June 28, 2009
"The less we protest, the more people will die"
Yesterday I outlined many reasons why Why President Obama Should Stand for Freedom in Iran and other places around the world. I described why his policy of silence was foolish and how no, speaking up did not give the tyrants a reason they would not otherwise have had to crack heads. I quoted ex-Soviet dissident Anatoly (now Natan) Sharansky about how Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech gave their movement a much needed boost in the arm. I also quoted from The Washington Post some Arab democracy activists who were distraught at Obama's lack of forceful action with regards to Iran.
Today I bring you Jose Maria Anzar, prime minister of Spain from 1996-2004. He hits it out of the part in an editorial in the today's Wall Street Journal:
If there hadn't been dissidents in the Soviet Union, the Communist regime never would have crumbled. And if the West hadn't been concerned about their fate, Soviet leaders would have ruthlessly done away with them. They didn't because the Kremlin feared the response of the Free World.
Just like the Soviet dissidents who resisted communism, those who dare to march through the streets of Tehran and stand up against the Islamic regime founded by the Ayatollah Khomeini 30 years ago represent the greatest hope for change in a country built on the repression of its people. At stake is nothing less than the legitimacy of a system incompatible with respect for individual rights. Also at stake is the survival of a theocratic regime that seeks to be the dominant power in the region, the indisputable spiritual leader of the Muslim world, and the enemy of the West.
The Islamic Republic that the ayatollahs have created is not just any power. To defend a strict interpretation of the Quran, Khomeini created the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guard, which today is a true army. To expand its ideology and influence Iran has not hesitated to create, sustain and use proxy terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. And to impose its fundamentalist vision beyond its borders, Iran is working frantically to obtain nuclear weapons.
Those who protest against the blatant electoral fraud that handed victory to the fanatical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are in reality demanding a change of regime. Thus, the regime has resorted to beating and shooting its citizens in a desperate attempt to squash the pro-democracy movement.
This is no time for hesitation on the part of the West. If, as part of an attempt to reach an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, the leaders of democratic nations turn their backs on the dissidents they will be making a terrible mistake.
President Obama has said he refuses to "meddle" in Iran's internal affairs, but this is a poor excuse for passivity. If the international community is not able to stop, or at least set limits on, the repressive violence of the Islamic regime, the protesters will end up as so many have in the past -- in exile, in prison, or in the cemetery. And with them, all hope for change will be gone.
To be clear: Nobody in the circles of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or Ahmadinejad is going to reward us for silence or inaction. On the contrary, failing to support the regime's critics will leave us with an emboldened Ahmadinejad, an atomic Iran, and dissidents that are disenchanted and critical of us. We cannot talk about freedom and democracy if we abandon our own principles.
Some do not want to recognize the spread of freedom in the Middle East. But it is clear that after decades of repression -- religious and secular -- the region is changing.
The recent elections in Lebanon are a clear example. The progressive normalization of Iraq is another. It would be a shame, particularly in the face of such regional progress, if our passivity gave carte blanche to a tyrannical regime to finish off the dissidents and persist with its revolutionary plans.
Delayed public displays of indignation may be good for internal political consumption. But the consequences of Western inaction have already materialized. Watching videos of innocent Iranians being brutalized, it's hard to defend silence.
Obama to Cut Military Spending to Pre - 9/11 Levels
Via The Tank military blog over at NRO, Gregory S. McNeal provides the scoop on Obama's plans for national defense spending:
While trillions of borrowed dollars fly out of Washington in the form of stimulus (and into Washington from America's wallets), the federal government is cutting back in one area where the Founders believed a federal government was necessary -- "to provide for the common defense."
Perhaps most alarming are the cuts to missile defense, right when our enemies are preparing advanced missile systems. As an illustration of the dramatic cuts, consider this alarming graphic provided by the Heritage Foundation:
Liberals used to complain that defense spending crowed out other programs. While that argument might have had some merit in the 1950s, it certainly doesn't today. Obama and his Democrats are spending us into oblivion through their "stimulus," and their "cap n' trade" tax (Waxman-Markey, or American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009), and plans for national health care will send us into the abyss.
Meanwhile we've got enemies around the globe which they ignore. But wait, it gets worse:
First, as a chart from Truth and Politics
We're going to pay for this around the globe. Obama is making it more and more difficult for us to defend our interests, assets, and allies.
June 27, 2009
Why President Obama Should Stand for Freedom in Iran
While I've been away these past two days President Obama has issued some more mild criticism of the election fraud in Iran, prompting President Ahmadinejad and other Iranians to lash back in rage. The latest from The Washington Times
President Obama on Friday called the postelection crackdown in Iran "outrageous" and flatly refused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's request for an apology. One leading Iranian cleric, meanwhile, called for protest leaders to be executed.
Continuing this week's harsh rhetoric, Mr. Obama, after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said "direct dialogue" with Iran will suffer as a result of the beatings and killings of protesters, though he didn't spell out exact consequences. He said he remains vigilant to see how events play out.
Mrs. Merkel went much further, demanding a recount of the votes and saying the international community must identify the victims and make Iran account for their treatment.
"Despite the government's efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it and we con-demn it," said Mr. Obama, though he continued to say Iran itself must decide the election results. "If the Iranian government desires the respect of the international community, then it must respect the rights - and heed the will - of its people."
Apparently having learned from one or another Clinton on how to parse words to keep all sides happy and yet leave him room to take any position in the future, he vaguely promises that ""direct dialogue" with Iran will suffer" yet doesn't say what that means.
Does it mean that he won't meet directly with the Iranians at all? Or not until certain preconditions are satisfied? If the latter, what are they? Again, no specifics.
Ahmadinejad, for his part, fired back
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with Iran still reeling after his disputed re-election as president, practically dared President Obama on Saturday to take a hard-line approach to the Islamic nation -- pledging a "crushing" response to further U.S. condemnation of the post-election crackdown on protests in Tehran.
As if to back up this threat a senior cleric threatened to execute some of the protesters:
In a Friday sermon at Tehran University, a senior cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, called for harsh retribution for dissent.
"Anybody who fights against the Islamic system or the leader of Islamic society, fight him until complete destruction," he said in the nationally broadcast speech.
The cleric claimed that some involved in the unrest had used firearms.
"Anyone who takes up arms to fight with the people, they are worthy of execution," he said. "We ask that the judiciary confront the leaders of the protests, leaders of the violations, and those who are supported by the United States and Israel strongly, and without mercy to provide a lesson for all."
Fears of a crackdown are why so many on the left say that condemnatory rhetoric from Obama would only be counterproductive. "It would serve no purpose and would only give the regime an excuse to brutalize it's own people even more," goes the logic.
It's a tempting argument, but one that doesn't withstand scrutiny. The perfect example is Ronald Reagan, who famously called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire" which at home gained him much grief from liberals. Abroad, however, it was a different story.
Reagan's words gave imprisoned dissidents heart, and hope for the future. Anatoly Sharansky (now Natan Sharansky) spent eight years in the gulag. When he was there, Reagan gave his famous "evil empire" speech. Western liberals were appalled, but Sharansky and other imprisoned dissidents had a different reaction:
Q: Were there any particular Reagan moments that you can recall being sources of strength or encouragement to you and your colleagues?
Sharansky: I have to laugh. People who take freedom for granted, Ronald Reagan for granted, always ask such questions. Of course! It was the great brilliant moment when we learned that Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the Soviet Union an Evil Empire before the entire world. There was a long list of all the Western leaders who had lined up to condemn the evil Reagan for daring to call the great Soviet Union an evil empire right next to the front-page story about this dangerous, terrible man who wanted to take the world back to the dark days of the Cold War. This was the moment. It was the brightest, most glorious day. Finally a spade had been called a spade. Finally, Orwell's Newspeak was dead. President Reagan had from that moment made it impossible for anyone in the West to continue closing their eyes to the real nature of the Soviet Union.
George W. Bush was similarly correct to label Iran, North Korea, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein an "Axis of Evil." As with Reagan, he caught nothing but grief from liberals, but has been proven correct by events.
What a U.S. president says is closely monitored by dissidents in totalitarian countries. What he says can either give them hope, or demoralize them. Reagan's "harsh" words gave dissidents in the Soviet Union hope. It's hard to imagine a similar reaction among protesters in Iran.
This isn't just ancient history, however. Arab democracy activists in the Middle East (yes, they do exist) are worried that Obama's policy is counterproductive to the cause of freedom. FromThe Washington Post
The frustration comes against a backdrop of deep-rooted skepticism among pro-democracy activists that U.S. policies under President Obama will help transform the region, despite his vow to engage the Muslim world in a highly publicized speech here last month. Some view Obama's response to Iran's protests, muted until Tuesday, as a harbinger of U.S. attitudes toward their own efforts to reform their political systems. The Egyptian government, they note, is a key American ally, and U.S. pressure on Egypt for reforms began subsiding in the last years of the Bush administration.
"When Obama does not take a stance, the very next day these oppressive regimes will regard this as a signal. This is a test for his government," said Ayman Nour, a noted Egyptian opposition politician who was recently released from jail. "If they can turn a blind eye to their enemy, they can turn a blind eye to any action here in Egypt."
Finally, Christopher Hitchens explains why we shouldn't worry about rhetoric coming from the leaders in Tehran:
- There is nothing at all that any Western country can do to avoid the charge of intervening in Iran's internal affairs. The deep belief that everything--especially anything in English--is already and by definition an intervention is part of the very identity and ideology of the theocracy.
- It is a mistake to assume that the ayatollahs, cynical and corrupt as they may be, are acting rationally. They are frequently in the grip of archaic beliefs and fears that would make a stupefied medieval European peasant seem mentally sturdy and resourceful by comparison.
- The tendency of outside media to check the temperature of the clerics, rather than consult the writers and poets of the country, shows our own cultural backwardness in regrettably sharp relief. Anyone who had been reading Pezeshkzad and Nafisi, or talking to their students and readers in Tabriz and Esfahan and Mashad, would have been able to avoid the awful embarrassment by which everything that has occurred on the streets of Iran during recent days has come as one surprise after another to most of our uncultured "experts."
Hitch then goes on to explain the implication of these observations:
That last observation also applies to the Obama administration. Want to take a noninterventionist position? All right, then, take a noninterventionist position. This would mean not referring to Khamenei in fawning tones as the supreme leader and not calling Iran itself by the tyrannical title of "the Islamic republic." But be aware that nothing will stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed. (Hint: Don't make your sole reference to Iranian dictatorship an allusion to a British-organized coup in 1953; the mullahs think that it proves their main point, and this generation has more immediate enemies to confront.)
There is then the larger question of the Iranian theocracy and its continual, arrogant intervention in our affairs: its export of violence and cruelty and lies to Lebanon and Palestine and Iraq and its unashamed defiance of the United Nations, the European Union, and the International Atomic Energy Agency on the nontrivial matter of nuclear weapons. I am sure that I was as impressed as anybody by our president's decision to quote Martin Luther King--rather late in the week--on the arc of justice and the way in which it eventually bends. It was just that in a time of crisis and urgency he was citing the wrong King text (the right one is to be found in the "Letter From a Birmingham Jail"), and it was also as if he were speaking as the president of Iceland or Uruguay rather than as president of these United States. Coexistence with a nuclearized, fascistic theocracy in Iran is impossible even in the short run. The mullahs understand this with perfect clarity. Why can't we?
Oh I get it, Mr. Hitchens. It's our president who seems not to understand.
June 26, 2009
Stop Waxman-Markey, the "Cap 'n Trade" Tax
From this morning's Washington Times
The Democrat-led House pressed Thursday for enough votes to pass landmark legislation that would combat global warming by forcing U.S. companies to reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions, expanding expensive renewable-energy sources and trimming consumers' choices on new light bulbs and hot tubs.
Publicly, President Obama urged passage of the legislation -- one of his top priorities -- even though it faces near-unanimous opposition from Republicans. Behind the scenes, his top aides and environmental allies lobbied wavering Democrats to vote yes as early as Friday.
But resistance there remained high among both Democrats and Republicans to key components of the bill, including its complicated pollution-permit market system called cap-and-trade. In addition, Senate Democrats are divided over regional disparities in the impact of the bill.
The House bill would cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions -- primarily carbon dioxide -- 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. It would also establish a new Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), which would force utilities to supply a minimum amount of their electricity from renewable energy sources.
The bill would reach carbon-dioxide emission targets by establishing a cap-and-trade system, which would require heavy emitters of carbon dioxide, and the oil and gas industry, to buy annual emissions permits from the government or through a secondary market.
The plan, as written by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would auction a small percentage of the available permits, or allowances, directly to companies. The rest, more than 85 percent, would be given away to selected industries, local utility companies, states and Indian tribes.
Waxman-Markey, otherwise known as the Waxman-Markey, otherwise known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) is absolutely the nuttiest bill ever devised. It's designed to fight a non-existent problem, it creates a trading system that will serve no purpose other than to waste time and money, and dramatically increases government power. It's like something out of a Franz Kafka novel.
I could write forever about how no, there's no consensus among scientists that global warming is real, that carbon emissions are contributing to it, or that if it is occurring there's anything we can do about it. But Jim Manzi has a good post over at The Corner so I'll let him speak for me (follow the link to his piece for links to his sources):
It appears that years of debate about climate change and energy may now come down to a vote on an actual bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES). As I write this, the vote is scheduled for Friday. If it occurs, you will be asked to vote to implement carbon rationing in the United States.
