiLeaks

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

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Applying Counterinsurgency Tactics Against Criminals

Americans are naturally focused on the counterinsurgency work being performed by our forces in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent in other areas of radical Islamist activity (e.g., Yemen and Pakistan). But there are many other insurgencies raging around the world and quite a few of them are primarily criminal not political. That is certainly the case in Mexico and Brazil — both countries that have seen their authority challenged by powerful gangs of drug traffickers.

Many of the same principles that apply in Afghanistan or Iraq also need to be observed in those countries. Chief among them is the importance of follow-through — the need to do not just “clear” operations but “clear, hold, and build.” That is something that U.S. forces have struggled with in the past, as have many other armed forces. Pakistan, for example, has not followed through in the Swat Valley, where its army attacked militants last year. There has been insufficient  development aid or security to keep the extremists from coming back.

I fear that Brazil might be making the same mistake when I read about its army and police making a celebrated sweep through the Alemão shantytown in Rio de Janiero — an area that has long been dominated by criminal gangs. My concern stems from this detail in a New York Times account of the recent operations:

It was also unclear how long the military and the police planned to stay, or how long they could.

Mr. Beltrame, Rio’s security secretary and the architect of the pacification program, has previously said that he did not expect to have enough officers to occupy either Alemão or Rocinha, another violent slum overhanging the city’s affluent South Zone, until next year.

If there are not enough forces to occupy the slum, then why bother clearing it in the first place? Odds are that the gangs will just come back and wreak vengeance on anyone who was seen as helping the forces of law and order. That, at least, has been the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countries such as Brazil would do well to study the lessons of counterinsurgency as they battle criminals on their own turf.

Americans are naturally focused on the counterinsurgency work being performed by our forces in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent in other areas of radical Islamist activity (e.g., Yemen and Pakistan). But there are many other insurgencies raging around the world and quite a few of them are primarily criminal not political. That is certainly the case in Mexico and Brazil — both countries that have seen their authority challenged by powerful gangs of drug traffickers.

Many of the same principles that apply in Afghanistan or Iraq also need to be observed in those countries. Chief among them is the importance of follow-through — the need to do not just “clear” operations but “clear, hold, and build.” That is something that U.S. forces have struggled with in the past, as have many other armed forces. Pakistan, for example, has not followed through in the Swat Valley, where its army attacked militants last year. There has been insufficient  development aid or security to keep the extremists from coming back.

I fear that Brazil might be making the same mistake when I read about its army and police making a celebrated sweep through the Alemão shantytown in Rio de Janiero — an area that has long been dominated by criminal gangs. My concern stems from this detail in a New York Times account of the recent operations:

It was also unclear how long the military and the police planned to stay, or how long they could.

Mr. Beltrame, Rio’s security secretary and the architect of the pacification program, has previously said that he did not expect to have enough officers to occupy either Alemão or Rocinha, another violent slum overhanging the city’s affluent South Zone, until next year.

If there are not enough forces to occupy the slum, then why bother clearing it in the first place? Odds are that the gangs will just come back and wreak vengeance on anyone who was seen as helping the forces of law and order. That, at least, has been the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countries such as Brazil would do well to study the lessons of counterinsurgency as they battle criminals on their own turf.

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Challenge to the New York Times: Publish Your Internal Correspondence

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks. Read More

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks.

Actually, let’s make our document request broader: the Times should share with the world all its internal correspondence going back years. That would include, of course, memos that disclose the identity of anonymous sources, including sources who may have risked their lives to reveal information to Times reporters. Of course, just as it does with government documents, we would give the Times the privilege of redacting a few names and facts — at least in a few of the versions that are published on the Internet.

My suspicion — call it a hunch — is that the Times won’t accept my modest suggestion. Their position, in effect, is “secrecy for me but not for thee.” But why? Can the Times editors possibly argue with a straight face that their deliberations are more important and more privileged than the work of our soldiers and diplomats? No doubt the editors can see all the damage that releasing their own documents would do — it would have a chilling effect on internal discourse and on the willingness of sources to share information with Times reporters. But they seem blind to the fact that precisely the same damage is being done to the United States government with consequences potentially far more momentous.

