Saturday, January 24, 2009

Same Old Same Old - Boomerang Diplomacy?

My friend, Bret Stephens, meets up with and interviews Netanyahu.

Then there is an Arab view based on Obama's appointent of Mitchell. (See 1 and a1below.)

Goldberg continues to beat a dead horse because the powers that be have decided Geithner's indispensability outweighs ethics. And then there is good ole Barney.

Buying votes with your tax dollars is a full time job. Hypocrisy continues to reign in Disney East so where's the change?( See 2 and 2a below.)

China holds a lot of our debt so it is not a smart thing to tick off one of your largest creditors when you are going to need them to suck up more of your worthless paper. Maybe Geithner is not as bright as some assert.

China rebuts!(See 3 and 3a below.)

Moshav Tekuma writes about how Israel helped create Hamas as a buffer against a more radical PLO in hopes of creating a future and reliable negotiating partner.

The U.S. also helped create al Qaeda by supporting the Taliban against the Russians in Afghanistan.

Diplomacy has a strange way of boommeranging. (See 4 below.)

My youngest daughter sent me this ( It is about promises made to win the presidency. It will probably take several trillion dollars to keep it. Amazing and sad. Does anyone believe these promises. Are we children thinking Christmas is a daily event? (See 5 below.)

At least one Arab gets it but are any others listening or willing to listen? (See 6 below.)

More on the detained Iranian ship. Will our Navy be stumped by lack of inspection abilities and administration's desire not to ruffle feathers of Iran? Not much press coverage. Why did we not sink it after removing the drew? Beause we don't want to offend Iranian sensitivities. (See 7 below.)

In trying to understand your enemy, in this case radical Islamiism, has Laurent Murawiec failed? (See 8 below.)


1) Iran Is the Terrorist 'Mother Regime' Israel's would-be prime minister says he was mocked for warning of the Gaza rocket threat.

It's Sunday morning, and I've been trying for days to get an interview with former --and, if his poll numbers hold up through the Feb. 10 election, soon-to-be -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it's a political season, and there's a war on, and my calls aren't being returned. With nothing better to do, I go downstairs to the hotel gym for a jog.

So who should be on the treadmill next to mine? Benjamin Netanyahu. We chat for a few minutes, mostly about the cease-fire that the government of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has just declared, and I ask if he'd be willing to sit for an interview later in the day. His answer is something between a "maybe" and a "yes." As a nod to the customs of the country, I take that as a definite yes, so much the better to press his aides to arrange the meeting.

When the interview finally happens, in the grand reception hall of the old King David Hotel, it's close to one o'clock in the morning on Monday. Mr. Netanyahu has come from a long dinner with visiting European leaders -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel among them -- and he is plainly exhausted, joking that he can't be held responsible for anything he might say.

The crack is unnecessary. Rare for a leading Israeli political figure, the 59-year-old Mr. Netanyahu is a phenomenally articulate man -- Obama-esque, one might even say -- not just in his native Hebrew, but also in the unaccented English he acquired at a Philadelphia high school and later as an architecture and management student at MIT. True to form, near-lapidary sentences all but trip from his tongue. Such as:

"I don't think Israel can accept an Iranian terror base next to its major cities any more than the United States could accept an al Qaeda base next to New York City."


"If we accept the notion that terrorists will have immunity because as they fire on civilians they hide behind civilians, then this tactic will be legitimized and the terrorists will have their greatest victory."


"We grieve for every child, for every innocent civilian that's killed either on our side or on the Palestinian side. The terrorists celebrate such suffering, on our side because they openly say they want to kill us, all of us, and on the Palestinian side because it helps them foster this false symmetry, which is contrary to common decency and international law."

And so on. The immediate question, of course, is the Israeli government's unilateral cease-fire, followed hours later by Hamas's declaration of a conditional, one-week cease-fire. Was the war a win? A draw? Or did it accomplish nothing at all -- thereby handing Hamas the "victory" it loudly claims for itself?

When Mr. Olmert announced Israel's cease-fire late Saturday night, he could hardly keep a grin off his face. In his estimate, along with that of his senior military brass, Israel had scored a clear win: It had humiliated Hamas militarily; it had caused a political rift within the group; it had taken relatively few casualties of its own; it had focused international attention on the problem of the arms smuggling beneath Gaza's border with Egypt. Most important, in the eyes of the Olmert government, it had avoided the trap of reoccupying Gaza -- the only means, it believed, of finally getting rid of Hamas.

Ordinary Israelis, however, seem less confident in the result, and Mr. Netanyahu gives voice to their caution. He is quick to applaud the "brilliant" performance of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the "perseverance and strength" of Israeli civilians under Hamas's years-long rocket barrages.

But, he adds, "we have to make sure that the radicals do not perceive this as a victory," and it remains far from clear that they would be wrong to see it as one. "Notwithstanding the blows to the Hamas, it's still in Gaza, it's still ruling Gaza, and the Philadelphi corridor [which runs along Gaza's border with Egypt] is still porous, and . . . Hamas can smuggle new rockets unless it's closed, to fire at Israel in the future."

So is Mr. Netanyahu's preference regime change in Gaza? "Well, that would have been the optimal outcome," he says, adding that "the minimal outcome would have been to seal Gaza" from the missiles and munitions being smuggled into it. So far it's unclear that Israel has achieved even that: A "Memorandum of Understanding" agreed to last week by Israel, the U.S. and Egypt could be effective in stopping the flow of arms, but that's assuming Cairo lives up to its responsibilities.

"One would hope they would actually do it," says Mr. Netanyahu, sounding less than optimistic. Within days, his doubts are confirmed when the Associated Press produces video footage of masked Palestinian smugglers moving through once-again operational tunnels.

Rather than looking for solutions from Egypt, however, Mr. Netanyahu's gaze is intently fixed on Iran, a subject that consumes at least half of the interview. Iran is the "mother regime" both of Hamas, against which Israel has just fought a war, as well as of Hezbollah, against which it fought its last war in 2006. Together, he says, they are more than simply fingers of Tehran's influence on the shores of the Mediterranean.

"The arming of Iran with nuclear weapons may portend an irreversible process, because these regimes assume a kind of immortality," he says, arguing that the threat of a nuclear Iran poses a much graver danger to the world than the current economic crisis. "[This] will pose an existential threat to Israel directly, but also could give a nuclear umbrella to these terrorist bases."

How to stop that from happening? Mr. Netanyahu mentions that he has met with Barack Obama both in Israel and Washington, and that the question of Iran "loomed large in both conversations." I ask: Did Mr. Obama seem to him appropriately sober-minded about the subject? "Very much so, very much so," Mr. Netanyahu stresses. "He [Mr. Obama] spoke of his plans to engage Iran in order to impress upon them that they have to stop the nuclear program. What I said to him was, what counts is not the method but the goal."

It's easy to believe that Mr. Netanyahu, of all people, must be wishing President Obama well: If diplomacy with Iran fails and the U.S. does not resort to military force, it would almost certainly fall to Mr. Netanyahu to decide whether Israel will go it alone in a strike. (In a separate interview earlier that day, a senior military official assured me that a successful strike on Iran's nuclear facilities is well within Israel's capabilities.)

On the other hand, a Prime Minister Netanyahu could easily tangle with the Obama administration, particularly if it makes a big push -- as it looks like it might with the appointment of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the new special envoy to the region -- for the resumption of comprehensive, "final status" peace negotiations. There's already a history here: During his first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, Mr. Netanyahu frequently clashed with the administration of the man whose wife is now the secretary of state.

Mr. Netanyahu's own prescriptions for a settlement with the Palestinians -- what he calls a "workable peace" -- differ markedly from the approaches of the 1990s. He talks about "the development of capable law enforcement and security capabilities" for the Palestinians, adding that the new National Security Adviser Jim Jones had worked on the problem for the Bush administration. He stresses the need for rapid economic development in the West Bank, promising to remove "all sorts of impediments to economic growth" faced by Palestinians.

As for the political front, Mr. Netanyahu promises a gradual, "bottom-up process that will facilitate political solutions, not replace them."

"Most of the approaches to peace between Israel and the Palestinians," he says, "have been directed at trying to resolve the most complex problems, like refugees and Jerusalem, which is akin to building the pyramid from the top down. It's much better to build it layer by layer, in a deliberate, purposeful pattern that changes the reality for both Palestinians and Israelis."

Whether this approach will work remains to be seen: Palestinian economic development was also a priority in the 1990s, until it became clear that billions in foreign aid were being siphoned off by corrupt Palestinian officials, and after various joint economic projects with Israel were violently sabotaged.

But however Mr. Netanyahu's economic and security plans play out, he makes it equally clear that he is prepared to go only so far to reach an accommodation that will meet some of the current demands being made of Israel -- not only by Palestinians, but by the Syrians, the Saudis, and much of the rest of the "international community" as well. "We're not going to redivide Jerusalem, or get off the Golan Heights, or go back to the 1967 boundaries," he says. "We won't repeat the mistake our [political opponents] made of unilateral retreats to merely vacate territory that is then taken up by Hamas or Iran."

This brings Mr. Netanyahu to the political pitch he's making -- so far successfully -- to Israelis ahead of next month's election. When elections were held three years ago, bringing Mr. Olmert to power, "we [his Likud Party] were mocked" for warning that Gaza would become Hamastan, and that Hamastan would become a staging ground for missiles fired at major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon and Ashdod.

"I think we've shown the ability to see the problems in advance," he says. "Peace is purchased from strength. It's not purchased from weakness or unilateral retreats. It just doesn't happen that way. That perhaps is the greatest lesson that has been impressed on the mind of the Israeli public in the last few years."

The polls seem to agree. As of Wednesday, an Israeli poll gives Likud a 30-seat plurality in the next Knesset, ahead by eight of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima party. Well behind both of them is the left-leaning Labor Party of Defense Minister Ehud Barak (at about 15 seats), which in turn is running roughly even with Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu.

The dovish parties of yore, particularly Meretz, barely exist as political entities anymore. Whether they'll ever be back will be a testament, one way or another, to the kind of prime minister Mr. Netanyahu will be this time around.