Without regard to party or ideology, I believe that the evidence is clear that this law would be contrary to the public interest. Here is why, in a nutshell:
1. It would be a terrible deal for American taxpayers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it is projected to impose annual costs of about $1,100 per household (a little less than 1% of total consumption) by 2050. The benefits we will get in return? If the law works precisely as intended, in about one hundred years we should expect surface temperatures to be a about one-tenth of one degree Celsius lower than they otherwise would be. The expected costs are at least ten times the expected benefits, even using the EPA's cost estimates and assuming achievement of the primary goal of the legislation.
2. The argument that "Okay, it's a terrible deal standalone, but we need to lead the world by example" is extremely unconvincing. First, while you are probably not a climate-science expert, I bet you've negotiated a few things in your life. What do you think about the negotiating strategy of unilaterally giving away our most obvious leverage -- namely "we'll reduce our emissions if you reduce yours" -- and instead hoping that those nice men who rule China will be guilted into sacrificing their perceived economic self-interest if we just go first? Second and more fundamentally, as per many detailed analyses, the global deal that we would theoretically be chasing isn't even attractive, even if we assume every technical climate change prediction by the UN IPCC is correct.
3. Contrary to early expectations that auctioning cap-and-trade permits would generate $80 billion per year of government revenue, this law would not contribute materially to deficit reduction. You've seen the internal negotiations up close. Because so many allowances have been given away to special interests to try to get the votes needed to pass ACES, the CBO now estimates that it will bring in a net of a little over $2 billion per year over the next decade. As you know, this is about one one-thousandth of this year's budget deficit.
4. A further effect of all of these deals (which are entirely predictable in a democracy) is that ACES is very unlikely to achieve even the limited benefits that are claimed for it. The details of the bill mean that there is now not a hard cap on emissions for at least the first decade of its existence. What do you think the odds are that this will change at some undetermined point in the far future when all of the normal interest-group pressures of a democracy are supposed to magically disappear?
5. In short, Waxman-Markey would impose costs at least ten times as large as its benefits, would not reduce the deficit, and doesn't even really cap emissions.
So why the rush to get this enacted? Kim Strassel at the Wall Street Journal has the scoop:
Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as "deniers." The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.
In April, the Polish Academy of Sciences published a document challenging man-made global warming. In the Czech Republic, where President Vaclav Klaus remains a leading skeptic, today only 11% of the population believes humans play a role. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tap Claude Allegre to lead the country's new ministry of industry and innovation. Twenty years ago Mr. Allegre was among the first to trill about man-made global warming, but the geochemist has since recanted. New Zealand last year elected a new government, which immediately suspended the country's weeks-old cap-and-trade program.
The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. -- 13 times the number who authored the U.N.'s 2007 climate summary for policymakers. Joanne Simpson, the world's first woman to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, expressed relief upon her retirement last year that she was finally free to speak "frankly" of her nonbelief. Dr. Kiminori Itoh, a Japanese environmental physical chemist who contributed to a U.N. climate report, dubs man-made warming "the worst scientific scandal in history." Norway's Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize winner for physics, decries it as the "new religion." A group of 54 noted physicists, led by Princeton's Will Happer, is demanding the American Physical Society revise its position that the science is settled. (Both Nature and Science magazines have refused to run the physicists' open letter.)
The collapse of the "consensus" has been driven by reality. The inconvenient truth is that the earth's temperatures have flat-lined since 2001, despite growing concentrations of C02. Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans. A global financial crisis has politicians taking a harder look at the science that would require them to hamstring their economies to rein in carbon.
Read the whole thing. Her piece goes on and on with evidence like this.
The House will certainly pass this legislation. It is uncertain whether the Senate will follow suit. Stopping it will represent a victory not only for conservatives, but for the future of our nation. Write your Senators as soon as this thing gets through the House.
June 24, 2009
Terror in Tehran... But is the Government Getting the Upper Hand?
A young woman describes her horrific experiences in Tehran today while CNN uses Google Earth to show where the events took place. The regime has moved into high gear as it looses restraints on the security forces:
In another interview a student protester described his experiences over the telephone to CNN's John Roberts:
Roberts: Mohammad, we have been talking this morning about what the students are fighting for and whether the students are fighting for something different than the older more established political candidates like Moussavi. Are the students seeking regime change? Are they looking to bring down the Ayatollah and completely change the form of government there in Iran? Or are you looking for - as has been suggested - more civil rights, more freedoms within the context of the existing regime?
Mohammad: Yes. Let me tell you something. For about three decades our nation has been humiliated and insulted by this regime. Now Iranians are united again one more time after 1979 Revolution. We are a peaceful nation. We don't hate anybody. We want to be an active member of the international community. We don't want to be isolated. Is this much of a demand for a country with more than 2,500 years of civilization? We don't deny the Holocaust. We do accept Israel's rights. And actually, we want -- we want severe reform on this structure. This structure is not going to be tolerated by the majority of Iranians. We need severe reform, as much as possible.
The perspective of only one young person to be sure, but interesting nonetheless. Here is where it really gets good though
Mohammad: Americans, European Union, international community, this government is not definitely -- is definitely not elected by the majority of Iranians. So it's illegal. Do not recognize it. Stop trading with them. Impose much more sanctions against them. My message...to the international community, especially I'm addressing President Obama directly - how can a government that doesn't recognize its people's rights and represses them brutally and mercilessly have nuclear activities? This government is a huge threat to global peace. Will a wise man give a sharp dagger to an insane person? We need your help international community. Don't leave us alone.
Chetry: Mohammad, what do you think the international community should do besides sanctions?
Mohammad: Actually, this regime is really dependent on importing gasoline. More than 85% of Iran's gasoline is imported from foreign countries. I think international communities must sanction exporting gasoline to Iran and that might shut down the government.
There's an idea for anyone who claims that we can't do anything. And for all those who protest that stopping the importation of gasoline would only hurt the people and not the government, I wonder if they took that attitude when sanctions were put on apartheid South Africa?
At least he rescinded the invitation to Iranian diplomats to our Independence Day celebrations.
This latest report from Fox News make me think that the government is getting the upper hand
A flood of security forces using tear gas and clubs quickly overwhelmed a small group of rock-throwing protesters near Iran's parliament Wednesday, and the country's supreme leader said the outcome of the disputed presidential election will stand -- the latest signs of the government's growing confidence in quelling unrest on the streets.
As the election showdown has shifted, demonstrators are finding themselves increasingly scattered and struggling under a blanket crackdown that the wife of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi compared to martial law. In Wednesday's clashes, thousands of police crushed hundreds of Mousavi supporters.
The statement by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that the June 12 election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would not be reversed was accompanied by a vow that the nation's rulers would never yield to demands from the streets.
What To Do
As Edward Luttwak said in todays Wall Street Journal, however this turns out, the events of the past week have "undermined the very structure of the Islamic Republic is the fracturing of its ruling elite." This, then, is the time to apply a full-court-press as stand a good chance of toppling the regime entirely.
Whatever we do we most certainly should not do is go back to business as usual with Iran.
Shun the Regime. This was suggested by Jonah Goldberg today. No meeting with any Iranian official for any reason. This means no negotiations over anything. And it certainly means no more stupid letters from our president. We twist arms around the world and use all of our carrots and sticks to make other nations shun Iran as well. If Ahmadinejad or any other official speaks before any forum, we get as many nations as possible to walk out. Shunning them will cost the regime legitimacy, and will weaken it internally. Remember that when the U.S. and other nations refused to allow entry to Austrian President Kurt Waldheim over his Nazi past, he had to eventually resign. Shunning regime officials will pressure them to reform, and at best cause the system to fall.
Ban the importation of gasoline, as suggested above. Yes this will hurt the people of Iran, but only in the short run. It will also hurt the military who will turn on the mullahs and force change.
These are just two ideas but let me know yours.
June 23, 2009
More Action, Protests, Remberences of Neda Agha-Soltan in Iran
Here are some of the latest videos of the the protests in Iran (h/t The Corner)
This one by the Associated Press shows amateur video reportedly shot on Sunday. It also shows protests, and the police making arrests. It also shows part of the infamous video where Neda Agha-Soltan, dubbed the "Angel of Freedom," lay dying of a gunshot wound to the heart.
This one is labeled "Night to June 22," which I take means it was shot Sunday night.
This next one, though, is my favorite. It was shot sometime over the weekend that shows a crowd turning on the police and chasing them. This isn't the norm, to be sure, but it sure is good to see:
They aren't just protesting in Iran. Here's a video of a protest in front of the Iranian consulate in Washington DC
Iran's "Angel of Freedom"
We'll end by quoting a piece in the New York Post about Neda Agha-Soltan (or Sultan), who has become a symbol of resistance to the Iranian regime. Some of the protesters in Tehran are carrying signs with her picture on it.
The young Iranian woman whose gruesome killing has become a rallying cry for the nation's opposition movement eerily predicted her violent death by gunfire -- but was determined to protest against "the injustice of it all," a friend said yesterday.
As the violence continues to escalate on the streets of the embattled Middle Eastern nation, the beautiful philosophy student, Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, who had been engaged to be married, is being hailed as Iran's Joan of Arc.
The government yesterday blocked a wake for her in a central Tehran mosque for fear that the outpouring of grief would lead to more anti-regime protests, her fiancé, Caspian Makan, told the BBC.
"The authorities are aware that everybody in Iran and throughout the whole world knows about her story," Makan said.
"They were afraid that lots of people could turn up."
The 40-second video of Neda's death has not been aired on Iranian state-sponsored TV, but many in the country -- and worldwide -- have seen it on the Internet.
Since the video made shock waves across the Web, her photo has been held aloft at demonstrations all over the globe.
One and a Half Cheers for Obama
Yipee, after a week and a half of equivocating, our president said something right today regarding Iran. Mostly right, anyway.
Hello, everybody. Good afternoon, everybody. Today, I want to start by addressing three issues, and then I'll take your questions. First, I'd like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.
I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering with Iran's affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and the dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.
The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in Iran -- some in the Iranian government, in particular, are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others in the West of instigating protests over the election. These accusations are patently false. They're an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran's borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won't work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States or the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they -- and only they -- will choose.
The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That's precisely what's happened in the last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests [sic] of justice. Despite the Iranian government's efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers, and so we've watched what the Iranian people are doing.
This is what we've witnessed. We've seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands of Iranians marching in silence. We've seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and that their voices are heard. Above all, we've seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we've experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful, we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.
As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent and not coercion. That's what Iran's own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.
Note that he used the words "appalled," "outraged," and "condemed." Good for him and I'm glad he said it, but I think Michael Goldfarb has it right:
This is Russia invades Georgia redux. Obama flails for a few days and finally gets the rhetoric where it should have been from day one. If speaking forthrightly is right today, why was it not right four days ago? If speaking forthrightly would endanger allegedly greater interests, why speak today? If speaking forthrightly would enable the mullahs to make the United States the issue, why speak today?
The intellectual and moral incoherence of Obama's pronouncements is staggering. Today he decides to join Merkel, Sarko, et al in expressing concern for the brave Iranians fighting for their freedom with his customary swagger. We should not just sit back and say better late than never. We should see the dangers of a soulless president whose limited foreign policy instincts are all wrong, who refuses to discuss the consequences of murder with a Bush-like swagger and who's so stubborn and rigid he won't even rescind an invitation to a barbecue. It's a shame he didn't stick to reading the great Urdu poets.
Yup. I think the only reason Obama has changed his tune is that he felt pressured to do so.
Just to show what a weenie our president is, and that I am probably being way too generous in giving him one and a half cheers for his statement today, here is how he responded to questions in a press conference following the statement (h/t Mike's America)
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Your administration has said that the offer to talk to Iran's leaders remains open. Can you say if that's still so even with all the violence that has been committed by the government against the peaceful protesters?
And if it is, is there any red line that your administration won't cross where that offer will be shut off?
OBAMA: Well, obviously what's happened in Iran is profound, and we're still waiting to see how it plays itself out.
My position coming into this office has been that the United States has core national security interests in making sure that Iran doesn't possess a nuclear weapon and it stops exporting terrorism outside of its borders.
We have provided a path whereby Iran can reach out to the international community, engage, and become a part of international norms.
It is up to them to make a decision as to whether they choose that path. What we've been saying over the last several days, the last couple of weeks, obviously is not encouraging in terms of the path that this regime may choose to take.
And the fact that they are now in the midst of an extraordinary debate taking place in Iran, you know, may end up coloring how they respond to the international community as a whole.
We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed. But to reiterate, there is a path available to Iran in which their sovereignty is respected, their traditions, their culture, their faith is respected, but one in which they are part of a larger community that has responsibilities and operates according to norms and international rules that are universal.
We don't know how they're going to respond yet, and that's what we're waiting to see.
QUESTION: So should there be consequences for what's happened so far?
OBAMA: I think that the international community is, as I said before, bearing witness to what's taking place. And the Iranian government should understand that how they handle the dissent within their own country, generated indigenously, internally, from the Iranian people, will help shape the tone, not only for Iran's future, but also its relationship to other countries.
Back to the old equivocating and weasel words. The guy sounds like a regular Clinton in how he tries to parse his language. He's keeping his language so however things turn out he can say he was on their side.