The most persuasive argument the Times has made is that “most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides.” That’s true, but that doesn’t eradicate the Times’s responsibility for choosing to act as a press agent and megaphone for WikiLeaks. When in 1942 the Chicago Tribune published an article making clear that the U.S. had broken Japanese codes before the Battle of Midway, other newspapers did not rush to hype the scoop. They let it pass with virtually no notice, and the Japanese may never have become aware of the disclosure. Imagine if a similar attitude were shown today by so-called responsible media organs. How many people would really go to the WikiLeaks website to trawl through hundreds of thousands of memoranda? Some harm would undoubtedly still result from WikiLeaks’s action, but it would be far less than when mainstream media organs amplify Wikileaks’s irresponsible disclosures.

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RE: Out of the TSA Scanner and into the Fire

I’m with Linda Chavez. The TSA’s body scanners and pat-down inspections may be tiresome and annoying, but it’s far from clear that there is a good alternative. As she points out, Charles Krauthammer’s suggestion to simply rely on profiling wouldn’t offer much of a defense against jihadist operatives, who are hardly likely to show up on a “martyrdom” mission wearing full tribal regalia. (That would more likely be a Saudi businessman.)

One of the things that make al-Qaeda and its affiliates so hard to combat is that they have been able to recruit all sorts of people, including not only Arabs but also Indonesians, Pakistanis, Europeans, and Americans. The only thing that all these terrorists have in common is their devotion to ultra-fundamentalist doctrines, but that is hardly something that can be noticed at a glance; it probably would not even be noticed in the course of  a typically perfunctory interview. True, they are also all Muslims, but they don’t necessarily advertise their religion — who, after all, could tell at a glance whether someone is a Pakistani Muslim or an Indian Hindu? Some people even confuse Sikhs with Muslims. Do we want to profile anyone who  looks “funny” or has a “funny” name? Anyone who is Muslim? Or Arab?

Mind you: I am not opposed on civil liberties grounds to profiling. To the extent that it is a useful technique, it should be employed by cops and airport security personnel alike. But alas, terrorists don’t fit any particular ethnic or racial category. Behavioral profiling is more useful: there are many actions that passengers take — such as buying a one-way ticket or paying cash or looking nervous in line or traveling from Yemen — that legitimately expose them to extra scrutiny. But even at its best, profiling is only one technique, and it is fallible — particularly because terrorists will go to great lengths to disguise themselves and blend in with their surroundings.

I don’t like being patted down any more than the next guy (unless it’s by Pamela Anderson!), but it does sound like a security precaution that makes sense. I can understand the backlash against TSA, particularly because of the sometimes inane way that bureaucrats will implement any policy, but body scanners and pat-downs are, I fear, part of the price of safety in this age of Islamist terrorism.

I’m with Linda Chavez. The TSA’s body scanners and pat-down inspections may be tiresome and annoying, but it’s far from clear that there is a good alternative. As she points out, Charles Krauthammer’s suggestion to simply rely on profiling wouldn’t offer much of a defense against jihadist operatives, who are hardly likely to show up on a “martyrdom” mission wearing full tribal regalia. (That would more likely be a Saudi businessman.)

One of the things that make al-Qaeda and its affiliates so hard to combat is that they have been able to recruit all sorts of people, including not only Arabs but also Indonesians, Pakistanis, Europeans, and Americans. The only thing that all these terrorists have in common is their devotion to ultra-fundamentalist doctrines, but that is hardly something that can be noticed at a glance; it probably would not even be noticed in the course of  a typically perfunctory interview. True, they are also all Muslims, but they don’t necessarily advertise their religion — who, after all, could tell at a glance whether someone is a Pakistani Muslim or an Indian Hindu? Some people even confuse Sikhs with Muslims. Do we want to profile anyone who  looks “funny” or has a “funny” name? Anyone who is Muslim? Or Arab?

Mind you: I am not opposed on civil liberties grounds to profiling. To the extent that it is a useful technique, it should be employed by cops and airport security personnel alike. But alas, terrorists don’t fit any particular ethnic or racial category. Behavioral profiling is more useful: there are many actions that passengers take — such as buying a one-way ticket or paying cash or looking nervous in line or traveling from Yemen — that legitimately expose them to extra scrutiny. But even at its best, profiling is only one technique, and it is fallible — particularly because terrorists will go to great lengths to disguise themselves and blend in with their surroundings.