1a) A New Mideast Approach
By Yousef Munayyer

The Obama administration appointed former senator George Mitchell as its special envoy to the Middle East this week in a positive step toward resolving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While a fragile cease-fire has brought a temporary halt to the recent bloodshed in Gaza, the outburst of violence at the end of the Bush administration was the culmination of eight more years of failed U.S. policy. The new administration will need to break with that policy if it is to make progress toward ending the conflict.

The Bush policy can be divided into two periods. Initially, the administration sought to marginalize Yasser Arafat and pushed for the democratization of the Palestinian Authority. President Bush supported the Palestinian presidential election of 2005 and supported the Palestinian parliamentary elections early the next year -- until he saw the outcome of the vote.

The election of Hamas in January 2006, and the faltering of the longest-ruling party in Palestinian politics, was a wake-up call. The administration, understanding the pressure that Islamic movements were putting on regimes in the Middle East, shifted to "bolstering the moderates." The goal became marginalizing Hamas through economic sanctions and siege, while funding and supporting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

But this tactic of backing "our guy in the fight" achieved results much like those of the Cold War-era tactics it resembled. Ideology-driven civil conflict has raged on. Neither side has moved toward peace or security.

To make real progress toward a lasting peace, a fundamental shift in U.S. policy is needed. Simply put, a divided Palestinian partner can never make serious concessions to arrive at a lasting agreement when it is viewed as legitimate by only half of its population.

The United States must work to forge a unified Palestinian partner and must be wary of the dynamics of legitimacy in domestic Palestinian politics. Attempts to continue aligning Mahmoud Abbas with Israel against Hamas only serve to erode Abbas's legitimacy among his people. And Abbas's Fatah party members will continue to be targeted by domestic opposition as "sellouts." This appearance of submission contributed to their defeat in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

Rather than seeking to bolster the moderates in this conflict, the Obama administration should focus on moderating the extremists. The idea of eliminating Hamas could not be seriously proposed by anyone with any knowledge of domestic Palestinian politics. The notion that Hamas is a primarily militant organization based in Gaza ignores the movement's vast support in the West Bank and elsewhere.

Dealing with Hamas and groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad in arenas of legitimacy, such as elections, negates the possibility that outside parties will spoil peace negotiations.

Those who would resolve the conflict must understand that such parties and groups, often labeled rejectionist, are not primarily ideologically based and are not monolithic. They, like most political parties, are beholden to a constituency.

Yet while their politics are not always the same, the political alliances between them are far stronger than any ideological divisions. For example, consider the image of the Islamist Khaled Meshal of Hamas seated next to communist George Habash at rejectionist party conferences.

Yes, Hamas and other groups must stop the violence. But the process cannot begin by demanding that they recognize Israel.

The support for rejectionist parties in Palestinian politics, Islamist or otherwise, comes straight out of the refugee camps. Gaza has the highest concentration of refugees; nearly half of the population shares in the personal experience of dispossession.

Asking rejectionist parties to recognize Israel's right to exist, thereby justifying the displacement of the majority of their constituents, is not something that could be agreed to under today's circumstances. Most Palestinians owe their tragedies to the very genesis of Israel.

The key to real progress in resolving the conflict is, and has always been, providing a just resolution to the refugee issue. While a resolution will not be easy or immediate, a significant step in the right direction would be an acknowledgment from the state of Israel of at least partial responsibility for creating the refugee problem.

Such a statement, made in a serious and genuine tone and supported by American mediation, would destroy the perception held among many in the Middle East that Israel does not want peace. This, in turn, would begin to moderate the extremists.

The territorial outline for a two-state solution is largely agreed upon, even by some rejectionists. What remains outstanding is a just resolution for the refugee issue. The Obama administration should begin by tackling this necessary step toward comprehensive and lasting Arab-Israeli peace.

2) A Free Pass for Geithner
By Jonah Goldberg

During the hothouse days of the presidential campaign, Joe Wurzelbacher became famous because he got Barack Obama to confess that he likes to spread the wealth around. Better known as Joe the Plumber, the Toledo, Ohio, laborer became the target of bottomless venom and scorn because he seemed like an obstacle to Obama's coronation.

One of the main talking points, particularly among left-wing bloggers, was that Wurzelbacher was a tax cheat because, it was revealed by ABC News, he had a tax lien of $1,182 for back Ohio state taxes. This fueled the argument that he was a fraud, his opinion didn't matter. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Fast-forward to today. Timothy Geithner, President Obama's choice to be the next treasury secretary, quite clearly tried to defraud the government of tens of thousands in payroll taxes while working at the International Monetary Fund. The IMF does not withhold such taxes but does compensate American employees who must pay them out of pocket. Geithner took the compensation -- which involves considerable paperwork -- but then simply pocketed the money.

His explanations for his alleged oversight don't pass the smell test. When the IRS busted him for his mistakes in 2003 and 2004, he decided to take advantage of the statute of limitations and not pay the thousands of dollars he also failed to pay in 2001 and 2002. That is, until he was nominated to become treasury secretary.

Obama defends Geithner, saying that his was a "common mistake," that it is embarrassing but happens all the time. My National Review colleague Byron York reports that, at least according to the World Bank, Geithner's "mistakes" are actually quite rare. Indeed, it's almost impossible to believe that the man didn't know exactly what he was doing given that he would have had to sign documents, disregard warnings and all in all turn his brain off to make the same "mistake" year after year. And keep in mind, Geithner is supposed to run the IRS. So maybe sloppiness isn't that great a defense anyway.

The bulk of Senate Republicans seem willing to green-light his appointment because, in the words of many, "he's too big to fail." Wall Street likes this guy and so does Obama. So, who cares if he breaks and bends the rules? Who cares that he took a child-care tax credit to send his kids to summer camp? He's the right man for the job, no one else can do it, he's the financial industry's man of the moment.

This strikes me as both offensively hypocritical and absurd. Obama has made much of Wall Street greed. He and his vice president talk about paying taxes like it is a holy sacrament. They both belittled Wurzelbacher for daring to suggest that the Democratic Party isn't much concerned with how the little guy can get ahead.

Heck, Obama and pretty much the entire Democratic party insist that they speak for the little guy. But it appears they fight for the big guys.

You would think this is a perfect moment for Republicans to stand on principle, particularly since their votes aren't needed to confirm Geithner. What they will tell you is that Geithner is the indispensable man and, in the words of South Carolina Rep. Lindsey Graham, "These are not the times to think in small political terms."

Never mind that there's nothing small about the belief that paying taxes in an honest fashion is a minimal requirement for the job of treasury secretary. What's absurd is that Geithner, who helped regulate Wall Street as head of the New York Fed, is the indispensable man now. He may indeed be qualified to be treasury secretary, but is he really the only man who can do the job? Really? Everyone said the same thing about Hank Paulson not long ago. How'd that work out?

I thought the Democrats believed the financial implosion was caused by arrogant and greedy men who thought the rules didn't apply to them because they were so important. I guess they didn't mean it.

2a) Barney Frank’s hypocrisy

Ah, the dirty little secret is out. That $700 billion TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bill was in part simply a variation on congressional pork - except this time the recipients were banks with friends in high places.

One of those powerful friends was Rep. Barney Frank (D-Newton), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. And one of the recipients of a $12 million infusion of federal cash was the troubled OneUnited Bank in Boston - a bank that had already been accused of “unsafe and unsound banking practices.” Its CEO, Kevin Cohee had also been criticized by regulators for “excessive” pay that included a Porsche.

Frank admits he included language in the TARP legislation specifically designed to bail out OneUnited. He also acknowledges contacting officials at the Treasury Department about the bank’s bailout application.

“I believe it would have been a very big mistake to put the only black bank (in Massachusetts) out of business,” Frank said. Besides, he insists, “It was a case of the federal government causing the problem.”

Causing the bad loans OneUnited made? Or would that go back to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Frank so staunchly defended earlier on?

Frank has never failed to amaze us with his ability to defend the indefensible and to staunchly uphold the double standard. It’s his special talent.

3) War of words
From Economist

Economic tensions between America and China are rising—at exactly the wrong time

TECHNICALLY, he is not yet treasury secretary, but Tim Geithner has already made waves in financial markets. In a written response to questions from senators debating his confirmation, Mr Geithner accused China of “manipulating” its currency and promised that the Obama team would push “aggressively” for Beijing to change its policies. The sharp tone and use of the legally-loaded term “currency manipulation” ricocheted through financial markets as investors shuddered at the prospect of a Sino-American spat in the midst of a global slump.

Clearly this was not a slip of the tongue. Conceivably it was a bureaucratic snafu. The tough language came in a 102-page document answering numerous questions from senators—an odd place from which to lob a bombshell at Beijing. If so, it speaks poorly of a man who is already in trouble for failing to pay attention to his taxes. Most likely, therefore, Mr Geithner’s language suggests a change in Washington’s tactics towards China.

American policymakers have long pushed Beijing to accelerate the appreciation of the yuan, arguing that China’s exchange-rate policy played a big role in creating the global imbalances and that—both for the sake of China’s economy and the rest of the world—the currency needs to strengthen. But Hank Paulson’s Treasury studiously avoided accusing Beijing of “currency manipulation”, a term that carries legal implications.

Every six months America’s Treasury must publish a list of countries which it deems to be currency manipulators. Once a country appears on that list, formal negotiations to end the manipulation must begin. The Treasury under George Bush, particularly in recent years, preferred a softer behind-the-scenes approach and refused to brand China a manipulator. Although Mr Geithner did not commit himself to any specific action, the use of the m-word suggests Team Obama will take a tougher line.

Exactly what it means is uncertain. It is not even clear who will manage America’s economic strategy with China (there is some speculation, for instance, that Hillary Clinton wants the State Department to take the lead). But there is no doubt that Barack Obama’s economic team includes a number of people who are frustrated with the world’s failure to convince Beijing to strengthen the yuan. Mr Obama himself supported legislation in the Senate to get tougher on China. More important, his advisers see tough words now as a prophylactic—a warning that Beijing must not be tempted to prop up its staggering economy by weakening the yuan.