Despite that the Iranian government has behaved abysmally, he still won't commit to any consequences, but blathers on about the "international community," as if there were such a thing. Stephen Hayes makes the point
The reason to talk about consequences is, at least in part, because it offers an opportunity to influence how this is going to play out. It may be the case that there are few potential consequences from the international community that could affect regime behavior. But if that's the case -- and given the regime's support for terror, its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, its theft of the election, and its violent suppression of the protests -- doesn't that make it more urgent for the international community to at least try to affect behavior and at least raise the possibility that there will come a time when the world refuses to recognize the current regime?
Obama talks like a professor, not as a world leader unafraid to take hard decisions and make hard judgments. He needs to change his tune, and fast.
June 21, 2009
Will The Protesters In Iran Succeed In Overturning the Government?
Yesterday I wrote that although I certainly hoped they succeeded in overturning the government "unless there are some disaffected mullahs or potential leaders we don't know about, or unless important elements of the military turn on the government, it's hard to see a full scale replacement of the current government." In all probability the protests would probably peter out, though the regime would be shaken as never before, and would never again be able to function as it had before.
Today we'll look at some analysis from people I trust
First up is the Iranian expatriate journalist Amir Taheri. In today's New York Post he writes that he doesn't think the protests will die down anytime soon. If he is right, there is a lot more support for the protesters in the upper echelons of Iran than I had realized:
Opposition sources put the number of those arrested at around 3,000, including virtually all key aides to Mussavi and Karrubi. Among those arrested are the editors of two of Tehran's leading newspapers, 16 officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and dozens of mullahs and students of theology who have rallied to the opposition.
That even the Shiite clergy is turning against the regime is indicated by statements of support for the protestors by three of the six mullahs who form the highest echelon of Shi'ite clerical leadership in Iran. The three are grand ayatollahs Hussein Ali Montazeri, Yussuf San'ei and Abdul-Karim Mussavi Ardebili.
This tells me that what's going on is not just street mobs vs the government. This is crucial because street action can create a lot of chaos but in the end cannot take over anything, because it by definition has no leadership. One reason the revolution in 1979 succeeded is because the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his cohort was waiting in the wings, ready to take power. From Taheri's information it is possible that there are credible leaders who could take power if enough of the military loses confidence in Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Second is John O'Sullivan, former publisher of National Review, who wrote this not too editor in chief Rich Lowry:
Thanks for your note. I am happy to give you my judgment on the Iranian revolt. In brief, it's one of the most important movements of our time. It radically undermines both the realist argument that Muslims are uninterested in democracy and the Jihadist claim to represent the mass of Muslims. And if it continues--whether it is crushed or triumphs in the immediate future--it will add immeasurably to the forces of evolutionary change in the Muslim world since it strikes me as being more like the Glorious, American and "velvet" revolutions (i.e., it is a revolution against a radical revolution) than like the French, Bolshevik, and 1979 revolutions.
Well, that's a bigger mouthful than you expected. But this is an issue on which I would prefer you to take the advice and opinions of my Iranian colleagues on Radio Farda and the English language website of RFERL. So I am attaching two documents below that I think you will find helpful.
The first is a private e-mail form my senior colleague, Abbas Djavadi, a former head of Farda and now the Associate Director for the service as a whole. I had asked him to predict what might now happen. Here is his reply (which I quote with permission) from a hurried discussion yesterday:
Defiance? Definitely, but I don't know for how long. Nobody says it loudly but everybody understands this is about the Supreme Leader and not only Ahmadinejad. Yesterday after Khamenei's speech I thought they would back off. Today in the morning I thought it may be primarily students. This afternoon surprised me. Not only students, not only Tehran. Maybe Mousavi has been pushed up as opposition leader against will. He had the motivation for it for the last 20 years when he kept away from government. He seems to be emboldened now, seeing the masses and the ripening of something in the society, in "masses" and in most big cities.
I wish I could know if it would continue and how. I think nobody knows. I am seeing here two big issues, based on what I am hearing and reading the live inputs and feedback from the "foot soldiers":1) Mousavi has to further establish himself as a popular leader. Today he again said he has prayed to God that he is ready for martyrdom, sign of strengthened resolve. He needs support from more, hundreds of thousands and millions of middle and upper classes (villagers never attended the Islamic revolution 1979, workers joined just in the last few months of the revolution, middle class did it with a bit upper classes). Bazaris, for example, teachers, doctors, vendors, municipality workers, mid-level state employees, lawyers... And the most important: he needs to get more support from moderate or other clergymen opposed to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad -- people who have been critical, but have rarely spoken out. If we have that trend growing in the next few weeks and months, we will have a new ball game in Iran. If not, the resistance will gradually fade out while reprisals intensify.
2) Security and organization as well as communication of the opposition leaders (Mousavi and Karroubi). Today and last weeks were typical. Will they join the demonstrations? Are the meetings cancelled? There were hundreds of conflicting news, information and disinformation until it really happened. And it happened, mainly thanks to the websites, Facebook and Twitter. 20 years ago it would be unimaginable. But the communication is distorted and disorganized. Security for the leading figures is also extremely important. What if Mousavi just disappeared? (detained, under strict house arrest) etc.? Khomeini in 1978 had the security provided to him in Paris and his big group of executives in Europe instructing his army of mullahs inside Iran what to do and how to lead the movement. In the case of Mousavi, once he is out of the country, he would be disregarded and would play no role after a year or so at all. [Yet] staying safe in Iran while the movement is intensifying is a contradiction per se. And we don't have any relieving indications that they are well organized. That's also bad. Things may change and would change if both the defiance continues and if the leadership grows together with the defiance.
That is the judgment of a shrewd and experienced observer of Iranian politics.
What this tells me is that the situation is very fluid and could go either way, but again there are opposition leaders. They're hardly perfect, of course, as neither Mousavi nor Karroubi are to be mistaken for Thomas Jefferson on any day.
But the protests don't have to completely overthrow the existing government and institute a Western style democracy complete with Bill of Rights in order to succeed. All they have to do is topple the existing system and start a process of slow reform. Once the hard-line theocrats have been chased from power, the work of real reform can begin.
June 20, 2009
Violence in Iran, and Obama Shifts His Position...Sort of
Arguably the most dramatic - and distrubing - video is this one
The story, as relayed by The Weekly Standard:
At 19:05 June 20th Place: Karekar Ave., at the corner crossing Khosravi St. and Salehi st.
A young woman who was standing aside with her father watching the protests was shot by a basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart. I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim's chest, and she died in less than 2 minutes.
The protests were going on about 1 kilometers away in the main street and some of the protesting crowd were running from tear gass used among them, towards Salehi St.
The film is shot by my friend who was standing beside me.
Please let the world know.
Update: The young woman has been identified as Neda Agha-Soltan
This one shows confrontations with the police
In this one, a protester has been shot
A few photos, though I'm not sure exactly when they were taken
This one is from CNN's excellent photo essay
From the Fox News story about the protests today
The clashes along one of Tehran's main avenues -- as described by witnesses -- had far fewer demonstrators than recent mass rallies for Mousavi. But they marked another blow to authorities who sought to intimidate protesters with harsh warnings and lines of black-clad police three deep in places.
The rallies also left questions about Mousavi's ability to hold together his protest movement, which claims that widespread fraud in June 12 elections robbed Mousavi of victory and kept hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in office.
Mousavi bewildered many followers by not directly replying to the ultimatum issued Friday by Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His stern order to Mousavi and others: Call off demonstrations or risk being held responsible for "bloodshed, violence and rioting."
So I'm not sure at all where this thing is going. It's possible the protests could just peter out.
Whether it does or not, this story today from the Los Angeles Times told us what we had pretty much guessed, that the regime was using a lot of violence against protesters:
Reporting from Tehran -- A huge swath of downtown Tehran erupted in fiery chaos today as helmeted security forces and pro-government militias armed with tear gas and water cannons battled stone-throwing protesters defying warnings from the country's supreme leader against further demonstrations over a disputed presidential election.
Fierce clashes pitting protesters against security forces and militiamen broke out when cordons of police attempted to block a rally from forming by beating demonstrators and pushing them into waiting police vans.
At one point, anti-riot police shot into the air after they roughed up a young woman and attracted the ire of protesters. A middle-aged man could be seen staggering along the sidewalk near Tehran University with blood dripping from his face.
Protesters formed into rock-throwing crowds that fought running battles with militiamen in camouflage uniforms for control of streets and intersections, witnesses said.
By nighttime, witnesses said, the unrest stretched from the side streets along Enghelab Street all the way from Azadi (Freedom) Street to Vali Asr Street, a miles-long corridor that is among the city's most important east-west thoroughfares. There were reports that disturbances had also broken out in other parts of the city, especially key squares in the north Tehran, but they could not be immediately confirmed.
And this bit from a CNN story is very interesting
Another (video) showed that the unrest had spread beyond the capital -- police clad in riot gear dispersing a crowd at a university in the southern city of Shiraz, beating screaming women with their batons.
Witnesses in Tehran said crowd members were chanting "Death to Khamenei!" and "I will kill whoever killed my brother!" The latter phrase dates to Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power.
What To Make Of It
At this point it's hard to know what to make of these reports. How widespread are the protests really? What do the majority of Iranians think? It's impossible to know. One big difference between what's happening now and 1979 is that there is no obvious government-in-waiting. From what I can tell, Mir Hossien Mousavi is only different from Ahmadinejad in degree, not in kind. So unless there are some disaffected mullahs or potential leaders we don't know about, or unless important elements of the military turn on the government, it's hard to see a full scale replacement of the current government. But if what's happening now leads to serious changes in the system, that'll be good enough for now.
Meamwhile, Back At the Ranch
President Obama issued a new statement on Iran today. Here it is in its entirety:
The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.
Martin Luther King once said - "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples' belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.
I await the thunderous denunciations of Obama's vastly improved statement today by all those who have defended his timidity to this point. No, actually I don't. I await hackish turn-abouts that praise Obama for saying the kind of things the evil "neo-cons" have been urging him to say for a week.
Until today, anyway, Obama's behavior had gotten so bad that even the editors of The Washington Post took him to task. After correctly saying that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's speech yesterday was "a challenge to his internal foes -- and the Obama administration," they went on to say that.
Either way, President Obama's policy cannot remain unaffected. As of today, it remains tantalizingly possible that he may be able to engage a new and more reasonable Iranian government. But it is depressingly plausible that he will be facing a cornered, radicalized despotism. It would be unthinkable to attempt to do business with such a regime while pretending that nothing fundamental has changed. That is why Mr. Obama was ill-advised to muse that "the difference between [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and [opposition candidate Mir Hossein] Mousavi in terms of their actual positions may not be as great as has been advertised."
I wouldn't hold my breath. My guess is that no matter what the outcome Obama is determined to have his negotiations.
The Case For Meddling
As for the notion that American silence is unhelpful to reformers, this simply contradicts historical experience. Successful movements to alter authoritarian and totalitarian regimes almost always depend on internal dissent backed by strong international support. Those key factors are often required to get a regime's enablers -- including domestic security forces -- to lose confidence and eventually succumb.
Time and again and around the world -- from as recently as Tibet in 2008, to Egypt in 2005, to Tiananmen in 1989 -- the prospects of reform dim considerably without international support. In fact, we know of no modern democratic evolution or revolution that has succeeded without some support and pressure from the west.
Most famous was the demise of the Eastern Bloc and then the Soviet Union itself, which came on the heels of years of sustained U.S.-led international pressure. Another example is South Korea, where energetic bipartisan U.S. pressure peaked in 1987 when U.S. ambassador Jim Lilley hand delivered a letter from President Reagan urging against a crackdown on protesters. The advice was heeded. Two weeks later the protesters' demands were met, and Korean democracy was born.
Other transitions in places like South Africa, Panama, Taiwan, Georgia, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Indonesia also all involved considerable pressure from the outside world.
Given this history, could Iran be the one exception? President Obama thinks so. In making his case, the CIA's involvement in a coup in 1953 has become Exhibit A.
But even if many Iranians are still suspicious of U.S. intentions because of this coup, which happened at a perilous time in the Cold War, Mr. Obama must also consider that more than two-thirds of Iran's population is under thirty years of age and was born after the 1979 revolution. Their whole lives have been lived under this regime, and many correctly credit it with the misery with which they must contend, rather than a coup that occurred decades before they were born.
We do not want to minimize the myriad tactical dilemmas here in addressing a fluid situation. But the minority camp inside the Obama Administration seems to understand that the threshold dilemma must first be met. The job of an American president is not that of a history professor, but an actor in history. As masses march and bullets fly this weekend, a timeless question cannot be avoided. Even if we cannot know or control the outcome, we have a responsibility, through our actions as a nation, to answer clearly the question: whose side are we on? For President Obama's team, Monday could begin a critical week of reassessment.
Let's hope so.
House and Senate Democrats Diss Both Obama and Liberal Bloggers
Both the House and Senate have passed resolutions regarding the situation in Iran. The House version is much stronger than anything said by President Obama thus far. The text of the Senate resolution is not available yet.
Expressing support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law, and for other purposes.
Resolved, That the House of Representatives--(1) expresses its support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law;
(2) condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones; and
(3) affirms the universality of individual rights and the importance of democratic and fair elections.