I don’t like being patted down any more than the next guy (unless it’s by Pamela Anderson!), but it does sound like a security precaution that makes sense. I can understand the backlash against TSA, particularly because of the sometimes inane way that bureaucrats will implement any policy, but body scanners and pat-downs are, I fear, part of the price of safety in this age of Islamist terrorism.

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On the Offense Against Israel’s Delegitimizers

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.'”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.'”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

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Whither Defense Spending?

The Washington Post‘s symposium on defense spending is revealing. The argument for maintaining and, indeed, increasing defense spending is aptly set forth by Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan:

Cutting U.S. defense spending would put the nation and the current global order at grave risk. International stability and American security are threatened by dangerous contingencies that are becoming increasingly likely. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a world-changing event. The persistence of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan threatens stability on the subcontinent and security throughout the West. Militant Islamist sanctuaries are expanding in Somalia, Yemen, and equatorial Africa. A growing number of Islamist groups are seeking recognition from al-Qaeda and declaring their intentions of attacking the United States and its allies. Security and stability in Iraq remain fragile. The war in Afghanistan is at its height. This list of current conflicts and threats excludes the kinds of potential future threats for which the U.S. military must also be prepared, including conflict with China, serious challenges to the U.S. satellite constellation, the continued proliferation of long-range missile and nuclear technology, cyber-conflict, and many others.

The neo-isolationist position is presented by Ron Paul, who argues, in essence, that we can cut spending without harming our defense as long as we adopt the outlook of “Fortress America”:

We must realize that cutting military spending is not the same as cutting defense, nor will it harm our ability to protect the United States. The problem with military spending is philosophical. Who determined that the United States should maintain a worldwide empire, with troops stationed in some 700 bases over more than 100 countries across the globe?

For starters, it’s bunk that we are maintaining an “empire” — we are not occupiers or puppeteers of other nations. And the answer is that a bipartisan coalition of responsible liberals and conservatives has determined that in a post-9/11 world, there is no safety in the myth of Fortress America. The administration has accepted this premise. And so it must, to be intellectually consistent and to fulfill our role as that “indispensable” defender of the West, fund a defense that is commensurate with the threats we face.

Paul’s statement is nevertheless useful: how can the administration, which rejects neo-isolationism, argue cogently for less defense spending. In short, it can’t.

The Washington Post‘s symposium on defense spending is revealing. The argument for maintaining and, indeed, increasing defense spending is aptly set forth by Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan:

Cutting U.S. defense spending would put the nation and the current global order at grave risk. International stability and American security are threatened by dangerous contingencies that are becoming increasingly likely. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a world-changing event. The persistence of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan threatens stability on the subcontinent and security throughout the West. Militant Islamist sanctuaries are expanding in Somalia, Yemen, and equatorial Africa. A growing number of Islamist groups are seeking recognition from al-Qaeda and declaring their intentions of attacking the United States and its allies. Security and stability in Iraq remain fragile. The war in Afghanistan is at its height. This list of current conflicts and threats excludes the kinds of potential future threats for which the U.S. military must also be prepared, including conflict with China, serious challenges to the U.S. satellite constellation, the continued proliferation of long-range missile and nuclear technology, cyber-conflict, and many others.

The neo-isolationist position is presented by Ron Paul, who argues, in essence, that we can cut spending without harming our defense as long as we adopt the outlook of “Fortress America”:

We must realize that cutting military spending is not the same as cutting defense, nor will it harm our ability to protect the United States. The problem with military spending is philosophical. Who determined that the United States should maintain a worldwide empire, with troops stationed in some 700 bases over more than 100 countries across the globe?

For starters, it’s bunk that we are maintaining an “empire” — we are not occupiers or puppeteers of other nations. And the answer is that a bipartisan coalition of responsible liberals and conservatives has determined that in a post-9/11 world, there is no safety in the myth of Fortress America. The administration has accepted this premise. And so it must, to be intellectually consistent and to fulfill our role as that “indispensable” defender of the West, fund a defense that is commensurate with the threats we face.

Paul’s statement is nevertheless useful: how can the administration, which rejects neo-isolationism, argue cogently for less defense spending. In short, it can’t.

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Human Rights Policy Gone Mad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

The Policies That Keep Us Safe

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

Read Less




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