Domestic politics is also playing a big role. China’s bilateral trade surplus with America has long been a lightning rod in Congress, and with unemployment up the protectionist pressure is sure to rise. The $800 billion stimulus package making its way through Congress already has dubious “Buy American” measures that demand government spending should be on American goods. By sounding tough up front, the logic goes, the Obama team will be better able to diffuse the more extreme protectionist sentiment.

Unfortunately, this strategy is dangerous on a number of counts. The basic economic analysis—that a stronger yuan, on a trade-weighted basis, is necessary to rebalance China’s economy away from exports—is surely right. But the world’s immediate problem is a dramatic shortfall in demand across the globe and that will not be righted by exchange-rate shifts. Currency movements switch demand between countries; they do not create it. In the short-term, therefore, the outlook for the world economy depends on whether governments’ stimulus packages are successful and, right now, team Obama would do better to focus on the scale, nature and speed of Beijing’s stimulus measures than rant about the currency. What’s more, the evidence for currency manipulation is weakening. Although China still runs a huge current-account surplus, it is no longer accumulating foreign-exchange reserves at a rapid clip, as capital is flowing out of the country.

More important, the political calculus could easily misfire. Domestically, Mr Geithner’s comments may simply fan congressional flames for tougher action on China. Lindsey Graham, a senator who first pushed for a 27.5% tariff against China in 2005, called the comments “music to my ears”. And Sino-American economic tensions are already rising as Chinese officials hotly dispute the idea that their savings surplus had anything to do with the current global mess. (An official at China’s central bank recently called the idea “ridiculous” and an example of “gangster logic”). Traditionally, Chinese officials do not respond well to public admonition and, given the scale of China’s economic woes, they are likely to be pricklier now.

The stakes are extremely high. Everyone knows that protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbour policies exacerbated the Depression. With the global economy in its most dangerous circumstances since the 1930s, rising Sino-American tensions is the last thing anyone needs.

3a) China Rebuts Geithner, Denies Currency Manipulation (Update2)
By Li Yanping

China’s commerce ministry said the country hasn’t manipulated the value of its currency to promote exports and that accusations of government tampering in foreign exchange will fuel U.S. protectionism.

“China will keep its currency stable and will not depreciate the currency to support exports,” said a ministry spokesman who couldn’t be identified under ministry rules.

The official statement today followed comments released on Jan. 22 by Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, that Obama believes China is “manipulating its currency.”

Clashes over the yuan’s value threaten to stoke tension between two of the world’s biggest economies and undermine cooperation to counter the global recession. China limited appreciation of the yuan against the dollar in July 2008 after the currency rose 21 percent against the dollar following the end of a fixed exchange rate three years earlier.

“China has never tried to gain advantage in international trade by manipulating its currency,” the commerce ministry official said. “This kind of wrong accusation against China on exchange rate issues will intensify protectionism within the U.S., and it will not help resolve the problem.”

People’s Bank of China Vice Governor Su Ning echoed the commerce ministry comments in an article published by the official Xinhua News Agency today that called Geithner’s allegations “untrue and misleading.” An official in the central bank’s press office declined to comment further.

‘Optimal Strategy’

Geithner’s remarks on manipulation were a shift from policy pursued by the Bush administration, which stopped short of using the term in criticizing China’s exchange-rate management. Some U.S. lawmakers are seeking measures to punish trading partners perceived to have undervalued exchange rates.

“China will first protect its interest before addressing concerns from other economies,” said Sherman Chan, a Sydney, Australia-based economist at Moody’s “The optimal strategy for China is to keep its currency steady.”

Geithner made the remarks in written responses to questions from Senate Finance Committee members that were posted on the panel’s Web site. The committee voted 18-5 to approve the nomination of Geithner, 47, who is the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, said the chamber will start debating Geithner’s nomination at 4 p.m. Washington time on Jan. 26 and will vote at about 6 p.m.

‘More Aggressive’

“Obama -- backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists -- believes that China is manipulating its currency,” Geithner said. “The question is how and when to broach the subject in order to do more good than harm.” Obama’s team will “forge an integrated strategy on how best to achieve currency realignment in the current economic environment.”

The new U.S. administration will also press China to “adopt a more aggressive stimulus package” to boost its domestic economy, Geithner said.

A worsening slowdown in China’s economy, the world’s third biggest, may encourage policy makers to limit gains in the currency to help exporters as factories close, throwing millions of people out of work.

“China should be expecting a very tough relationship with the new administration,” according to Frank Gong, China strategist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “China will be a natural scapegoat for the problems in the U.S.”

Gong doesn’t expect China to devalue its currency because the drop in exports is related to a decline in demand, not the price of goods.

Value ‘Manipulation’

“China can’t increase exports by making them cheaper because there is no demand,” he said, adding that a devaluation may prompt similar moves around Asia, heightening the risk of trade war.

The ministry statement isn’t the first time the Chinese government has responded to comments on its currency from Obama. In October, a letter from Obama, released by a U.S. textile industry group, linked China’s trade surplus with “manipulation” of the yuan’s value.

“The yuan exchange rate is not the cause of the U.S. trade deficit,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at the time. “I hope the U.S. can expand its exports to China and reduce barriers to trade and investment.”

Geithner’s comments also stoked concern that demand from China, the largest foreign investor in U.S. government debt, may wane. China held about $682 billion of Treasuries as of November, and overtook Japan as the biggest overseas owner of the debt last year.

4) How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas
By Moshav Tekuma

Surveying the wreckage of a neighbor's bungalow hit by a Palestinian rocket, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen traces the missile's trajectory back to an "enormous, stupid mistake" made 30 years ago.

"Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel's creation," says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel's destruction.

Instead of trying to curb Gaza's Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat's Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with "Yassins," primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.

Last Saturday, after 22 days of war, Israel announced a halt to the offensive. The assault was aimed at stopping Hamas rockets from falling on Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed a "determined and successful military operation." More than 1,200 Palestinians had died. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.

Hamas responded the next day by lobbing five rockets towards the Israeli town of Sderot, a few miles down the road from Moshav Tekuma, the farming village where Mr. Cohen lives. Hamas then announced its own cease-fire.

Since then, Hamas leaders have emerged from hiding and reasserted their control over Gaza. Egyptian-mediated talks aimed at a more durable truce are expected to start this weekend. President Barack Obama said this week that lasting calm "requires more than a long cease-fire" and depends on Israel and a future Palestinian state "living side by side in peace and security."

A look at Israel's decades-long dealings with Palestinian radicals -- including some little-known attempts to cooperate with the Islamists -- reveals a catalog of unintended and often perilous consequences. Time and again, Israel's efforts to find a pliant Palestinian partner that is both credible with Palestinians and willing to eschew violence, have backfired. Would-be partners have turned into foes or lost the support of their people.

Israel's experience echoes that of the U.S., which, during the Cold War, looked to Islamists as a useful ally against communism. Anti-Soviet forces backed by America after Moscow's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan later mutated into al Qaeda.

At stake is the future of what used to be the British Mandate of Palestine, the biblical lands now comprising Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Since 1948, when the state of Israel was established, Israelis and Palestinians have each asserted claims over the same territory.

The Palestinian cause was for decades led by the PLO, which Israel regarded as a terrorist outfit and sought to crush until the 1990s, when the PLO dropped its vow to destroy the Jewish state. The PLO's Palestinian rival, Hamas, led by Islamist militants, refused to recognize Israel and vowed to continue "resistance." Hamas now controls Gaza, a crowded, impoverished sliver of land on the Mediterranean from which Israel pulled out troops and settlers in 2005.

When Israel first encountered Islamists in Gaza in the 1970s and '80s, they seemed focused on studying the Quran, not on confrontation with Israel. The Israeli government officially recognized a precursor to Hamas called Mujama Al-Islamiya, registering the group as a charity. It allowed Mujama members to set up an Islamic university and build mosques, clubs and schools. Crucially, Israel often stood aside when the Islamists and their secular left-wing Palestinian rivals battled, sometimes violently, for influence in both Gaza and the West Bank.

"When I look back at the chain of events I think we made a mistake," says David Hacham, who worked in Gaza in the late 1980s and early '90s as an Arab-affairs expert in the Israeli military. "But at the time nobody thought about the possible results."

Israeli officials who served in Gaza disagree on how much their own actions may have contributed to the rise of Hamas. They blame the group's recent ascent on outsiders, primarily Iran. This view is shared by the Israeli government. "Hamas in Gaza was built by Iran as a foundation for power, and is backed through funding, through training and through the provision of advanced weapons," Mr. Olmert said last Saturday. Hamas has denied receiving military assistance from Iran.

Arieh Spitzen, the former head of the Israeli military's Department of Palestinian Affairs, says that even if Israel had tried to stop the Islamists sooner, he doubts it could have done much to curb political Islam, a movement that was spreading across the Muslim world. He says attempts to stop it are akin to trying to change the internal rhythms of nature: "It is like saying: 'I will kill all the mosquitoes.' But then you get even worse insects that will kill you...You break the balance. You kill Hamas you might get al Qaeda."

When it became clear in the early 1990s that Gaza's Islamists had mutated from a religious group into a fighting force aimed at Israel -- particularly after they turned to suicide bombings in 1994 -- Israel cracked down with ferocious force. But each military assault only increased Hamas's appeal to ordinary Palestinians. The group ultimately trounced secular rivals, notably Fatah, in a 2006 election supported by Israel's main ally, the U.S.

Now, one big fear in Israel and elsewhere is that while Hamas has been hammered hard, the war might have boosted the group's popular appeal. Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza, came out of hiding last Sunday to declare that "God has granted us a great victory."

Most damaged from the war, say many Palestinians, is Fatah, now Israel's principal negotiating partner. "Everyone is praising the resistance and thinks that Fatah is not part of it," says Baker Abu-Baker, a longtime Fatah supporter and author of a book on Hamas.

A Lack of Devotion
Hamas traces its roots back to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group set up in Egypt in 1928. The Brotherhood believed that the woes of the Arab world spring from a lack of Islamic devotion. Its slogan: "Islam is the solution. The Quran is our constitution." Its philosophy today underpins modern, and often militantly intolerant, political Islam from Algeria to Indonesia.