The resolution passed 401-1, the only opposing vote being cast by...Ron Paul. Sigh.
On Friday the Senate passed Senate Resolution 193, but as of this writing the text is not available. I'll post it as soon as it is.
What's interesting is that this places House and Senate Democrats squarely in opposition to President Obama...not to mention many liberal bloggers.
Although President Obama's spokesman Gibbs tried to say that the House resolution "echoes Obama's message," I don't see it. Nowhere has the President used the word "condemn" to describe what the Iranian government has done, nor has anything he has said been nearly as strong (see here and here). We do know that he worked to tone down the original resolution, so we know that he's still "sensitive" to offending the mullahs. Wouldn't want to upset his quest for negotiations. But judge for yourself.
Democratic congressman Howard Berman (CA-28) had this to say on the House floor during debate:
Mr. Speaker, every day since Iran's election, the streets of Tehran have been filled with demonstrators, and each day this past week, the number seems to be growing.
Even state-run media in Iran has put the number of demonstrators in Tehran at "hundreds of thousands." One British newspaper reports that there were a million demonstrators in Tehran yesterday.
What do these demonstrators want? Are they simply in favor of the candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi? Or are they making a more profound statement about the Iranian regime?
Nobody knows exactly. We do know one thing, though: The demonstrators feel their intelligence was insulted and their dignity assaulted by the high-handed manner in which the results of the June 12 election were handled. They want justice - this morning, the Supreme Leader offered none.
It is not for us to decide who should run Iran, much less determine the real winner of the June 12th election.
But we must reaffirm our strong belief that the Iranian people have a fundamental right to express their views about the future of their country freely, and without intimidation.
The Iranian regime is clearly embarrassed by the demonstrations and has not shrunk from using violence to stop them. At least eight demonstrators - and quite likely, a number more - have been killed and hundreds have been injured.
The Regime has also tried to ban media coverage of the demonstrations. Foreign journalists are consigned to their homes and offices; several have been expelled from the country.
Cell-phone coverage has been frequently blocked in order to limit communication among the protestors. And the regime has interfered with the Internet and taken down many opposition Web sites.
We cannot stand silent in the face of this assault on human freedom and dignity.
I repeat that we have no interest in interfering in Iran's internal affairs. That era has ended.
This resolution "affirms the universality of individual rights," as well as "the importance of democratic and fair elections." Beyond that, it simply expresses its solidarity with "Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law."
I don't know how many of the demonstrators fall into that category, but I do know that many of them do.
This resolution also condemns the bloody suppression of freedom.
It is not a judgment on who won the Iranian elections. It is an acknowledgement that we cannot remain silent when cherished, universal principles are under attack.
Mr. Speaker, I want to just offer my appreciation to our ranking member and to the gentleman from Indiana for working together on a resolution which puts the House of Representatives on the side of the people of Iran. And with that, I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this resolution.
If you think we shouldn't conduct clandestine operations against the mullahs like Reagan did against the communists in support of Solidarity in Poland, fine. But surely we can agree that we shouldn't be silent, or only say that we are "troubled by the violence," or are "monitoring the situation." Surely we can at least condemn what is going on.
Finally, these resolutions would seem to put many liberal bloggers at odds with Democrats in Congress at well. You don't have to go far on the Internet to see quite hysterical reactions to any suggestion that President Obama is not handling this exactly right. It'll be interesting to see how they spin this.
June 18, 2009
In lieu of writing anything myself tonight, I'll post Victor Davis Hanson's latest. As always, he's brilliant, and perfectly right. It's a hard choice, but I think his number five is my favorite.
Are you confused by all that has changed since Pres. Barack Obama took office in January? If so, you're not alone. Perhaps, though, this handy guide to Age of Obama "logic" might be of some assistance.
1. The Budget. Wanting to cut $17 billion from the budget, as President Obama has promised, is proof of financial responsibility. Borrowing $1.84 trillion this year for new programs is "stimulus." The old phrase "out-of-control spending" is inoperative.
2. Unemployment. The number of jobs theoretically saved, or created, by new government policies -- not the actual percentage of Americans out of work, or the total number of jobs lost -- is now the far better indicator of unemployment.
3. The Private Sector. Nationalizing much of the auto and financial industries, while regulating executive compensation, is an indication of our new government's repeatedly stated reluctance to interfere in the private sector.
4. Race and Gender. Not what is said, but who says it and about whom reveals racism and sexism. For example, a Hispanic female judge isn't being offensive if she states that Latinas are inherently better judges than white males.
5. Random violence. Some assassinations represent larger American pathologies, but others do not. When a crazed lone gunman murders someone outside the Holocaust Museum or shoots an abortion doctor, we should worry about growing right-wing and Christian extremism. But when an African-American Muslim convert brags about his murder of a military recruitment officer or an Islamic group plots to kill Jews and blow up a military jet, these are largely isolated incidents without larger relevance.
6. Terrorism. Acts of terror disappeared about six months ago. Thankfully, we live now in an age where there will be -- in the new vocabulary of the Obama administration -- only occasional "overseas contingency operations" in which we may be forced to hold a few "detainees." At the same time, ongoing military tribunals, renditions, wiretaps, phone intercepts, and Predator-drone assassinations are no longer threats to the Constitution. And just saying you're going to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is proof that it is almost closed.
7. Iraq. The once-despised Iraq War thankfully ended around Jan. 20, 2009, and has now transformed into a noble experiment that is fanning winds of change throughout the Middle East. There will be no need for any more Hollywood cinema exposés of American wartime crimes in Iraq with titles like Rendition, Redacted, Lions for Lambs, and Stop-Loss.
8. The West. Western values and history aren't apparently that special or unique. As President Obama told the world during his recent speech in Cairo, the Renaissance and Enlightenment were, in fact, fueled by a brilliant Islamic culture, responsible for landmark discoveries in mathematics, science, and medicine. Slavery in America ended without violence. Mistreatment of women and religious intolerance in the Middle East have comparable parallels in America.
9. Media. The media are disinterested and professional observers of the present administration. When television anchormen and senior magazine editors bow to the president, proclaim him a god, or feel tingling in the legs when he speaks, it is quite normal.
10. George W. Bush. Former president Bush did all sorts of bad things to the United States that only now we are learning will take at least eight years to sort out. "Bush did it" for the next decade will continue to explain the growing unemployment rate, the most recent deficit, the new round of tensions with Iran and North Korea, and the growing global unrest from the Middle East to South America.
Once we remember and accept the logic of the above, then almost everything about this Age of Obama begins to make perfect sense.
June 17, 2009
Reagan v Obama: How To Handle Tyranny
International human rights organizations said Wednesday that many prominent activists and politicians have been arrested in response to protests over the Iran's disputed election.
Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights, said he had spoken with family members and colleagues of people who have been arrested or disappeared and was told that there were at least 200 across the country.
Yet President Obama refuses to take a stand for freedom
Stephen Hayes says it best
President Obama said that he admired the protesters, not that he supported them. He refused to say anything at all that might have been understood as a direct criticism of the plainly fraudulent election. (On Tuesday, in his most aggressive statement, he said he joins the rest of the world in its "deep concern" about the election.) And by pretending that the coming "investigation" of perceived "irregularities" might actually be a serious undertaking, he strengthened the position of a criminal regime--or, as he prefers, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As I outlined yesterday and the day before, rather than taking a stand our president issues mealymouthed statements and talks in that strange bureaucratic language that sounds like it came from a computerized phrase generator.
Once Upon A Time
On December 13, 1981 the Polish government declared martial law, and General Wojciech Jaruzelski took over the government. The Solidarity trade union was banned, and its leaders, most notably Lech Wałęsa, were arrested and thrown into prison.
Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and he wasn't having any of it. Less than a week later he said this during a press conference:
All the information that we have confirms that the imposition of martial law in Poland has led to the arrest and confinement, in prisons and detention camps, of thousands of Polish trade union leaders and intellectuals. Factories are being seized by security forces and workers beaten.
These acts make plain there's been a sharp reversal of the movement toward a freer society that has been underway in Poland for the past year and a half. Coercion and violation of human rights on a massive scale have taken the place of negotiation and compromise. All of this is in gross violation of the Helsinki Pact, to which Poland is a signatory.
It would be naive to think this could happen without the full knowledge and the support of the Soviet Union. We're not naive. We view the current situation in Poland in the gravest of terms, particularly the increasing use of force against an unarmed population and violations of the basic civil rights of the Polish people.
Violence invites violence and threatens to plunge Poland into chaos. We call upon all free people to join in urging the Government of Poland to reestablish conditions that will make constructive negotiations and compromise possible.
Certainly, it will be impossible for us to continue trying to help Poland solve its economic problems while martial law is imposed on the people of Poland, thousands are imprisoned, and the legal rights of free trade unions -- previously granted by the government -- are now denied. We've always been ready to do our share to assist Poland in overcoming its economic difficulties, but only if the Polish people are permitted to resolve their own problems free of internal coercion and outside intervention.
Our nation was born in resistance to arbitrary power and has been repeatedly enriched by immigrants from Poland and other great nations of Europe. So we feel a special kinship with the Polish people in their struggle against Soviet opposition to their reforms.
The Polish nation, speaking through Solidarity, has provided one of the brightest, bravest moments of modern history. The people of Poland are giving us an imperishable example of courage and devotion to the values of freedom in the face of relentless opposition. Left to themselves, the Polish people would enjoy a new birth of freedom. But there are those who oppose the idea of freedom, who are intolerant of national independence, and hostile to the European values of democracy and the rule of law.
Two Decembers ago, freedom was lost in Afghanistan; this Christmas, it's at stake in Poland. But the torch of liberty is hot. It warms those who hold it high. It burns those who try to extinguish it.
On December 23 he gave an address to the nation in which he said:
I want emphatically to state tonight that if the outrages in Poland do not cease, we cannot and will not conduct ``business as usual'' with the perpetrators and those who aid and abet them. Make no mistake, their crime will cost them dearly in their future dealings with America and free peoples everywhere. I do not make this statement lightly or without serious reflection.
But "business as usual" is what Obama is all about. In his case it is keeping his campaign promise of negotiations with out preconditions.
Reagan had it right. Almost immediately after his inauguration he "...met with his senior foreign policy advisers to discuss how to undermine Communist power in Poland and discourage Soviet intervention." Negotiations with the communists were at times necessary, but were not viewed as strategies in and of themselves. Overthrowing the communists was.
Obama should take a cue from Reagan and adopt a similar policy with regard to Iran.
June 16, 2009
Obama to Iranian Protesters: You're On Your Own
It is apparent that the protesters in Iran are not going to get any help from the Obama Administration.
It's a shame, too, because Iran could well be at the tipping point. There are specific times in history where a small push could have taken events in another direction. There were Five Days in May, 1940, where Britain teetered between accepting a Hitler dominated Europe and fighting.
We could be at a similar point in Iran. The demonstrations in Tehran against the government are huge, as has been widely reported. One to two million people have participated, and there have been several fatalities as a result of shooting by the police. The regime is obviously worried, and on Monday Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the Guardian Council to investigate charges of vote fraud. Today the council agreed to a limited recount. All this is simply an attempt to appease the protesters and is therefore for show, but the fact they're doing it shows that they fear they may lose control.
Let's be clear; the lead challenger, Mir-Hussein Mousavi, is no boy scout. It's not that I think he will lead the country to freedom. What I want is regime change. The way to do it is support a counterrevolution that will sweep the current government from power, and institute a new constitution. It's about establishing true liberty and democracy (not quite the same thing), and ridding the country of theocracy.
Stuck In Reactionary Mode
To the Obama Administration none of this matters. The only thing they seem to care about is setting up negotiations. As an AP story has it:
The United States urged Iran on Monday to agree to a meeting with the six key nations trying to ensure that its nuclear program is peaceful in which the U.S. will be "a full participant."
U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo told the U.N. Security Council that Iran has not responded to the request from the five permanent council members -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France -- and Germany for new talks, which would be the first international discussion on Iran's nuclear program since President Barack Obama took office in January.
Of course Iran hasn't responded. They're busy trying to quel a counterrevolution.
So what is the Obama Administration doing?
At a press conference earlier today President Obama said that "It's not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling." Uh huh. So it would be ok to "meddle" if we had a different history? Or we just shouldn't "meddle" at all?
Either way, perhaps on his next apology tour he could stop by South Africa and apologize for "meddling" during their apartheid era.
In a response to a question during Monday's press briefing Obama sounded like like one of those computer programs that strings together pre-written phrases. Here's an excerpt
Obviously all of us have been watching the news from Iran. And I want to start off by being very clear that it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be; that we respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran, which sometimes the United States can be a handy political football -- or discussions with the United States.
Having said all that, I am deeply troubled by the violence that I've been seeing on television. I think that the democratic process -- free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent -- all those are universal values and need to be respected. And whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they're, rightfully, troubled....
with respect to the United States and our interactions with Iran, I've always believed that as odious as I consider some of President Ahmadinejad's statements, as deep as the differences that exist between the United States and Iran on a range of core issues, that the use of tough, hard-headed diplomacy -- diplomacy with no illusions about Iran and the nature of the differences between our two countries -- is critical when it comes to pursuing a core set of our national security interests, specifically, making sure that we are not seeing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East triggered by Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon...blah blah blah.
What meaningless drivel. It's a series pre-written bureaucratic statements applicable to any situation. If there's trouble in Cuba next month we'll here the same thing but with different proper nouns and the sentences in a different order.
Allahpundit points out that
Whereas The One was "shocked and outraged" by the murder of George Tiller, the most he can muster here for mass beatings and cold-blooded killings across Iran is that he's "troubled." Make of it what you will.
On Sunday Secretary of State Clinton said that
We are monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran but we, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide.
The United States has refrained from commenting on the election in Iran. We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people.
Hope may have made a fine campaign slogan but it isn't a foreign policy for adults. More, it doesn't do squat to help the Iranian people.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly "declined to condemn the Iranian security forces for their crackdown on street protesters."
Further, unless additional information comes to light I think it clear that what's happening in Iran is the result of internal forces and not the result of anything any American president has done.
It is quite possible that Western intelligence forces are working behind the scenes, much as they did in Poland in the 1980s, to effect regime change. But until we have direct evidence of this we must assume it is not occurring, or at least not occurring to the point where it would have any effect on the outcome.
So if the protesters do succeed and force an accurate and true count of the votes, or better still bring down the government, President Obama cannot claim credit.
Melanie Phillips nails it
What is weakening the regime is not Obama's appeasement. It is resistance. It is the fact that the people did not take their stolen election lying down but turned out in their hundreds of thousands to demand justice - and are prepared to die for it - that has rocked the regime. With a reported twenty people dead yesterday and hundreds more injured at the hands of the regime's thugs, the people have now been galvanised still further. Staring at what might well be a true counter-revolutionary moment, the regime is wobbling, and has now announced there will be a recount of the vote.
And still Obama is getting it wrong. Not surprising -- having made nice with the tyrants and thus undermined the democrats he has been badly caught out and clearly doesn't know what to do. With whom does he now side? His reaction -- as promulgated by his fawning acolyte Miliband -- is to be even-handed and support neither. How appalling. The President of America should have immediately condemned in the strongest possible terms this brutal onslaught against people trying to claim their democratic rights, and supported them against injustice and oppression.
But he was silent for a full two days before finally coming up with a mealy-mouthed statement last night that he was 'deeply troubled' by events in Iran and that Iran's leaders should respect the 'universal values' of the democratic process. Clearly he was worried that if he supported the demonstrators, he might scupper his 'grand bargain' with the regime in which they get their nukes and he gets some meaningless agreement they won't use them. Thus appeasement betrays freedom many times over.
As the Confederate Yankee put it, "Obama got his 3:00 AM call, and refused to pick up the phone."
The Imperative of Regime Change
The objectives are one, to keep Iran from getting the bomb, or if they do make sure that the government is controlled by responsible people. I do not fear nuclear weapons in the hands of democratic France, I do fear them in the hands of the mullahs who rule Iran. Second, our objective is for Iran to stop promoting terror and terrorist organizations. Third, it is in our moral interest for human rights to be respected in as many places as possible.
The only way to achieve these objectives is through a change of government. Changing out the leaders won't work if the current constitution is left in place. A new constitution is needed.
The reason Obama needs to stop this mealymouthed nonsense is that may we have an opportunity to change the regime in Iran, and if we do not act the moment may be lost. The situation in Iran could go either way. The government may be able to regain control, even though it will be permanently damaged. But it could also lose control, with the whole theocracy swept away. What the United States says or does could make the difference.
At the very least, as Jim Geraghty and others have said that one way to influence events would be to hint that we won't talk with the Iranians if their crackdown continues. In March Iranian spokesmen told Obama to kiss off, they weren't interested in negotiations. As I said yesterday, the President of the United States confers legitimacy on whomever he meets. He should not meet with any Iranian leaders after they commit such election fraud.
June 14, 2009
A Few Thoughts On The Iranian Elections
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been declared the winner of last Friday's presidential election in Iran, with the official results having him at 62.6 percent of the vote, with his chief rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, at 33.75. The government also announced that 75% of eligible voters went to the polls.
This runs contrary to what many expected, and many are suspicious that the result is fraudulent. Ahmadinejad was declared the winner after only 2/3 of the votes were counted, and there are many other reports of irregularities. Mousavi has sent a letter to the Guardian Council calling for the election to be canceled and saying that he was the real winner.
Tellingly, many Iranians do not accpet the official results, and there are many reports of unrest and anti-government protests, along with severe crackdowns by riot police. It is hard to judge how extensive they are, and harder still to predict the staying power of the protesters. There were reports of irregularities in 2005, when Ahmadinejad was elected to his first term as president.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a statement urging the nation to accept Ahmadinejad as the legitimate winner.
A Few Thoughts
I've no idea whether the election was truly fraudulent or if so by how much. It's possible that Ahmadinejad did win a majority of the vote, and and that the losers are just engaged in sour grapes.
But I doubt it. As such, I will proceed as if the vote was rigged.
For the past several years some on the left have assured us that the rantings of Ahmadinejad do not really matter, because the presidency of Iran was a mostly symbolic office devoid of real power. "Listen to the mullahs, and watch what they do instead," we were told.
But since it is impossible for Ahmadinejad to have stolen the election without the acquiescence if not active participation of the mullahs (Supreme Leader, Guardian Council, Assembly of Experts), then they must support what he says and does. And if this is the case, then we must accept his message as the true voice of all the Iranian government.
The office of the president of the United States carries more weight than any other on earth. He conveys legitimacy on whomever he meets. In fact,for any official of the United States to meet with a person or nation bestows legitimacy on it. This is a fact that no amount of political spin can get around. As such, President Obama will legitimize the election of Ahmadinejad if he refuses to denounce his election as a fraud and meets with him or sends a representative to meet with him.
There were at least 28 meetings between Bush 43 Administration officials at the ambassadorial rank or above and representatives of the Iranian government. Every administration from Carter on has met with the Iranians. The question is whether Obama will denounce the election of Ahmadinejad first, just as Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" while still meeting with them, or wheher he'll engage in his usual "blame America first" routine.
As I've said about a zillion times, the best way to resolve the situation is through regime change. While we can work through clandestine means to achieve this, part of it can also be done publicly through an aggressive human rights campaign.
Unfortunately, the United States has a habit of encouraging democracy/independence protesters and then failing to support them when the chips were down. 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, and 1991-2 in southern Iraq, come to mind.
If Obama really wants change, he can start by standing up for the Iranian people. What he needs to do is go on the air immediately and give a strong speech calling into question the election results and denouncing the regime. As the voice of the president of the United States carries much weight, it will give the Iranian leaders pause. it will also encourage the protesters. With luck, we can tip the scales in the right direction. Let's give it a try.
June 12, 2009
The Sweet Vulgarity of David Letterman
I never really did like David Letterman, and here's more confirmation as to why:
What a guy.
Can you imagine him saying these things about Barack Obama or Joe Biden's daughters? Neither can I.
And he wouldn't say those things because he'd be driven off TV if he did. He'd never work again in Hollywood. But Sarah Palin, she's fair game for the most vulgar attacks .
This in the same way that Carrie Prejean was fair game for the most vile insults, even though her position on gay marriage mirrors that of Barack Obama and Joe Biden precisely.
Of course all this created a huge firestorm. And so of course Letterman issued a non-apology:
Victor Davis Hanson has the best response:
Smug, hip David Letterman offered a smirky non-apology about his ongoing class and sexist slurs against the Palins, his apparent social inferiors."We were, as we often do, making jokes about people in the news and we made some jokes about Sarah Palin and her daughter, the 18-year-old girl, who is -- her name is Bristol, that's right, and so, then, now they're upset with me . . ."
"These are not jokes made about her 14-year-old daughter. I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl. I mean, look at my record. It has never happened. I don't think it's funny. I would never think it was funny. I wouldn't put it in a joke..."
Examine the logic. First, Letterman makes a gutter joke about Palin and her unnamed 14-year-old daughter attending a NY Yankees game. Then when a bit of outrage follows, he apparently claims he really meant to slur the other 18-year-old daughter who, back in Alaska, of course did not attend the game but was not named by Letterman. That would be okay, you see.
Second, then he evokes the now common straw man "they" who are apparently "upset" with him, hoping to play the victim card. Then he dribbles out something about his "last show" as if we are to weep that some mob is out to silence him. (But the reason he picked the Palins, and not the Obamas, Gores, Bidens, or Kerrys, was precisely because he knew it would not equate to his "last show").
Third, he strangely amplifies his joke by confessing it really was about "raping" and "having sex of any description," but just not with a "14-year-old girl," suggesting it would have been okay had he just been more explicit and named Bristol, the 18-year-old. In Letterman's world, because Bristol is 18, she is a year past most statuary rape clauses and thus the joke would have only been about "raping or having sex of any description with a [18-year-old] girl."
Nothing offered about his slurs against airline attendants and Governor Palin herself, when he sneered that she had a "slutty flight-attendant look," or his remark that Palin "was keeping Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter."
The self-serving, creepy apology was as bad as the initial slur. Letterman is emblematic of an aging, baby-boomer culture, that dresses up street vulgarity with a tie and coat. The only thing that saves him is his care to do this with the Palins from Alaska who don't figure into the usual no-go race/class/gender paradigm.
We know the type, don't we? We've all met them; they dress well and have good office jobs that pay good money. Speak to them in the office and they appear decent enough. But hang out with them for ten minutes outside of work and suddenly a new person emerges. Vulgarities emerge that can be quite shocking. Letterman is of that sort, but he does it on the job. Either way, it's pathetic.
June 11, 2009
Iraq Briefing - 08 June 2009 - The Watchword is "Sustainability"
This briefing is by Major General James Milano. He is the deputy commanding general, director of the Interior Multinational Security and Transition Command-Iraq. From the MNF-Iraq website, "MNSTC-I (min-sticky) is responsible for organizing, training, equipping and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces throughout the country."
"General Milano assumed his current duties in Iraq in July of 2008." Gen. Milano spoke via satellite from Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon on Monday, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.
Gen. Milano reports to Lieutenant General Frank Helmick, commander of MNSTC-I . I am not certain if Helmick reports directly to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq or an intermediary. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The transcript is at DefenseLink.
Although there is much of interest in this briefing, we'll look at the issue of sustainability, since for Iraq to succeed it is vital that the Iraqis be able to pick up where we left off.
One of the most important ways we can see what is happening in Iraq is to simply watch for what issues the journalists concentrate on. If they don't ask about something, it's probably not something to worry about. If they do, then you can be sure their prior investigation tells them that it's still a problem.
From Gen. Milano's opening remarks:
GEN. MILANO: ... According to ABC/BBC poll results released in March, 74 percent of Iraqis say they have confidence in the police, up from 64 percent in 2007 and only 46 percent in 2003. An impressive 85 percent now view their local security situation as good or very good, nearly double the rate from two years ago.
Dramatic advances in public attitudes are sweeping Iraq, with declining violence, rising economic well-being and improved services lifting optimism, fueling confidence in public institutions and bolstering support for democracy.
On to the Q & A.
As mentioned, we'll concentrate on sustainability, as it goes to the question of the future of Iraq, and whether the Iraqis will be able to maintain what we have given them:
Q Hi, sir. Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg News.
Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq Reconstruction, over the last several years, has warned of a sustainment gap, as he called it, where United States tax dollars that paid for reconstruction projects, projects turned over to the Iraqis, and the ministry of interior and other ministries failed to sustain or put enough money into the projects to keep them going.
He's raised this question a number of times. Do you see that as a problem, from where you sit? I mean, are the Iraqis taking over U.S.-built projects and putting the requisite maintenance dollars and money to keep them operating?
GEN. MILANO: I think by and large, in the ministry of interior, the projects that I've seen that, you know, we've built for them and handed over to them are being maintained, some better than others.
But you know, this is part of an overall, comprehensive logistics and maintenance program that we're helping them build capacity toward: supply-chain management, repair-parts management, facilities maintenance.
They do dedicate portions of their budget towards facilities maintenance. But in some areas, I think, they could do that better. But by and large, the projects that I've seen, that we've provided them, are being adequately maintained.
Q Are those SOIs being paid now? Because there's been some concerns, as I'm sure you know, over the last few months that some of these people who have been manning checkpoints and elsewhere have not been paid, going back months or even years.
GEN. MILANO: The SOI are being paid. We did have a few glitches in the payment mechanism back in March, but those have been ironed out. So the SOIs are being paid by the government of Iraq.
Q Hey, General, Jeff with Stars and Stripes again. Going back to 2005, I remember MNSTC-I talking about the ISF having problems with logistics. Why does this continue to be a problem?
GEN. MILANO: Well, logistics is a big challenge, and part of that is exacerbated by their lack of automation, their lack of information technology. It's still very much a papers-based process with multiple signatures and stamps required on pieces of paper to get things moving.
But they are making progress. They're increasing their warehousing capability and management of warehouses. They're getting better accountability on the equipment that we've provided them and that they've bought. So I'm confident that we're making progress in the area of logistics, but I think that's their most pressing need right now, is a comprehensive logistics and maintenance system, understanding the importance of preventive maintenance programs and scheduled services.
So it is a major area, and part of the complexity or challenge in this area, I should say, is the complexity and the diverse nature of the Ministry of Interior. Not only do we have Iraqi police services, we have national police, we have border police, we have oil police. We will soon have electricities police. Facilities Protection Service. Again, 560,000 employees in the Ministry of Interior -- a very widely deployed, disparate force that, quite frankly, there is no one-size-fits-all logistics solution for.