After the 1948 establishment of Israel, the Brotherhood recruited a few followers in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and elsewhere, but secular activists came to dominate the Palestinian nationalist movement.

At the time, Gaza was ruled by Egypt. The country's then-president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was a secular nationalist who brutally repressed the Brotherhood. In 1967, Nasser suffered a crushing defeat when Israel triumphed in the six-day war. Israel took control of Gaza and also the West Bank.

"We were all stunned," says Palestinian writer and Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi. He was at school at the time in Kuwait and says he became close to a classmate named Khaled Mashaal, now Hamas's Damascus-based political chief. "The Arab defeat provided the Brotherhood with a big opportunity," says Mr. Tamimi.

In Gaza, Israel hunted down members of Fatah and other secular PLO factions, but it dropped harsh restrictions imposed on Islamic activists by the territory's previous Egyptian rulers. Fatah, set up in 1964, was the backbone of the PLO, which was responsible for hijackings, bombings and other violence against Israel. Arab states in 1974 declared the PLO the "sole legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people world-wide.

The Muslim Brotherhood, led in Gaza by Sheikh Yassin, was free to spread its message openly. In addition to launching various charity projects, Sheikh Yassin collected money to reprint the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian member of the Brotherhood who, before his execution by President Nasser, advocated global jihad. He is now seen as one of the founding ideologues of militant political Islam.

Mr. Cohen, who worked at the time for the Israeli government's religious affairs department in Gaza, says he began to hear disturbing reports in the mid-1970s about Sheikh Yassin from traditional Islamic clerics. He says they warned that the sheikh had no formal Islamic training and was ultimately more interested in politics than faith. "They said, 'Keep away from Yassin. He is a big danger,'" recalls Mr. Cohen.

Instead, Israel's military-led administration in Gaza looked favorably on the paraplegic cleric, who set up a wide network of schools, clinics, a library and kindergartens. Sheikh Yassin formed the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya, which was officially recognized by Israel as a charity and then, in 1979, as an association. Israel also endorsed the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza, which it now regards as a hotbed of militancy. The university was one of the first targets hit by Israeli warplanes in the recent war.

Brig. General Yosef Kastel, Gaza's Israeli governor at the time, is too ill to comment, says his wife. But Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who took over as governor in Gaza in late 1979, says he had no illusions about Sheikh Yassin's long-term intentions or the perils of political Islam. As Israel's former military attache in Iran, he'd watched Islamic fervor topple the Shah. However, in Gaza, says Mr. Segev, "our main enemy was Fatah," and the cleric "was still 100% peaceful" towards Israel. Former officials say Israel was also at the time wary of being viewed as an enemy of Islam.

Mr. Segev says he had regular contact with Sheikh Yassin, in part to keep an eye on him. He visited his mosque and met the cleric around a dozen times. It was illegal at the time for Israelis to meet anyone from the PLO. Mr. Segev later arranged for the cleric to be taken to Israel for hospital treatment. "We had no problems with him," he says.

In fact, the cleric and Israel had a shared enemy: secular Palestinian activists. After a failed attempt in Gaza to oust secularists from leadership of the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross, Mujama staged a violent demonstration, storming the Red Crescent building. Islamists also attacked shops selling liquor and cinemas. The Israeli military mostly stood on the sidelines.

Mr. Segev says the army didn't want to get involved in Palestinian quarrels but did send soldiers to prevent Islamists from burning down the house of the Red Crescent's secular chief, a socialist who supported the PLO.

'An Alternative to the PLO'
Clashes between Islamists and secular nationalists spread to the West Bank and escalated during the early 1980s, convulsing college campuses, particularly Birzeit University, a center of political activism.

As the fighting between rival student factions at Birzeit grew more violent, Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari, then a military intelligence officer in Gaza, says he received a call from Israeli soldiers manning a checkpoint on the road out of Gaza. They had stopped a bus carrying Islamic activists who wanted to join the battle against Fatah at Birzeit. "I said: 'If they want to burn each other let them go,'" recalls Mr. Harari.

A leader of Birzeit's Islamist faction at the time was Mahmoud Musleh, now a pro-Hamas member of a Palestinian legislature elected in 2006. He recalls how usually aggressive Israeli security forces stood back and let conflagration develop. He denies any collusion between his own camp and the Israelis, but says "they hoped we would become an alternative to the PLO."

A year later, in 1984, the Israeli military received a tip-off from Fatah supporters that Sheikh Yassin's Gaza Islamists were collecting arms, according to Israeli officials in Gaza at the time. Israeli troops raided a mosque and found a cache of weapons. Sheikh Yassin was jailed. He told Israeli interrogators the weapons were for use against rival Palestinians, not Israel, according to Mr. Hacham, the military affairs expert who says he spoke frequently with jailed Islamists. The cleric was released after a year and continued to expand Mujama's reach across Gaza.

Around the time of Sheikh Yassin's arrest, Mr. Cohen, the religious affairs official, sent a report to senior Israeli military and civilian officials in Gaza. Describing the cleric as a "diabolical" figure, he warned that Israel's policy towards the Islamists was allowing Mujama to develop into a dangerous force.

"I believe that by continuing to turn away our eyes, our lenient approach to Mujama will in the future harm us. I therefore suggest focusing our efforts on finding ways to break up this monster before this reality jumps in our face," Mr. Cohen wrote.

Mr. Harari, the military intelligence officer, says this and other warnings were ignored. But, he says, the reason for this was neglect, not a desire to fortify the Islamists: "Israel never financed Hamas. Israel never armed Hamas."

Roni Shaked, a former officer of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, and author of a book on Hamas, says Sheikh Yassin and his followers had a long-term perspective whose dangers were not understood at the time. "They worked slowly, slowly, step by step according to the Muslim Brotherhood plan."

Declaring Jihad
In 1987, several Palestinians were killed in a traffic accident involving an Israeli driver, triggering a wave of protests that became known as the first Intifada, Mr. Yassin and six other Mujama Islamists launched Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas's charter, released a year later, is studded with anti-Semitism and declares "jihad its path and death for the cause of Allah its most sublime belief."

Israeli officials, still focused on Fatah and initially unaware of the Hamas charter, continued to maintain contacts with the Gaza Islamists. Mr. Hacham, the military Arab affairs expert, remembers taking one of Hamas's founders, Mahmoud Zahar, to meet Israel's then defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, as part of regular consultations between Israeli officials and Palestinians not linked to the PLO. Mr. Zahar, the only Hamas founder known to be alive today, is now the group's senior political leader in Gaza.

In 1989, Hamas carried out its first attack on Israel, abducting and killing two soldiers. Israel arrested Sheikh Yassin and sentenced him to life. It later rounded up more than 400 suspected Hamas activists, including Mr. Zahar, and deported them to southern Lebanon. There, they hooked up with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed A-Team of anti-Israeli militancy.

Many of the deportees later returned to Gaza. Hamas built up its arsenal and escalated its attacks, while all along maintaining the social network that underpinned its support in Gaza.

Meanwhile, its enemy, the PLO, dropped its commitment to Israel's destruction and started negotiating a two-state settlement. Hamas accused it of treachery. This accusation found increasing resonance as Israel kept developing settlements on occupied Palestinian land, particularly the West Bank. Though the West Bank had passed to the nominal control of a new Palestinian Authority, it was still dotted with Israeli military checkpoints and a growing number of Israeli settlers.

Unable to uproot a now entrenched Islamist network that had suddenly replaced the PLO as its main foe, Israel tried to decapitate it. It started targeting Hamas leaders. This, too, made no dent in Hamas's support, and sometimes even helped the group. In 1997, for example, Israel's Mossad spy agency tried to poison Hamas's exiled political leader Mr. Mashaal, who was then living in Jordan.

The agents got caught and, to get them out of a Jordanian jail, Israel agreed to release Sheikh Yassin. The cleric set off on a tour of the Islamic world to raise support and money. He returned to Gaza to a hero's welcome.

Efraim Halevy, a veteran Mossad officer who negotiated the deal that released Sheikh Yassin, says the cleric's freedom was hard to swallow, but Israel had no choice. After the fiasco in Jordan, Mr. Halevy was named director of Mossad, a position he held until 2002. Two years later, Sheikh Yassin was killed by an Israeli air strike.

Mr. Halevy has in recent years urged Israel to negotiate with Hamas. He says that "Hamas can be crushed," but he believes that "the price of crushing Hamas is a price that Israel would prefer not to pay." When Israel's authoritarian secular neighbor, Syria, launched a campaign to wipe out Muslim Brotherhood militants in the early 1980s it killed more than 20,000 people, many of them civilians.

In its recent war in Gaza, Israel didn't set the destruction of Hamas as its goal. It limited its stated objectives to halting the Islamists' rocket fire and battering their overall military capacity. At the start of the Israeli operation in December, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told parliament that the goal was "to deal Hamas a severe blow, a blow that will cause it to stop its hostile actions from Gaza at Israeli citizens and soldiers."

Walking back to his house from the rubble of his neighbor's home, Mr. Cohen, the former religious affairs official in Gaza, curses Hamas and also what he sees as missteps that allowed Islamists to put down deep roots in Gaza.

He recalls a 1970s meeting with a traditional Islamic cleric who wanted Israel to stop cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood followers of Sheikh Yassin: "He told me: 'You are going to have big regrets in 20 or 30 years.' He was right."

5) The Obameter: Tracking Obama's Campaign Promises

Promise Kept 5

Compromise 1

Promise Broken 0

Stalled 1

In the Works 14

No Action 488

PolitiFact has compiled about 500 promises that Barack Obama made during the campaign and is tracking their progress on our Obameter. We rate their status as No Action, In the Works or Stalled. Once we find action is completed, we rate them Promise Kept, Compromise or Promise Broken.

6) The War with Israel Is Over...and they won.
By: Youssef M. Ibrahim

To my Arab brothers:

Now let's finally move forward With Israel entering its fourth week of an incursion into the same Gaza Strip it voluntarily evacuated a few months ago, a sense of reality among Arabs is spreading through commentary by Arab pundits, letters to the editor, and political talk shows on Arabic-language TV networks.
The new views are stunning both in their maturity and in their realism. The best way I can think of to convey them is in the form of a letter to the Palestinian Arabs from their Arab friends:

Dear Palestinian Arab brethren: The war with Israel is over. You have lost. Surrender and negotiate to secure a future for your children. We, your Arab brothers, may say until we are blue in the face that we stand by you, but the wise among you and most of us know that we are moving on, away from the tired old idea of the Palestinian Arab cause and the "eternal struggle" with Israel .

Dear friends, you and your leaders have wasted three generations trying to fight for Palestine , but the truth is the Palestine you could have had in 1948 is much bigger than the one you could have had in 1967, which in turn is much bigger than what you may have to settle for now or in another 10 years.

Struggle means less land and more misery and utter loneliness. At the moment, brothers, you would be lucky to secure a semblance of a state in that Gaza Strip into which you have all crowded, and a small part of the West Bank of the Jordan .

It isn't going to get better. Time is running out even for this much land, so here are some facts, figures, and sound advice, friends.

You hold keys, which you drag out for television interviews, to houses that do not exist or are inhabited by Israelis who have no intention of leaving Jaffa , Haifa , Tel Aviv, or West Jerusalem . You shoot old guns at modern Israeli tanks and American-made fighter jets, doing virtually no harm to Israel while bringing the wrath of its mighty army down upon you. You fire ridiculously inept Kassam rockets that cause little destruction and delude yourselves into thinking this is a war of liberation.

Your government, your social institutions, your schools, and your economy are all in ruins. Your young people are growing up illiterate, ill, and bent on rites of death and suicide, while you, in effect, are living on the kindness of foreigners, including America and the United Nations. Every day your officials must beg for your daily bread, dependent on relief trucks that carry food and medicine into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank , while your criminal Muslim fundamentalist Hamas government continues to fan the flames of a war it can neither fight nor hope to win.

In other words, brothers, you are down, out, and alone in a burnt-out landscape that is shrinking by the day.What kind of struggle is this? Is it worth waging at all? More important, what kind of miserable future does it portend for your children, the fourth or fifth generation of the Arab world ' s have-nots?

We, your Arab brothers, have moved on.

Those of us who have oil money are busy accumulating wealth and building housing, luxury developments, state-of-the-art universities and schools, and new highways and byways.

Those of us who share borders with Israel , such as Egypt and Jordan , have signed a peace treaty with it and are not going to war for you any time soon. Those of us who are far away, in places like North Africa and Iraq , frankly could not care less about what happens to you.

Only Syria continues to feed your fantasies that someday it will join you in liberating Palestine, even though a huge chunk of its territory, the entire Golan Heights, was taken by Israel in 1967 and annexed. The Syrians, my friends, will gladly fight down to the last Palestinian Arab.

Before you got stuck with this Hamas crowd, another cheating, conniving, leader of yours, Yasser Arafat, sold you a rotten bill of goods - more pain, greater corruption, and millions stolen by his relatives - while your children played in the sewers of Gaza .

The war is over. Why not let a new future begin?

[Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former New York Times Middle East Correspondent and Wall Street Journal Energy Editor for 25 years, is a freelance writer based in New York City and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.]

7) Iranian arms ship intercepted by US warship has sealed secret holds

The Iranian ship boarded by a US Navy Coast Guard team on the Red Sea last week before it could smuggle arms to Hamas is now disclosed by military sources to have tried to trick the search team by enclosing its rocket cargo in secret compartments behind layers of steel. Furthermore, our sources reveal, the US has not yet found a harbor in the region for carrying out a thorough search.

The Cypriot-flagged Iranian freighter Nochegorsk was intercepted last week by the new US Combined Task Force 151 in the Bab al-Mandeb Straits. Red .

The Americans decided not to give the Israeli Navy a chance to seize the vessel and tow it to Eilat for fear of a Tehran ultimatum to Jerusalem, followed by Iranian attacks on Israeli naval craft patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.

Iran maintains two warships in those waters to guard its shipping against Somali pirates as well as a military presence in the Eritrean port of Assab. The arms smuggling ship was first reported escorted out of the Suez Canal Saturday night, Jan. 23, after which Washington imposed a blackout on the incident. It is now moored at an Egyptian Red Sea port at the entrance to the Gulf of Suez.

But the US and Egyptian governments are in a fix. To break the Iranian ship's holds open and expose the rockets destined for Hamas, the facilities of a sizeable port are needed. It would have to be Egyptian because the other coastal nations - Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia - are hostile or controlled by pirates. Both the US and Egypt are hesitant about precipitating a full-blown armed confrontation with Iran. The timing is wrong for the new Barack Obama administration, which is set on smoothing relations with Tehran through diplomatic engagement. Cairo has just launched a campaign to limit Tehran's aggressive drive in the Middle East but does not want a premature clash.

Iranian sources disclose that the ship's captain had orders not to resist an American boarding team but impede a close look at its freight. The Navy Coast Guard searchers first found a large amount of ordnance and explosives in the ship's hold, which the Iranian captain claimed were necessary for securing Iranian freighters heading from the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. But then, the US searchers using metal detectors perceived welded steel compartments packed with more hardware concealed at the bottom of the hull.

The option of towing it to a Persian Gulf port for an intensive search was rejected because the Gulf emirates hosting US bases were almost certain to shy away from involvement in the affair. Moreover, Tehran would be close enough to mount a naval commando operation to scuttle the ship before it was searched.

Our military sources estimate that eventually the US government may decide to let the Iranian arms ship sail through the Suez Canal out to the Mediterranean for lack of other options.

8) The Mind of Jihad
By Laurent Murawiec

For some time now there has been a raging debate regarding what fuels Islamic terrorism--whether grievances against the West have caused frustrated Muslims to articulate their rage through an Islamist paradigm, or whether (all grievances aside) Islam itself leads to aggression toward non-Muslims, or "infidels."

Laurent Murawiec's The Mind of Jihad offers a different perspective. Discounting both the grievance and Islam-as-innately-violent models, Murawiec explores certain untapped areas of research in order to show correlations between radical Islam and any number of uniquely Western concepts and patterns, both philosophical and historical.

While this approach is admirable, it also proves to be overly ambitious, and thus problematic, specifically in its insistence that radical Islam is merely the latest manifestation of phenomena rooted in the Western experience. Murawiec is no apologist; neither, however, is he interested in examining Islam's own peculiar Weltanschauung--as outlined by the Koran and hadith, articulated by the ulema (theologian-scholars), and codified in sharia law--in order to better understand the jihad.

Instead, according to Murawiec, radical Islam is an ideological heir to Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Nazism, Marxism, and nihilism; jihadists are duplicates of otherwise arcane characters from Christian history, such as the Millenarians. Indeed, any number of European concepts and personages permeate The Mind of Jihad, often presented as prominent factors contributing to the rise of radical Islam--betraying, perhaps, the author's vast erudition concerning Western, not Islamic, paradigms.

Again, while these are interesting observations and worthy of exploration, Murawiec goes too far: The words "Gnosticism" and "Millenarianism" appear prefixed to Islamic terminology and figures repeatedly; this does not help and can distract--especially the lay reader who is trying to understand jihad within a strictly Islamic milieu.

Consider Murawiec's millenarian thesis. He argues that jihadists are Islamic versions of heretical Christians who, driven by "superman"/Gnostic impulses, wrought havoc in Europe at the turn of the first millennium, often murdering and pillaging indiscriminately. Yet the dissimilarities would appear greater. The Millenarians were a product of an already lawless age. Modern-day jihadists are not; they live in the modern era which, while managing to appease violent "millenarian" tendencies in Christians, has evidently not managed to sate Muslim impulses.

If all things are equal, why aren't modern Christians behaving like their predecessors, whereas modern Muslims are? The response cannot be that the modern Muslim world is in a state of dislocation and disarray: Today's Islamic world is much more prosperous and structured than the Dark Ages in Europe, which directly influenced the savagery of the Millenarians. Moreover, whereas the Millenarians were anathematized as heretics, often persecuted by the Church, modern jihadists have yet to be condemned by any serious Islamic authority. Indeed, they are often validated by them.

After describing the jihadists' "bloodlust" and disregard for innocents as representative of a chaotic and heretical millenarian spirit, Murawiec reveals that Sheikh Al Azhar, the equivalent of the pope in Sunni Islam, "demanded that the Palestinian people, of all factions, intensify the martyrdom operations [i.e., suicide attacks] against the Zionist enemy. .  .  . [H]e emphasized that every martyrdom operation against any Israelis, including children, women, and teenagers, is a legitimate act according to [Islamic] religious law, and an Islamic commandment." This alone is enough to dismantle the millenarian thesis since, unlike millenarian violence, which had no scriptural/church support, modern day jihadist violence (including "suicidal bloodlust") is backed by Islamic law and is a commandment.

For that matter, why does Murawiec insist on examining jihad(ists) through Christian paradigms and precedents, when Islam itself affords plenty of both--and centuries before the Millenarian movement? Moderate Muslims often portray al Qaeda as duplicates of the Kharijites. Breaking away from mainstream Islam in the 7th century and slaying not infidels, but fellow Muslims accused of apostasy, the jihadist Kharijites present a much more useful paradigm to understanding radical Islam than anything Christian.

This, then, is the ultimate problem with The Mind of Jihad: It tries to explain jihad by largely ignoring or minimizing Muslim precedents and doctrines in favor of Western precedents and philosophies. This is further evident in the latter half of the study, where the case is made that radical Islam is heavily influenced by Nazism, communism, and the "Western" concept of revolution.

While it would be folly to deny that such concepts influenced 19th- and 20th-century Islam, overemphasizing them also implies that Islam is a passive receptacle to the West, that it only reacts, never creates. At any rate, only those Western ideologies comporting with Islam ever found acceptance, indicating that the former were subsumed to the purposes of the latter, not vice versa. Murawiec agrees: "What borrowing took place almost exclusively concerned the authoritarian, dictatorial, and totalitarian ideologies"--aspects innate to Islam.