So we're helping them work through that, and we are making progress. But it's going to take a little more time.
The issue of logistics has been a subject of many past briefings. Reporters have pressed military briefers on this, telling me that it is an ongoing issue.
That said, let's not make too much of it. One, I've noticed a clear trend over the past two years in which the situation has gotten better. Two, these are problems endemic to third-world nations. Third, the reporters do not ask about violence or the insurgency, which are clearly the problems we fear most. Gen Milano puts it all into perspective in his closing statement
GEN. MILANO: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. You can see there's a lot of work left to be completed. My advisers and I are fully committed to continuing to build police capacity and a capable Ministry of Interior.
Candidly, the low-hanging fruit's been picked, and we're now reaching for the shiny apples near the top of the tree. Producing a policeman or woman is easy when you compare that to the more challenging efforts, for example, of developing an evidentiary based criminal-justice system, of helping the ministry develop merit-based promotion systems and professional development programs and of developing an understanding of the benefits of a preventive maintenance program.
The U.S. and Iraqi governments have advanced to a new stage of enduring cooperation and partnership, and we remain committed to providing continued support. The security agreement and the strategic framework agreement are the centerpieces of our enduring partnership.
Finally, we're all extremely proud to be serving in these historic times. Your soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians are doing a terrific job.
Again, thank you for allowing me to be with you today.
June 10, 2009
Our Glorious Media
Newsweek editor Evan Thomas on President Obama:
TWS has the transcript
MATTHEWS:...Evan, you remember '84. It wasn't 100 years ago. Reagan and World War II and the sense of us as the good guys in the world, how are we doing?
EVAN THOMAS: Well, we were the good guys in 1984, it felt that way. It hasn't felt that way in recent years. So Obama's had, really, a different task We're seen too often as the bad guys. And he - he has a very different job from - Reagan was all about America, and you talked about it. Obama is 'we are above that now.' We're not just parochial, we're not just chauvinistic, we're not just provincial. We stand for something - I mean in a way Obama's standing above the country, above - above the world, he's sort of God.
Newsbusters reminds us that when George W. Bush was President Thomas had a different view of his job:
Gordon Peterson: "What do you think, Evan? Are the mainstream media bashing the president unfairly?"
Evan Thomas: "Well, our job is to bash the president, that's what we do almost --"
My, how times change.
Peter Wehner does the ultimate takedown:
These comments reveal several notable things.
The first is that it is now impossible to mock the media's adoration for Obama. In the past, if conservatives had said that MSM commentators viewed Obama as God, people would have assumed they were exaggerating in order to make a point. But in this instance, there is no exaggeration; Thomas stated that Obama is "sort of God." It appears as if in their unguarded moments, Thomas and those like him really do view Obama as the Anointed One, a political Messiah, not only a gift from heaven but the Creator of Heaven and Earth.
Keep in mind that Thomas is viewed as a serious journalist for what was once seen as a serious mainstream publication: Newsweek. Now Newsweek long ago set aside any pretense of objectivity when it came to Obama; every week it takes up palm branches for him. Still, it is a bit jarring to see the bias so obvious, so up front, so proudly out in the open. In that respect, Thomas's comments are useful; they reveal a cast of mind that no one can now deny.
No political figure in modern American history has been so adored by the press. JFK came closest -- but even he was not deified, even in death. The depth and intensity of the passion for Obama among the press is something young children need to be shielded from.
A second thing to note in Thomas's comments is his assertion that "we [the United States] were the good guys in 1984, it felt that way." Well, it might have felt that way to many conservatives. But to many liberals, it was actually something very nearly the opposite. It's worth reminding those on the Left with selective memories that Reagan was mocked and ridiculed as a dangerous figure, trigger-happy, a war-monger, reckless and provocative. His support for the Nicaraguan contras, his build-up of America's defense, the installation of Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe to counteract the Soviet deployment of SS-20s, and Reagan's talk about the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" unnerved and infuriated liberals.
"I wonder how many people, reading about the ["evil empire"] speech or seeing bits on television, really noticed its outrageous character," Anthony Lewis wrote in the New York Times in March 1983. "Primitive: that is the only word for it. ... What is the world to think when the greatest of powers is led by a man who applies to the most difficult human problem a simplistic theology -- one in fact rejected by most theologians?... What must the leaders of Western Europe think of such a speech? They look to the head of the alliance for rhetoric that can persuade them and their constituents. What they get from Ronald Reagan is a mirror image of crude Soviet rhetoric. And it is more than rhetoric: everyone must sense that. The real Ronald Reagan was speaking in Orlando. The exaggeration and the simplicities are there not only in the rhetoric but in the process by which he makes decisions."
Commentators like Lewis and magazines like Newsweek had contempt for Reagan's approach; it is only now, after history has vindicated him, that we're supposed to believe we all supported Reagan and that Americans were seen as "the good guys."
A third important thing to take away from Thomas's comments is why Obama is so beloved by some reporters and commentators. Reagan, Thomas says, was "all about America." But Obama is "above that now." He is "standing above the country" he was elected to represent. And in doing so, we're not just "parochial, we're not just chauvinistic, we're not just provincial."
That is an extremely and probably unintentionally revealing set of comments by Mr. Thomas. For the president to speak on behalf of his nation as Reagan spoke up for America is viewed as unsophisticated, narrow-minded, and bigoted. Obama, in the eyes of his supporters, has transcended such things. According to the logic of Thomas, Obama deserves to be praised precisely because he does not, in the first instance, represent America. At his best, Obama is a "citizen of the world," standing "above the country."
Some of us have a different, quainter notion of such things. We believe America is, in the words of Lincoln, an "inestimable jewel" -- an imperfect and extraordinary nation that deserves our affection and deepest attachment. We believe, as Lincoln and the founders did, that the fate of this republic is inextricably tied to the principles upon which it was founded. We actually do not want our President to "stand above the country." And we do not believe it is particularly sophisticated to disparage as chauvinistic and provincial those who speak up for her. Nor, I might add, do we view Obama as "sort of God," or anything close to God. The fact that Evan Thomas and those who view the world as he does, do see Obama in supernatural terms tells you everything you need to know, and probably nothing you didn't know.
June 7, 2009
The Speech Obama Should Have Given in Cairo
I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and grateful for your hospitality. I will honor you in return by addressing you directly. I came here to speak to you, not to European leaders or American media commentators. I hope you will forgive my frankness, but we have much to talk about, and some of what I came here to say will not be easy for you to hear.
I will not waste your time by carefully selecting quotes from the Koran, in a misguided attempt to tell you what your religion means. I am here to tell you what membership in the community of civilized nations means. Your faith is your own affair, but it ends where the rest of our lives begin. It is fashionable among the Western elites to say that we have much to learn about the Muslim world, but the truth is precisely the reverse. One of the bedrock principles of Western democracy is that we don't need to understand, or even like, a particular religion in order to respect its faithful and their rights. There are some things the West is long overdue in teaching its Muslim neighbors, however. Let us begin with dismissing the notion of a "Muslim world." There is no such thing. There is one world, made increasingly intimate by the easy movement of people, resources, and ideas. We are all in the process of learning how to live with our fellow men, and while the West is far from perfect, we are much further ahead in our studies than the nations of the Middle East. Our security, and yours, will be greatly enhanced if we can lend you some of the wisdom we have accumulated.
We did not come by this wisdom easily. We learned by taking incredible risks... and making terrible mistakes... magnified by the power of Western military tradition and technology. The people of the Middle East have never known anything to compare with the industrialized slaughter of the two World Wars, in which millions of lives were lost to decisively settle the question of what makes a government just and legitimate. You have never watched five thousand of your sons die on a single day, to secure a beachhead against the forces of genocidal fascism - a battle we commemorate on the sixth of June every year. Your fighting men have not faced anything like the battle for Okinawa, where American Marines faced an eighty percent chance of death - and did not waver. You have not sacrificed half a million soldiers to destroy the evil of slavery, as America did during its Civil War. You have not spent blood and treasure around the world to save other nations from the savage darkness of communism. You have no leaders to equal the Founding Fathers who pledged their lives, and sacred honor, to win America's independence from imperial domination.
You have not burned and bled for freedom, as we have. We would spare you that pain, if we could. We are willing to burn and bleed for you - and we have been doing so, for eight long years. Instead of indulging in foolish paranoid fantasies about crusaders and oppression from America, open your eyes and look to the mountains of Afghanistan, where over a thousand Coalition troops have died to overthrow the Taliban, after their despicable complicity in the murders of September 11, 2001. We did not have to send those troops into harm's way, to avenge the slaughter at the World Trade Center. We could have eliminated all life in that region, in a matter of hours. If we followed the standards of our enemies, we would have. We sent our best and bravest into battle because of who we wished to spare, not who we wanted to kill.
Open your eyes and look to Iraq, where we allowed thousands of Iraqi troops to lay down their arms and go home, instead of killing them where they stood. We paid an awful price for this act of mercy, as many of those men went on to join the brutal terrorists who dreamed of keeping the Iraqi people enslaved. Some in America and Europe find it politically expedient to draw moral equivalency between American soldiers and the terrorists they fight. I ask you to show me the al-Qaeda "equivalent" of Private First Class Ross McGinnis, who climbed down into an armored vehicle and smothered a grenade to protect his crew, when he could easily have leaped from his gunnery hatch to safety. Show me an "insurgent" who can match the valor of Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, who flung himself into an impossible battle against odds of a hundred to one... to save the lives of a hundred wounded men. These two soldiers are among those who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor for their sacrifices in Operation Iraqi Freedom. No one on the other side is worthy of such an honor. I say this to you because keeping silent - whether from misguided modesty, self-loathing, or the desire to avoid offending your vanity - is an insult to your honor, and an injury to your future.
We have made a fetish of "tolerance" in America, and it has curdled into poison. I am here to tell you what the civilized world is no longer prepared to tolerate. We will not stand silently by while women are enslaved, brutalized, or murdered. We will no longer hypnotize ourselves with self-criticism over gay rights, while you bury gay men and women under piles of jagged stone. We will not swallow our tongues for fear of offending Islam, when Islam oppresses all other religious beliefs within its borders. We know you can do better. We also know that nothing will improve unless we demand you do better... and we do demand it. The world has turned, and the old days of totalitarianism and pillage are done. There is no more place in it for barbarians. Believe what you will, follow your customs, honor the holy writings of your Prophet, and strive to understand God's will through prayer, music, and scholarship. You will find nothing but honest respect and admiration from the West. But when you stand among civilized people, you will be civilized people. When you are shown respect, you will answer with respect. As the West reveres and protects the life of your innocents, so you will revere ours.
I speak to you as the democratically-elected leader of a great republic, which has earned the right to walk tall and proud through the halls of history. It is a right earned on battlefields... but also at humanitarian relief camps, pharmaceutical laboratories, civil-rights marches, and field hospitals. It is a right earned by rebuilding shattered enemies after terrible wars, by tearing down the statues of tyrants and building schools for the children of their liberated victims. Ours is a hard-won glory that can be seen in six men raising a flag on Mount Suribachi, or one man planting that flag in the dust of the moon... or millions of men and women stepping into voting booths. Look at the free people of Iraq, with their fingers proudly covered in purple ink after they vote, and know that America is eternally eager to share her glory. Indeed, we believe we can only render it proper honors by sharing it with all of our brothers and sisters around the world. But also remember this: the Middle East stands at a crossroads, and the heavy responsibility of reconciling faith, tradition, and the demands of the modern world rests with you. You must choose between old hatreds and new possibilities. You must choose between murder and prosperity. I have come here today to tell you clearly, and without reservation, that you cannot have both. May the next leader chosen by the American people stand in my place someday, to congratulate you on a wise choice.
June 4, 2009
President Obama's Speech to the "Muslim World"
Early today President Barack Obama delivered a major address to the Muslim world from Cairo, Egypt. The transcript is here. Following are excerpts and my observations. And yes I'll try and be fair.
All indented text is President Obama, except at the end under "other opinion"
The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.
Oh for pete's sake. We're only in the second paragraph and this train is going off the rails. I've read more than a little world history, and I don't recall "centuries of co-existence and cooperation" between the Islam and the West. I'm not even sure it adds up to a few decades.
More fundamentally, we're off into victimology. Obama seems to be saying that the problems in the Muslim world are the fault of the West.
He is right, though, in that modernity is seen as a threat by many Muslims.
I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers - Thomas Jefferson - kept in his personal library.
Heavens. This is either ignorant or a deliberate misrepresentation. Islam has been a minuscule part of American history.
But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."
This is good and I'm glad he said it. Here he is on solid ground, and this is just what the rest of the world needs to hear. It gets even better with this:
Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.
Great stuff. Unfortunately it's not followed up with "and there is no religious freedom in the Muslim world and this needs to change." But of course Obama didn't say this. President Bush's Freedom Agenda is dead as far as this administration is concerned.
We also have this curious part
Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores - that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.
There is the grating bit about only he is allowed to use his middle name when it suits his purposes, but how dare anyone else.
There are nowhere near seven million Muslims in the United States. Daniel Pipes cites two studies saying that the true figure is probably closer to 3 million (here and here), and maybe less than that.
This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.
For the most part this is boilerplate drivel, and I was tempted to pass it off as such until I reread it and a phrase in the middle jumped out at me
any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail
If Obama has his way then we have come to the end of American Exceptionalism.
Sorry, Mr. President, but there are differences between nations and peoples, and as currently constructed some are better than others. Some nations and cultures are better than others. Cultures that tolerate stoning are bad. Cultures that subjugate their women are bad. West Germany was better than East Germany. South Korea is better than North Korea. Taiwan is better than mainland China. And Israel is better than Gaza. Of course I write not of genetic, racial differences, but of culture, legal, and governmental practices.
As I have written time and again, the entire problem with the United Nations, and what makes it such a terrible institution, is that by it's nature it sees all natiions as equal. It makes no distinction between democracy and tyranny.
Barack Obama is either a moral idiot, steeped in relativism, or he can't say what he really means. If we take him at his word, he has no preference for America. We are just one of many nations, with nothing special about us.
Throughout the years the United States has been seen as a beacon of hope for many. Economic, religious, and political freedoms have never been perfect here, and often in need of great reform. But even our imperfections have never prevented people from coming here to seek a better life. More, our example has inspired millions around the world to better their own countries.
The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with....
We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.
All very good. Unfortunately in between all this we find this statement
The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism - it is an important part of promoting peace.As Robert Spencer points out, this is utter nonsense. The idea that Islam is part of "promoting peace" flies against what one reads in the daily papers. Islam as currently practiced in much of the world is part of the problem. It is a religion for the most part stuck in the Middle Ages that desperately needs real reform. That President Bush also spun us with the "religion of peace" line is no excuse.
Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."
Here we go again, back to his serial apologies. He just has to remind everyone that he that he opposed the war in Iraq, the clear implication being "we're sorry." Absolutely disgraceful.
How about other countries being asked to apologize to us for a change? For that matter, instead of us trying to understand the rest of the world, how about they try to understand us?
On to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.
As the invaluable Melanie Phillips reminds us "The Palestinians have been offered a homeland repeatedly - in 1936, 1947, 2000 and last year. They have repeatedly turned it down. The Arabs could have created it between 1948 and 1967, when the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Jordan and Egypt. They chose not to do so. They could have created it after 1967, when Israel offered the land to them in return for peace with Israel. They refused the offer. The Palestinians have suffered because they have tried for six decades to destroy the Jews' homeland."
But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.
This is relativism at it's worst.
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.
Yes the Palestinians must abandon violence, but comparing their situation to that of black people is absurd. It implies an equality of justice that simply is not there. The Palestinians are in their current situation not because they have been mistreated by the Israelis, but because 1) they have been mistreated by their fellow Arabs, and 2) they have taken a bad situation and made it infinitely worse by their own behavior.
Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.
He's certainly right that the Palestinians need to switch their energies from building rockets to building industry. And yes Hamas needs to do the things he outlines, and maybe one day pigs will fly.
At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.
I'm not a fan of the settlements either, but they're not the problem. I guess he figures he has to say this though to appear even handed.
Moving to Iran, we have this
This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically- elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.
With Obama, every criticism of the Muslim world has to be met with an equal criticism of the United States. So before he can talk about Iranian transgressions, he has to apologize for something the United States did - as if there is an equality. We had to put up with this moral equivalency all throughout the Cold War from the anti-anticommunists and it looks like that attitude is alive and well in the White House today.
Next the president moves to the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons. Much of what he says is standard dipomatic drivel, but we do have this which is of note
I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.
First, this business about how "no single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons" is again just so much moral relevancy. A gun in the hands of a policeman is good, while a gun in the hands of a bank robber is bad. Nuclear weapons in the hands of France or the United States is good, nuclear weapons in the hands of the Soviet Union or Iran is bad.
Second, energy concerns do not justify Iran's nuclear program.
Third, the idea of a world without nuclear weapons is a childish fantasy. I know, I know, Reagan said it too. All politicians say it. And it's silly coming from any of them. For some reason though they all feel compelled to repeat it.
Next the president addresses democracy. Or at least how he doesn't think it particularly important.
I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
The best reading of this is that he wants everyone to live in liberty but the exact structure of that government is left to the people. One wonders if he knows or cares that after World War II we imposed systems of government on Japan and Germany.
Again fine words, but not backed up by the needed challenge to the Muslim world; "you need to reform because there is precious little liberty in your part of the world."
Next the president addresses religion
Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.
The idea that "islam has a proud tradition of tolerance" is so insanely at odds with reality I'm speechless.
Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit - for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.
I hardly see religious tolerance in the West as a problem.
Next we come to women's rights.
I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.
Can he actually believe that the veil is anything less than a symbol of subjugation?
Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.
As if there is an equivalence between the struggle by women for equal rights in the West and in the Muslim world. Two hundred years ago women had it better in the West than they have it in much of the Muslim world today. Obama had a chance to demand women's rights and he blew it.
In his final comments President Obama discussed economic and scientific cooperation, but it was all boilerplate and as such of little interest.
Islam needs to be challenged to reform, and Obama dropped the ball. Yes I realize that it all must be couched in diplo-speak, but even so.
The Muslim world does not need our "understanding." It needs liberty for its people.
One problem with not standing up to dictators is that this is used by those leaders to squash dissent in their countries. Former political prisoners Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky (gulag, Soviet Union) and Armando Valladares (Cuba) have spoken and written about this. What they say is that obsequiousness by a US president is shown to dissidents and political prisoners and they are told "see, the US president doesn't care about you!" On the other hand, when a US president calls out the totalitarians, word eventually makes it to even political prisoners, whose morale is boosted. Sharansky, for example, tells of being told of Reagan's "evil empire" speech while in the gulag and being greatly encouraged.
The bottom line: President Obama had an opportunity to challenge the Muslim world to reform and adopt principles of liberty and he failed.
Dissidents across the Middle East are weaping.
Respect is a two-way street. Recent polls suggest that about half of Americans hold negative views of Islam, and this is not merely blind bigotry. If they want respect, Muslim states must seek active ways to improve relations with the United States
So in conclusion, yes, there was some positive stuff in this speech - but it was outweighed by the United States President's shocking historical misrepresentations, gross ignorance, disgusting moral equivalence between aggressors and their victims, and disturbing sanitising of Islamist supremacism.
In short, deeply troubling.
Just imagine: After a thousand years during which Islam and Western civilization have trod opposite paths in philosophy, science, and the most basic attitudes toward relations between the sexes and the role of work in life -- and after a half-century during which Muslims have murdered Western ambassadors and Olympians, to the cheers of millions of their own -- suddenly a young American seems to believe he can conjure up a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world." How could anyone imagine he possesses such a "reset button"? The answer only starts with Yuppie hubris.
As long as this administration ignores ideology and focuses only on superficial public relations, the Islamists will continue to advance the ideas of political Islam while we sleep. It is time for a comprehensive, public domestic and foreign strategy against Islamism. It is time for Muslims to lead this effort with real American support and not just lip service.
The architecture of President Obama's speech was brilliant -- it certainly addressed the most burning issues facing Muslims around the world today.
Atmospherically, he hit it just right. His recitations from the Koran, his greeting to the gathering in Arabic, and even the respect he showed by saying "Muhammad, peace be upon him" when referring to Islam's Holy Prophet, all demonstrated an abiding respect for Islamic traditions...
Where he failed in Cairo was to delineate the overarching fact that Islam's troubles lie within. It is not that America is not at war with Islam. It is that Islam is at war within itself -- to identify what this religion and system of beliefs is in the modern age. Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian sidekick Ayman Al Zawahiri want to take us all back to the Stone Age because they have nothing better to offer their followers than hate-filled preaching. Why didn't Obama say that?
Islam's worst enemies are within it. If wealthy Gulf Arabs want peace for Palestinians with Israel, why don't they take a fraction of their profligate spending (in nightclubs in Geneva, at bars in London, at boutiques in Milan) and redirect it to rebuilding Palestinian enclaves with schools, hospitals, food-production facilities, and manufacturing plants? We might then have durable peace possible in the Middle East. Why didn't Obama say that?
Charles Krauthammer: "Abstraction...self-absorption...vapidity...moral equivalence"
He told the Cairo audience that "to move forward we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts," but he wasted the opportunity to forcefully instruct Muslims that respect and appreciation must be mutual. While conceding the mote in American eyes, he said almost nothing about the beam that blinds Muslim eyes. He enumerated the "sources of tension" between Islamic countries and the West and never mentioned terrorism. He chided the West for its harsh view of Islamic treatment of women - "I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal" - and suggested that denying education to women is the gravest Muslim sin against women. He could have denounced "honor killings," forced marriages and how women in Muslim countries are flogged on the pretext of minuscule violations of eighth-century Sharia law.
June 3, 2009
Book Review - Defending Identity
Identity - Merriam-Webster; he distinguishing character or personality of an individual. The Free Dictionary; The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group. Answers.com; The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known.
What is your identity? How do you see yourself?
There's personal identity; father, mother, Little League coach, Girl Scout leader. Some people see their identities through what they own; a fast car or a multitude of electronic gizmos. Others see it through their work; teacher, lawyer, business executive, construction supervisor.
These identities are important but they're not what Sharansky has in mind. In Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, Natan Sharansky is more addressing group identities; political, ethnic, religious and national. His thesis is that for the most part these identities are good, and in fact are vital the success of democracy. Attempts to suppress these identities will not only fail, but are counterproductive to the success of free societies.
Before I read this book this book identity is not something I've thought much about, and after reading it I have come to realized that it is far more of a complicated subject than I had realized. But before giving my own thoughts on the matter, a summary of the book is order.
Time in the Gulag
Some say that strong identity and democracy are incompatible. Many intellectuals insist it it so. Sharansky is convinced that this is false and that just the opposite is true. Identities, he says, vitally important to us not only as individuals but as democratic nations. The main message of Defending Identity is that identity is the ally of freedom, not it's antithesis.
Authoritarian regimes repress ethnic and religious identities not in accord with those prescribed by the state. Democracies allow multiple identities along these lines to flourish. The Chinese totalitarians are threatened by the Falug Gong and Tibetans, whereas the tolerant Indians do not persecute any of their minorities (the issue of the "Untouchables" and the problem of caste is somewhat different).
The formative experience in Sharansky's political life that has formed the basis for much of his thought was the nine years he spent in the Soviet Gulag. The gulag, he says, was a laboratory where he discovered truths and tested ideas against the harshness of the prison system. His time there convinced him that identity and freedom were inseparable.
In prison Sharansky discovered, or rediscovered, his Jewish identity. In it he found the strength he needed to get through his time there. Far from dividing him from non-Jewish prisoners who also had strong identities, it enabled him to join them in a common struggle. Most of these identities were religious; Pentecostal, Catholic, Baptist, or national-ethnic; Crimean Tatar, Ukrainian. It wasn't the details of their particular identities that mattered, just that they were strong ones. It was those with weak identities who had the most trouble adjusting or adapting to prison life.
Further, the various identity groups didn't 'come together' to defend each other's goals. Far from it, for each acted in it's own interest. They defended each other not because they believed in each others causes, but rather because they came to realize that if the government could persecute one group for it's beliefs, it could persecute any of the others as well.
Trouble in Europe
Many or most native Europeans have lost most sense of identity. Christianity is dead or dying. Nationalism is perceived as a throwback and the cause of world wars. Guilt over real or perceived historical injustices has caused the crisis of confidence, resulting in a loss of identity. Identity in Europe must be uniform, and everyone must have the same identity, which is to say no identity. The loss of identity in Europe has helped lead to the erosion of democracy. It's a long subject, but for example they do not have freedom of speech in most parts of Europe as we have it in the United States. The structure of the European Union is also such that it has become a rule by bureaucracy, not elected leaders.
The Muslim immigrants who have swept into Europe in the past few decades have no crisis of confidence. They have very strong identities and are not shy about them. In many or most cases, their values and identities are in fact antithetical to Western notions of liberty and tolerance.
The result is a clash; the natives want democracy without identity, and the Muslim leaders want identity without democracy. As a result, identity and democracy are seen as opposites. In reality, he says, you can't have democracy without identity.
Assaults on Identity
There have been two major assaults on identity since the start of the 20th century; Marxism and post-modernism. The Marxists wanted to subjugate all identity that was separate from their own vision of the communist utopia. The post-modern movement inherits much from Marxism, but while the goal of the latter is to strengthen class consciousness as the only acceptable identity, the former seeks to weaken all identity, especially one's own.
The post-moderns see the wars and assorted social problems of the 20th century as stemming from nationalism and religion. Their solution is to transcend these identities and merge everyone into a global community. In this view, since identity causes problems, eliminating them would result in a world without conflict.
The problem, of course, is that you can't get rid of all identities at once. If just a few aggressive ones are left, they will dominate, sometimes to the point of eliminating democracy. We are seeing the start of this in Europe, where the natives are helpless against the strong identity of an aggressive, radical, Islam.
Multiculturalism is a form of post-identity. Unfortunately, the muliculturalists (along with "diversity," and uber-tolerance it's twin sisters), favor some identities over others, which adds to the problem. Western nationalism is bad, but third-world national movements are good. Christianity is frowned upon and only tolerated if it of the left-wing variety, but the most fundamentalist Islam is just another lifestyle choice.