But even the concepts of revolution and revolutionaries are not imports to the Islamic world, semantic quibbling aside. Consider the life of the Islamist leader Maududi, who was out to "re-create Islam," "politicize religion," and whom Murawiec paints as Lenin:

A déclassé semi-intellectual with a powerful, charismatic personality sets himself up as a figure of messianic qualities whose cosmic mission is to establish perfection on earth on behalf of and according to the prescriptions of God. He is the quasi-peer of the great prophetic figures, and is possessed of extraordinary abilities. He is also possessed of a complete knowledge of how to move the world from its present, desolate nadir to the zenith of perfection: He is a man with a plan .  .  . which encompasses all aspects of life. .  .  . He is in charge of the immense bloodshed God requires for the Plan to be implemented.

While this is meant to portray Maududi as an Islamic aberration, it perfectly describes the prophet of Islam: Muhammad. Yet if Muhammad was a "revolutionary" who brought a "plan .  .  . which encompasses all aspects of life" (sharia law) and which requires "immense bloodshed" (jihad), is the behavior of Maududi or any other radical--all of whom are commanded to emulate the sunna (example) of their prophet, including by revolting against infidelity--unprecedented within the Islamic paradigm? Modern radicals are not so much out to "re-create" Islam as to reassert it. As for "politicizing religion," Muhammad is responsible for that.

Muhammad was a "revolutionary" who violently overthrew the "oppressive" Meccans. His successors, the caliphs, reshaped the world through the Islamic conquests. Even the Shia and Kharijites, who revolted against the last righteous caliph, were "revolutionaries." Today's radicals see themselves as following in their prophet's footsteps, trying to create the society he created through blood and conquest, as he did.

At one point, Murawiec stresses that, according to sharia, Muslims are forbidden from revolting against their rulers, even if the rulers are tyrannical. While true, there is one caveat: Rulers must fully implement sharia law; if they fail, even in part, they become infidel; and the same sharia that commands Muslims to obey tyrants also commands them to revolt against secular rule. This is precisely the justification jihadists use to attack "apostate" governments in the Islamic world.

The bottom line is that "Gnostic bloodlust" finds a precedent in Muhammad, who had 800 men decapitated after they had capitulated to him; who had no compunction about besieging infidel cities with fire and catapults, even if women and children were sheltered there; and who had poets, including women, assassinated for offending him. "Suicidal nihilism" finds precedent in the Koran and the deeds of the earliest jihadists, who actively sought martyrdom, as well as the words of Muhammad, who said he wished to be "martyred and resurrected" in perpetuity. Islam's "Manichean" worldview, which splits the world between good and evil, is a product of Islamic law and jurisprudence. We need look no further than to Islam itself to understand jihad.

That said, it cannot be denied that parallels exist between Muslims and non-Muslims: Such is human nature, which reacts similarly to similar stimuli, irrespective of race or creed. But this raises the question: If Christian Millenarians, without scriptural/churchly support, behaved atrociously, how much more can be expected of jihadists who, while sharing the same violent tendencies inherent to all men, are further goaded by direct commandments from God and his prophet to kill or subjugate infidels to Islam?

Short of examining how jihadists understand jihad, short of examining its juridical and doctrinal origins, short of studying the sunna and biography of Muhammad, short of appreciating jihad as a distinctive element in Islam; in other words short of doing what Muslims past and present do--that is, go to Islam's sources--we can never hope to understand "the mind of jihad."

For those readers, however, who are firmly aware of the above, Murawiec's book, especially its detailed historical accounts, can serve to augment their knowledge.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Going Broke? Norman Rockwell.

The more our new President seeks to implement change the more he comes back to what GW already did? You decide. (See 1 below.)

If government spending is so effective then why stop at, say, a trillion. Go for broke and perhaps we are. (See 2 below.)

Russia uses an effective approach towards silencing opposition - shoot 'em in the head in a back alley. (See 3 below.)

The Dutch may plant tulips but their courts just silenced Wilder's. (See 4 below.)

Daniel Pipes sees change coming vis a vis U.S. policies and Israel, which he writes is in play.

Polls consistently reveal Democrats are less supportive of Israel than Republicans. When one considers which segments of our population vote for Democrats that should not come as a surprise. The big surprise will come when Iran obtains nuclear and deliverable capability. Til then, Democrats can continue content in their dream world wishing Islamist terrorists would go away as do the Dutch Courts.(See 5 below.)

A Norman Rockwell Presidency can be effective as long as things go right. Extreme Liberals have no where to go and centrist governing can emasculate conservatives. But things do not always go right. Decisions eventually have to be made and their consequences begin to inelegantly intrude.

Meanwhile, the betting is that President Obama will enjoy a longer honeymoon than most presidents. His two girls are also powerful secret weapons helping perpetuate that halcyon Rockwell image. (See 6 below.)

After GW, Americans want to be loved again.

According to Arthur Herman, that could mistakenly mean returning to Carterism, become submissive puppies with our tails tucked securely between our legs.

It is important to be respected for the right reasons but it is equally dangerous to become loved for the wrong ones. You decide. (See 7 below.)

Now that Caroline Kennedy has taken her name out of New York's Senate Derby why not make her Secretary of The Treasury. I suspect she has paid all of her taxes and being wealthy it would be interesting to see how willing she might be to engage in wealth transfer through tax policy changes.

A dear long standing friend, whom I consider like family, asked me a serious question today - are we in a recession or depression?

Not being an economist I had no charts or copious statistics to support my response but I basically said I thought we were in a depression. My reasoning is based on the fact that I judge the difference between the two in terms of the government's response.

Bush '41 probably faced one of the worst recent dilemmas when the S&L's went bust. He set up a bank that assumed many of the S&L's bad loans and subsequently sold them off at a decent profit, if memory serves me correctly, when the situation stabilized. The difference then and now was that the S&L debacle was not associated with such a broad and severe decline in housing prices, accompanied by as steep a market decline, an unemployment rate which is bound to go much higher and a federal gvernment weakened by years of deficit spending.

Though Bush'41's administration's response was dragonian for the times, it never measured up to what the government has and apparently will continue to do by way of mopping up the 'barf' from the current economic hangover.

Furthermore, what we are experiencing now is a world-linked viral infection and that was not necessairly the case before.

Since I see no end to the spiralling down for the foreseeable I conclude we are in a depression rather than recession. Though, in the final analysis, it becomes statistical symantics.

I further buttressed my conclusion by pointing out that what we are experiencing is being compounded by the amount of accumulated leverage engaged in over the past few decades and now deleveraging was upon us. What goes up eventually reverses.

Finally, I told my friend I believed investors were additonally rattled by the fact that they had little faith those in charge of putting out the raging fires knew what they were doing. The first 700 billion was absorbed without much visible effect and now new and bigger hoses were being assembled.

We will eventually come out of this debacle but for the moment the loop feed back effect of a penurious consumer isaccerbating the situation because we have an economy that is built on consumption. When consumers educe their buying to essentials and little else, demands shrink as does production. Layoffs result and more reduced consumption follows. It is all very depressing.

Have a great weekend. No more memos for a week. A deserved reprieve!


1) Obama and Guantanamo: Fighting terrorism is simpler when you're a candidate.

Campaign promises are so much easier to adhere to when they're strictly hypothetical, as Barack Obama is discovering. The then-President-elect said 10 days ago on ABC that while he still plans to close Guantanamo, "it is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize" and that "many" of the enemy combatants are "very dangerous."

Merely for gesturing at this reality, Mr. Obama suffered the blunt-force trauma of his left-wing allies, and the panicked transition leaked new details on the Administration's intentions last week. On Tuesday the Pentagon halted military commissions at Guantanamo for 120 days, and reports as we went to press yesterday said Mr. Obama would sign an executive order today that the base be closed within a year. This was after he told the Washington Post that closure might take even longer. Isn't responsibility fun?

The first practical question is where to transfer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the 245 or so other remaining Gitmo prisoners. Dangerous enemy combatants can't simply be released into the streets. The Obama camp says that after reviewing the classified files, it will try to repatriate as many as safely possible. But 60 already cleared for release remain because they may be persecuted by their home countries. And even Mr. Obama's vaunted diplomacy is unlikely to convince rights-protecting countries to resettle people he believes are too dangerous to release in the U.S. -- and the more willing Mr. Obama is to release prisoners, the more difficult this problem will become.

One suggestion is moving the remaining prisoners to Kansas's Fort Leavenworth, but state politicians are already sounding a red alert. The military base is integrated into the community and, lacking Guantanamo's isolation and defense capacities, would instantly become a potential terror target. Expect similar protests from other states that are involuntarily entered in this sweepstakes.

In any event, this option merely relocates Guantanamo to American soil under another name. The core challenge is not a matter of geography but ensuring a stable legal framework for detaining and punishing fighters engaged in unconventional warfare against the U.S.

In the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the Bush Administration and Congress painstakingly set thresholds for who can be detained and under what rules. Mr. Obama argues that work was flawed and that the trials should not continue in their present form. But he also said in his ABC sitdown that he wants to create "a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo-American legal system, but doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up."

Sounds great. But this "balance" is difficult to strike because many of the Guantanamo prisoners haven't committed crimes per se but are dedicated American enemies and too dangerous to let go. Other cases involve evidence that is insufficient for trial but still sufficient to determine that release is an unacceptable security risk.

The stock anti-antiterror position is that detainees should be charged with crimes, either through military courts-martial or (preferably) the ordinary criminal justice system. Anyone who can't be indicted should be set free. But such trials are unworkable even for the 70 or 80 detainees that prosecutors had planned to try with military commissions, let alone prisoners who are too dangerous to release but for which there isn't sufficient evidence for a tribunal, much less civilian courts. Critics like to point to aggressive interrogations as somehow tainting these cases, but the real problems are far more prosaic. For instance, any evidence probably can't be admitted in civilian courts because terrorists aren't read their Miranda rights when picked up in combat zones.

An alternative to military commissions that is gaining political traction is the idea of a national security court, composed of Article III judges to supervise detentions and administer trials. There are real risks here. Politically, it will cost time and capital that Mr. Obama probably prefers to spend elsewhere. Practically, any new system is likely to face the same legal challenges from the white-shoe lawyers at Shearman and Sterling and anti-antiterror activists that for years tied down military commissions.

But legal experts across the political spectrum including Harvard's Jack Goldsmith, the Brookings Institution's Ben Wittes and Georgetown's Neal Katyal advance this option as a way to restore "credibility" to the detainee process. The national security court would operate under rules of evidence and classification that would allow the military to avoid compromising intelligence sources and methods, as well as admit intelligence gathered under battlefield conditions.

Then again, such rules would be almost identical to those now used in . . . George Bush's military commissions. On wiretaps, interrogations and now Gitmo, the new Administration is discovering that the left-wing attack lines against Bush policies are mostly simplistic illusions. Now those critics are Mr. Obama's problem.

2)Government Spending Is No Free Lunch: Now the Democrats are peddling voodoo economics.

Back in the 1980s, many commentators ridiculed as voodoo economics the extreme supply-side view that across-the-board cuts in income-tax rates might raise overall tax revenues. Now we have the extreme demand-side view that the so called "multiplier" effect of government spending on economic output is greater than one -- Team Obama is reportedly using a number around 1.5.
To think about what this means, first assume that the multiplier was 1.0. In this case, an increase by one unit in government purchases and, thereby, in the aggregate demand for goods would lead to an increase by one unit in real gross domestic product (GDP). Thus, the added public goods are essentially free to society. If the government buys another airplane or bridge, the economy's total output expands by enough to create the airplane or bridge without requiring a cut in anyone's consumption or investment.

The explanation for this magic is that idle resources -- unemployed labor and capital -- are put to work to produce the added goods and services.
If the multiplier is greater than 1.0, as is apparently assumed by Team Obama, the process is even more wonderful. In this case, real GDP rises by more than the increase in government purchases. Thus, in addition to the free airplane or bridge, we also have more goods and services left over to raise private consumption or investment. In this scenario, the added government spending is a good idea even if the bridge goes to nowhere, or if public employees are just filling useless holes. Of course, if this mechanism is genuine, one might ask why the government should stop with only $1 trillion of added purchases.

What's the flaw? The theory (a simple Keynesian macroeconomic model) implicitly assumes that the government is better than the private market at marshaling idle resources to produce useful stuff. Unemployed labor and capital can be utilized at essentially zero social cost, but the private market is somehow unable to figure any of this out. In other words, there is something wrong with the price system.
John Maynard Keynes thought that the problem lay with wages and prices that were stuck at excessive levels. But this problem could be readily fixed by expansionary monetary policy, enough of which will mean that wages and prices do not have to fall. So, something deeper must be involved -- but economists have not come up with explanations, such as incomplete information, for multipliers above one.

A much more plausible starting point is a multiplier of zero. In this case, the GDP is given, and a rise in government purchases requires an equal fall in the total of other parts of GDP -- consumption, investment and net exports. In other words, the social cost of one unit of additional government purchases is one.

This approach is the one usually applied to cost-benefit analyses of public projects. In particular, the value of the project (counting, say, the whole flow of future benefits from a bridge or a road) has to justify the social cost. I think this perspective, not the supposed macroeconomic benefits from fiscal stimulus, is the right one to apply to the many new and expanded government programs that we are likely to see this year and next.

What do the data show about multipliers? Because it is not easy to separate movements in government purchases from overall business fluctuations, the best evidence comes from large changes in military purchases that are driven by shifts in war and peace. A particularly good experiment is the massive expansion of U.S. defense expenditures during World War II. The usual Keynesian view is that the World War II fiscal expansion provided the stimulus that finally got us out of the Great Depression. Thus, I think that most macroeconomists would regard this case as a fair one for seeing whether a large multiplier ever exists.

I have estimated that World War II raised U.S. defense expenditures by $540 billion (1996 dollars) per year at the peak in 1943-44, amounting to 44% of real GDP. I also estimated that the war raised real GDP by $430 billion per year in 1943-44. Thus, the multiplier was 0.8 (430/540). The other way to put this is that the war lowered components of GDP aside from military purchases. The main declines were in private investment, nonmilitary parts of government purchases, and net exports -- personal consumer expenditure changed little. Wartime production siphoned off resources from other economic uses -- there was a dampener, rather than a multiplier.

We can consider similarly three other U.S. wartime experiences -- World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War -- although the magnitudes of the added defense expenditures were much smaller in comparison to GDP. Combining the evidence with that of World War II (which gets a lot of the weight because the added government spending is so large in that case) yields an overall estimate of the multiplier of 0.8 -- the same value as before. (These estimates were published last year in my book, "Macroeconomics, a Modern Approach.")

There are reasons to believe that the war-based multiplier of 0.8 substantially overstates the multiplier that applies to peacetime government purchases. For one thing, people would expect the added wartime outlays to be partly temporary (so that consumer demand would not fall a lot). Second, the use of the military draft in wartime has a direct, coercive effect on total employment. Finally, the U.S. economy was already growing rapidly after 1933 (aside from the 1938 recession), and it is probably unfair to ascribe all of the rapid GDP growth from 1941 to 1945 to the added military outlays. In any event, when I attempted to estimate directly the multiplier associated with peacetime government purchases, I got a number insignificantly different from zero.

As we all know, we are in the middle of what will likely be the worst U.S. economic contraction since the 1930s. In this context and from the history of the Great Depression, I can understand various attempts to prop up the financial system. These efforts, akin to avoiding bank runs in prior periods, recognize that the social consequences of credit-market decisions extend well beyond the individuals and businesses making the decisions.

But, in terms of fiscal-stimulus proposals, it would be unfortunate if the best Team Obama can offer is an unvarnished version of Keynes's 1936 "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money." The financial crisis and possible depression do not invalidate everything we have learned about macroeconomics since 1936.

Much more focus should be on incentives for people and businesses to invest, produce and work. On the tax side, we should avoid programs that throw money at people and emphasize instead reductions in marginal income-tax rates -- especially where these rates are already high and fall on capital income. Eliminating the federal corporate income tax would be brilliant. On the spending side, the main point is that we should not be considering massive public-works programs that do not pass muster from the perspective of cost-benefit analysis. Just as in the 1980s, when extreme supply-side views on tax cuts were unjustified, it is wrong now to think that added government spending is free.

3) A Killing in Vienna and the Chechen Connection
By Fred Burton and Ben West

As Umar Israilov, a 27-year-old Chechen political refugee living in Vienna, Austria, returned home on foot after grocery shopping Jan. 13, he spotted two men standing outside his apartment building — one of whom had a gun. Upon spotting the men, Israilov dropped his groceries and fled down Leopoldauer Street in the Floridsdorf neighborhood of Vienna, dodging cars and pedestrians. But the gunman managed to wound Israilov, halting his flight. The two men then approached him in a side alley, where the armed man shot Israilov twice in the head, killing him.

One man has been detained in connection with the killing, which a Stratfor source alleges was carried out by organized criminal assets in Vienna at the behest of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and with Kremlin approval. Israilov was an outspoken critic of Kadyrov and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Because of this, Israilov had frequently expressed concerns for his safety and that of his family.

Before seeking asylum in Austria, Israilov fought during the Second Chechen War against Russian forces, which captured him in 2003. Afterward, he served as one of Kadyrov’s bodyguards, a position that gave him a front-row seat to the activities of Kadyrov, who at that time led the militia of his father, then-Chechen President Akhmed Kadyrov. (Ramzan Kadyrov became Chechen president in 2007, three years after his father’s assassination.) Israilov and the younger Kadyrov had a falling-out in 2004, after which Israilov said his former boss tortured him using electric charges.

Israilov fled to the West shortly thereafter, first seeking asylum in Poland and later obtaining asylum in Austria. Once in Europe, he often spoke out against Ramzan Kadyrov, filing complaints about his alleged torture with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, and talking to reporters from The New York Times about his experiences. While allegations that Kadyrov and his associates committed torture were not new, Israilov’s former position in Kadyrov’s circle set him apart as a dissident — and marked him as a security risk to his former employers due to his firsthand knowledge of how Kadyrov operates. Israilov reportedly told police in Vienna that he felt threatened and asked for extra security.

Austria has long been a popular place for political asylum-seekers who are facing threats due to their political views; providing adequate protection for all of these dissidents is impossible. Israilov further endangered himself by maintaining a relatively high profile due to his court filings and conversations with journalists. (He might have sought publicity in a bid to support himself and his family financially.)

Chechnya, Russia and the Israilov Killing

According to Israilov’s father, in June 2008 a Chechen visited the younger Israilov, showing him a hit list of 300 Chechens who oppose Kadyrov. Ramzan Kadyrov is well-known for not tolerating detractors, allegedly having ordered the deaths of dissenters before. While spokesmen for Kadyrov have distanced the Chechen president from the Israilov killing, saying the latter did not pose a significant threat to Chechnya, Israilov’s killing could well have been intended as an example to other Chechen dissidents who felt safe abroad. While Chechen dissidents routinely die or disappear under murky circumstances in their country, this is the first time a vocal Chechen dissident has been slain abroad. The brazen nature of Israilov’s killing in particular suggests an effort to highlight the vulnerability of exiled Chechen dissidents.

According to Stratfor sources, agents were not sent from Chechnya to carry out this operation. After getting permission from Moscow for the Israilov killing — Russia keeps a tight grip on Chechnya, so Moscow would interpret a unilateral assassination abroad as subversive — Kadyrov allegedly mobilized organized criminals in Austria to carry out the deed. While it is not clear exactly which organized criminal faction carried out the killing, the man detained in connection with the killing was a Chechen who has lived in Austria for several years under the name Otto Kaltenbrunner. While he has not been charged with anything, the getaway car was registered in his name — suggesting the involvement of Chechen organized crime, which has a strong presence in Russia and Europe as well as in the Caucasus.

As major fighting in the Second Chechen War wound down from 2005 to 2007, many of the militants who had fought the Russians disbanded and fled the country. These soldiers, highly trained and accustomed to using violence to get their way, had limited options beyond putting their skills to use with the various Chechen organized criminal factions that thrived in postwar Chechnya. Chechen gangs are prized for their high level of training and brutality, abilities that have proved very valuable to criminal groups in Russia, the Caucasus and Europe.