One problem with the post-modern liberals is that when they look at problem areas of the world, such as the Middle East, they "look for explanations not in ideology but in grievances because the belief in absolute values is rejected and the idea of Western guilt plays a central role." As a result, post modern thinkers see the solution as an end to settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state rather than in changing the ideology of the jihadist mindset of Fatah or Hamas.
Types of Identity
Sharansky opposes the attempt by the French government to ban the wearing of the veil in schools because it contradicts their "enormous tolerance toward the coercion and repression that daily transpires in many Muslim areas within that country." In other words, rather than oppose all coercion, they are being selective, with the result that they are preceived as opposing a Muslim expression of identity. And no democracy, Sharansky says, should repress identity unless it is harmful to that democracy.
He also does not object to the use of hyphens by immigrants to describe themselves. While it is popular on the right to criticize the use of "Italian-American," "Arab-American," or "African-American," he sees it as a positive expression of identity that compliments rather than threatens democracy.
Just as ethic identity does not threaten democracy, neither does religious identity. In our current age the secular left is doing everything it can to remove religion, or at least Christianity, from the public square. But if religion is to be an identity, it cannot be banished in this manner. Indeed, all of American history shows that public expressions of religion compliment, and do not threaten, democracy.
Again, this is not to say that all identities are acceptable. Mormons were made to disavow the practice of polygamy in order for Utah to be accepted into the Union. Giving this up reduced or changed a part of their identity.
Where we have failed in America is to incorporate Native Americans and African American identities. On the other side, surveys universally show that Muslims in America feel their identity is more respected than those in Europe.
The Special Case of Israel
Because Israel is a state created out of nothing (no the land wasn't stolen), it is a unique laboratory with which to study the subject of identity and democracy. Further, the Jews who emigrated there from Europe were naturally quite traumatized, so it would be interesting to see how they handled the subject of identity. Would they embrace their historic Jewish identity, or abandon it?
The surprise answer - to me, anyway - was that they abandoned it. The question of identity was an aspect Israeli history that I'd never considered. I'd always assumed that Israeli Jews were, if anything, even more cognizant of their history and traditions than those of the diaspora. It turns out that at least for the first thirty or so years of Israel's history nothing could be farther from the truth.
It wasn't supposed to be that way. Theodore Hertzl, the Austrian Jew who founded the modern Zionist movement, envisioned an Israel that embraced classic Jewish heritage. Although he himself was mostly secular, he envisioned an Israel of diverse Jewish beliefs and cultures, but all rooted in the past.
The actual founder of Israel and it's first president, David Ben-Gurion, had a completely different vision. A socialist, Gurion had little use for religion. His socialist ideal "was of a person who disconnects himself from his past - a past that is seen as two thousand years of humiliation and slavery - and takes fate into his own hands." It all very much paralled the "New Soviet Man" concept. Ben-Gurion's equivalent was the Sabra, or "new Jew," borne of the "Jewish dust." The past was mostly meaningless, and a new identity for Israeli Jews would be forged. Not just words, this ideology was taught in the schools as state dogma.
This started to change when over one million Jews emigrated from the Soviet Union, mostly in the 1970s. Having been deprived of their identity in their former communist country, they were anxious to get back to their Jewish roots, and not about to adopt another "new man" as an identity. It was this group to which Sharansky belonged.
Long story short, the new immigrants kept their Jewish identity and changed Israel in the process. Rather than segregate themselves, they became fully part of Israel. The result is an Israel structured more along the lines of the "mosaic" of identities envisioned by Hertzl rather than the "melting pot" of multiple identities into one. According to Sharansky, it has all been a huge success.
Defending the Nation-State
Israel is important because "for the believers of post-identity, Israel has become equated with the colonial sins they are intent on expiating." Almost thirty years ago, I remember a college professor tell us that Israel was illegitimate because it was founded on Judaism, a concept that according to him was anachronistic in the modern world. Without realizing it I had run into my first post-identity thinker.
The worst and most important of the post-nationalist and post-Zionist thinkers are Eric Hobsbawm and Edward Said. Most arguments against nationhood and Israel can be traced back to one or both of them.
Zionism, nationalism, and identity are for Sharansky tied closely together. All three are for the most part good (there are always unhealthy exceptions) and combined produce democracy. Weaken one and Israel collapses. For other countries, weaken the other two and democracy collapses. The concept of the nation-state is itself vital in establishing identity. As discussed above, a weakened sense of statehood is one reason why Europe is in trouble.
The justification for a Jewish Israel is that that's what the majority of Israelis want. This does not mean that the rights of minorities cannot be protected. Further, it does not mean a theocratic state per se, but rather one that embraces a Jewish heritage, a somewhat different concept.
Further, the survival of Israel as a predominantly Jewish state is crucial not just for it but for the entire world. Israel is an island of democracy in a region of dictators, religious fundamentalists, and terrorists, and a sense of Jewish identity is vital to its own survival. As a democracy surrounded by totalitarian neighbors it is a beachhead of freedom, something we should want to spread. Therefore it is vital that Israel survive as a Jewish state.
Peace or War
For life to be of any value it must be lived freely. The peace of slavery is no peace worth having. To live freely you must be able to have your identity. It is this freedom, then, that liberates, not simply the absence of war.
As mentioned above, many in the West today see identity as the cause of war, they thus seek to suppress it in the name of peace. Four hundred years ago John Locke wrote in "A Letter Concerning Toleration" that the attempt to impose one religion was what was leading to wars in Europe, and his recommendation was to let everyone believe what they wished. His views were adopted, but today we have come full circle.
Weaking identity may seem to lead to a happy society of no conflict between identity groups, but in reality leaves it defenseless against anti-democratic groups with their own strong identities. People without strong identities tend to be sheep and not resist when a group with a strong one comes into town.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the so-called "peace process" born of the 1993 Oslo Accords. As Sharansky tells it
The so-called Oslo peace process took place between two societies moving in directly opposite directions in terms if identity. Israeli society was being pushed in the direction of cosmopolitanism. Palestinians, under Arafat's corrupt dictatorship, were going through a crash course in hatred of Jews, Israel, and Zionism and making the rejection of the Jewish-Israeli identity the basis of their own. The hope for peace became predicated on a rejection of Israeli identity and a rejection of Palestinian democracy. On one side stood democracy without identity. On the other stood identity without democracy. The explosion was inevitable.
And indeed not only has the so-called peace process gone nowhere, but Palestinian society has not become any healthier.
Many people do not take radical Islam, or other such movements, seriously. We're told that ok they can blow up a few buildings, but the idea of them taking over Europe or the West is preposterous. "They'll integrate peacefully" is the line we've all heard.
Part of the problem is that most of those who believe this are of the post-modern mindset who have no identity themselves. "Multiculturalism," "diversity," and "tolerance" are not identities. As such, these people have a hard time understanding the power that strong identities can have on others. The result is that they think that if only Israel will stop building settlements the Palestinians will abandon all that talk about jihad. They don't understand that it is not issues that motivate them, but an ideology driven by a strong identity.
I'm not sure that Sharansky has it all right, or that he's thought through every nuance or complication as well he might of. Further, I'm not certain that the experiences of his own life, or that of Israel, are directly transferable to the United States or the rest of the world.
But the book has caused me to rethink my own assumptions about identity. It is fashionable for us on the right to criticize the use of a hyphen when describing one's identity; "Italian-American," Irish-American," African-American" and the like. This is a debate where I am sympathetic to both sides. I suppose the hyphen business is all a matter of degree and emphasis, and whether it's used for identity or to seek political advantage.
Malcolm X is not someone who gets much sympathy from conservatives. And there is much to criticize in his life. But in recent years I have become quite sympathetic to his adoption of "X" as a last name. After all, his African heritage had not only been stolen, it was quite ignored in the public educational system and culture at large. It was quite acceptable for those with Irish heritage to have a St. Patrick's Day parade, but how dare you think there was anything about Africa to celebrate.
Let's be honest, we all have a tendency to think that our own identity is good and certain others are bad: those crazy fundamentalist Christians, or those gay people and the way they dress, or maybe why does he have to wear his business success on his sleeve? Sometimes it's ethnic, sometimes religious, and sometimes political. But I think we all tend to view certain identities as good and others as bad.
Further, there is much about identity that Sharansky does not address in the book. What are proper and improper expressions of identity? Good v bad identities are also barely expressed. It 's one thing to have your own identity, but to what extent is everyone else expected to publicly acquiesce to it? For example, if a religious minority within a country wants their holidays off work with no penalty, that's one thing. It's quite another though if they insist everyone else recognize it also and government and business close down.
How far do concessions go?
In the end, though, this is not a scholarly tome It is a 232 page treatise that serves it's purpose well. Sharansky has a powerful life story, and Israel is at the center of the conflict between democracy and tyranny, between modernity and fundamentalist Islam. As such, his is too important a voice to ignore.
June 2, 2009
Are We A Socialist Country Now?
For years conservatives accused liberals of instituting de facto socialism in the United States. "The government may not own the means of production, but there is so much regulation it might as well" went the argument. Liberals scoffed, and both sides went around in circles.
Today the federal government owns 60% of General Motors, obviously a controlling share. Two months ago President Obama effectively fired GM CEO, Rick Wagoner. Last year the government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The term is "conservatorship" but many consider it at least partial nationalization. The government also owns large portions of the banking industry. Heaven knows what's going to happen to the health care industry, but we're certainly headed towards at least de facto nationalization.
President Obama says that he doesn't want to run General Motors, and wants to stay out of day-to-day operations. "We are acting as reluctant shareholders," President Obama said Monday, "because that is the only way to help GM succeed."
It's also supposed to be temporary. GM will come out of bankruptcy smaller, healthier, and private again.
I don't believe any of it for a second. I think that once the liberals realize what they've got on their hands they'll be the ones crying "from my cold, dead hands...."
But back to my original question; are we a socialist country now?
Jonah Goldberg, writing in USA Today, has some thoughts on the matter with which I largely agree:
Of course, nationalization of industry is only one kind of socialism; another approach is to simply redistribute the nation's income as economic planners see fit. But wait, Obama believes in that, too. That's why he said during the campaign that he wants to "spread the wealth" and that's why he did exactly that when he got elected. (He spread the debt, too.)
And yet, for conservatives to suggest in any way, shape or form that there's something "socialistic" about any of this is the cause of knee-slapping hilarity for liberal pundits and bloggers everywhere.
For instance, last month the Republican National Committee considered a resolution calling on the Democratic Party to rename itself the "Democrat Socialist Party". The resolution was killed by RNC Chairman Michael Steele in favor of the supposedly milder condemnation of the Democrats' "march toward socialism."
The hope for socialism
The whole spectacle was just too funny for liberal observers. Robert Schlesinger, U.S. News & World Report's opinion editor, was a typical giggler. He chortled, "What's really both funny and scary about all of this is how seriously the fringe-nuts in the GOP take it."
Putting aside the funny and scary notion that it's "funny and scary" for political professionals to take weighty political issues seriously, there are some fundamental problems with all of this disdain. For starters, why do liberals routinely suggest, even hope, that Obama and the Democrats are leading us into an age of socialism, or social democracy or democratic socialism? (One source of confusion is that these terms are routinely used interchangeably.)
For instance, in (another) fawning interview with President Obama, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham mocks Obama's critics for considering Obama to be a "crypto-socialist." This, of course, would be the same Jon Meacham who last February co-authored a cover story with Newsweek's editor at large (and grandson of the six-time presidential candidate for the American Socialist Party) Evan Thomas titled -- wait for it -- "We Are All Socialists Now," in which they argued that the growth of government was making us like a "European," i.e. socialist, country.
Washington Post columnists Jim Hoagland (a centrist), E.J. Dionne (a liberal) and Harold Meyerson (very, very liberal) have all suggested that Obama intentionally or otherwise is putting us on the path to "social democracy." Left-wing blogger and Democratic activist Matthew Yglesias last fall hoped that the financial crisis offered a "real opportunity" for "massive socialism." Polling done by Rasmussen -- and touted by Meyerson -- shows that while Republicans favor "capitalism" over "socialism" by 11 to 1, Democrats favor capitalism by a mere 39% to 30%. So, again: Is it really crazy to think that there is a constituency for some flavor of socialism in the Democratic Party?
When the question is aimed at them like an accusation, liberals roll their eyes at such "paranoia." They say Obama is merely reviving "New Deal economics" to "save" or "reform" capitalism. But liberals themselves have long seen this approach as the best way to incrementally bring about a European-style, social democratic welfare state. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (Robert's father) wrote in 1947, "There seems no inherent obstacle to the gradual advance of socialism in the United States through a series of New Deals."
Where to draw the line
Part of the problem here is definitional. No mainstream liberal actually wants government to completely seize the means of production, and no mainstream conservative believes that there's no room for any government regulation or social insurance. Both sides believe in a "mixed economy" but disagree profoundly about where to draw the line. One definition of social democracy is the peaceful, democratic transition to socialism. A second is simply a large European welfare state where the state owns some, and guides the rest, of the economy. Many liberals yearn for the latter and say so often -- but fume when conservatives take them at their word.
Personally, I think socialism is the wrong word for all of this. "Corporatism" -- the economic doctrine of fascism -- fits better. Under corporatism, all the big players in the economy -- big business, unions, interest groups -- sit around the table with government at the head, hashing out what they think is best for everyone to the detriment of consumers, markets and entrepreneurs. But, take it from me, liberals are far more open to the argument that they're "crypto-socialists."