The high degree of professionalism in the Israilov killing tends to support the existence of a Chechen organized criminal angle. This professionalism includes the audacity of Israilov’s killers, who attacked in broad daylight on a busy street. It also includes their ability to kill Israilov (himself a militant trained under Kadyrov) without any significant struggle or collateral damage. Moreover, at least a low level of surveillance must have been carried out on Israilov’s residence to confirm that he lived there and to establish his schedule so the attackers could wait for him.

The Chechen leadership has a relationship with Chechen organized crime because of the military and security service background of many Chechen criminals, and because Kadyrov led these militias during the Russo-Chechen wars of the 1990s. Such a relationship could be called on in commissioning a killing in Vienna.

Using hired guns from Austria would allow any foreign entity that ordered the killing to distance itself from the crime. Even if Austrian police managed to track down and initiate a prosecution of those who carried out the killing, arranging the extraditions of suspects from Russia would be virtually impossible without Moscow’s cooperation. Russia has not cooperated with British authorities investigating the killing of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, for example, and the investigation has turned into a political skirmish in an already-tense relationship between the two countries. Attempting to pursue the Israilov case with Russia probably would bring a similar outcome for Austria: inconclusive findings and weakened relations with a Russia that is asserting itself much more than it did in 2006.

Suspicions of Moscow’s involvement in the assassinations of Russian dissidents by various means have become common in the past three years. Russian organized criminal groups, as well as the Russian domestic security and intelligence service, the FSB, are the most likely culprits behind the increase in high-profile assassinations of Russian dissidents over the last few years. Many of the assassinations have been connected to the issue of Chechnya and alleged human rights abuses there.

The Chechen wars are a sensitive issue for both Russians and Chechens. Those who stir up tales of past offenses by either side are seen as undermining the stability in Chechnya that has come about because of the ongoing alliance between Putin and Kadyrov. The suspicious deaths of individuals (followed by their date of death) who fall into this category include:

Anna Politkovskaya, October 2006. A prominent journalist and critic of the Kremlin, Politkovskaya was in the process of publishing a series condemning the government’s policy in Chechnya. She was shot in the head in her apartment building.
Alexander Litvinenko, November 2006. Litvinenko was a former KGB agent who had defected to the United Kingdom and published books on the internal workings of Putin’s FSB networks, and he was critical of the new Russian state. He was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210.

Ivan Safronov, March 2007. Safronov was a journalist who criticized the state of the Russian military and was accused of leaking military affairs to foreign parties. He allegedly committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of his apartment building, though some reports say a person behind him forced him out of the building.

Oleg Zhukovsky, December 2007. Zhukovsky was an executive of the VTB bank, which at the time of his death was being taken over by the state so the Kremlin could handpick its senior officers to oversee many strategic state accounts. Zhukovsky allegedly performed the feat of committing suicide by being tied to a chair and thrown into his swimming pool, where he drowned.

Arkady Patarkatsishvili, February 2008. A wealthy Georgian-Russian businessman, Patarkatsishvili was extensively involved in Georgian politics. Patarkatsishvili died in the United Kingdom of coronary complications that resembled a heart attack. His family and many in Georgia have accused the FSB of involvement, however, saying the FSB has many untraceable poisons at its disposal.

Leonid Rozhetskin, March 2008. Rozhetskin was an international financier and lawyer who held stakes in strategic companies, like mobile phone giant MegaFon. He disappeared while in Latvia after losing Kremlin backing by selling his assets to multiple parties, including some government ministers who are former FSB agents.
Paul Klebnikov, July 2008. The editor of Forbes’ Russian edition, Klebnikov was shot dead in Moscow as he was heading into a subway station. The driver of a stolen car that pulled out of a parking lot and drove toward Klebnikov fired four shots before fleeing the scene.

Ruslan Yamadayev, September 2008. Yamadayev was a Chechen military leader and former member of the State Duma. He was shot in his Mercedes as it was stopped at a red light near the Kremlin in Moscow.

Stanislav Markelov, January 2009. A prominent Russian lawyer who had prosecuted an army colonel convicted of murdering a Chechen woman, Markelov was shot dead along with a journalist in broad daylight on a Moscow street near the Kremlin. He was also involved in the case of Anna Politkovskaya.
Vienna, City of International Intrigue

Vienna has long been a key battleground for international disputes between competing countries’ security and intelligence operatives. No stranger to international intrigue and attacks, the Austrian capital has had a reputation for assassination plots, intelligence gathering and foreign operatives conducting missions against dissidents who thought they were safe living in a Western city in an otherwise peaceful country.

In one example of this tradition, Iranian agents linked to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security shot and killed three members of a Kurdish delegation conducting negotiations with the Iranian leadership in 1989. Similarly, many cases of espionage between the United States and the Soviet Union unfolded in Vienna, including the cases of Marine Sgt. Clayton Lonetree and Felix Block, who passed information to the Soviets when he was second-in-command at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. The Israilov case is thus probably only the latest in a long tradition of foreign intrigue.

Austria’s central location between the former Warsaw Pact countries of Czechoslovakia and Hungary and NATO countries of Italy and West Germany, along with Vienna’s official neutrality, made Austria a natural Cold War battleground. The Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States all focused intelligence-gathering capabilities there. And as Cold War battle lines are redrawn with Russia’s resurgence, the significance of places like Vienna re-emerges. Considering that these activities only began to slacken less than 20 years ago, old intelligence networks could be put into operation again with relative ease.

The blurring of the line between Russian intelligence agents and organized crime that occurred during the 1990s means that Russia still has a considerable network around the world, though now, elements of this network also are engaged in criminal activities. This network must be considered when looking at cases like that of Israilov.

Significantly, Austria is home to the largest Chechen refugee population in Europe. An estimated 20,000 Chechens — not all of them legal residents — live in the Central European country; many of them fled the bloody Chechen wars with Russia. In general, ethnic organized criminal outfits flourish among immigrants or refugee populations because they can offer illegal immigrants services that they cannot get from the state. They also flourish there because they can use the immigrant community to operate with more secrecy. This is because many immigrant communities live apart from the indigenous population, often in separate neighborhoods, speak a different language and generally stick together in opposition to their host country’s police services. Additionally, family bonds (intensified when around strangers) strengthen ties within immigrant communities, allowing for the kind of secrecy that lets organized crime thrive.

The establishment of a strong Chechen presence in Austria, along with a pre-existing Russian presence, means that Chechnya and Russia have a long reach in the country. Considering the organized crime-FSB nexus, the increase in politically motivated murders of Russian dissidents and how Moscow most likely was pleased with Israilov’s demise, Russian assets in Vienna could well have been involved in the murder. While Russia is broadly suspected of killing dissidents abroad in recent years, Chechnya is not known to have carried out attacks in the European Union before — meaning the Israilov killing will send chills down the spines of exiled Chechen dissidents.

4) Death to Free Speech in the Netherlands
By Brooke M. Goldstein and Aaron Meyer

On Wednesday, freedom of speech in Europe took a new and devastating turn, as a Dutch appellate court ordered the prosecution of Geert Wilders, parliamentarian and filmmaker, charging him with "inciting hatred and discrimination" against Muslims for his film exposing the threat of radical Islam.

This ruling comes a mere six months after the public prosecutor's office found Wilders' dialogue contributed to the debate on Islam and that he had not committed any criminal offense. Now, curiously, the court has done an about-face and decreed that charges may be brought against the politician, and that prosecuting him is somehow in "the public interest."

After releasing a ten-minute self-produced film entitled "Fitna," Wilders found himself wound up in a litany of "hate speech" litigation, one such suit filed by a radical Imam asking for 55,000 Euros in compensation for his hurt feelings.

Ironically, the film's narrative is primarily comprised of quotes from the Koran which incite violence and death to "infidels" as well as scenes of an Imam preaching death to the Jews. Akin to something out of the Twilight Zone, the Imams who routinely spout hate speech from the pulpit and who are instigating these suits are never themselves charged with incitement to immediate violence. Moreover if the film "Fitna," which merely quotes the Koran and depicts angry Imams, is "hate speech" then what is the Koran itself?

Suspiciously, the wording of the appellate court's ruling strongly echoes public criticism made by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) when the earlier prosecution was dropped, where the OIC censured prosecutors for ignoring the "thin line separating freedom of speech and the instigation of hatred, animosity and discrimination."

Even more disturbing is that the State of Jordan, most likely acting as a stalking horse for the OIC, has issued a request for Wilders' extradition to stand trial in Jordan for blasphemy of Islam, a crime for which Shari'a law declares the penalty to be death. The Dutch parliament has taken the extradition request very seriously, and has shut out Wilders from all multi-lateral negotiations. As a precaution, Wilders no longer travels abroad unless he can obtain a diplomatic letter from the destination state promising he won't be extradited. For years now, Wilders has lived under looming death threats complemented by the threat that any day, Interpol might issue a warrant for his arrest at Jordan's behest.

Mistakenly, Wilders had thought that his own country remained true to democratic ideals, despite cases such as that of the cartoonist Gregorious Nekschot, who was arrested on May 13, 2008, by Dutch police for the criminal offense of "publishing cartoons which are discriminating for Muslims and people with dark skin."

The very notion that a judge could weigh a man's freedom of speech against what the court construed as "one-sided generalizations" is an absurd and dangerous misrepresentation of the very concept of free speech. However, that pales in comparison to the fact that a democratically elected and sitting member of government is going to be prosecuted for a thought crime for speaking to his constituents about matters of national security. In Iran dissdents are routinely arrested for holding opposing political views. Now we are seeing the same tactics being employed in Europe, but this time, enacted by Western governments at the behest of Islamist groups and against their own citizens.

Wilders' "crime" is what the OIC has been working to criminalize on a global level through the United Nations, while advocating the punishment of Westerners who speak out against radical Islam, terrorism, and its sources of financing. It is clear that the OIC's successes in the United Nations -- where the General Assembly passed its "Combating Defamation of Religions" resolution last year -- are already resulting in direct action.

This is no victory for the Netherlands, or for anyone -- save the OIC and Islamo-fascists. The damage being done to free speech, however, is a defeat that will be felt everywhere. When members of a democratic country's legislature can be arrested and tried for expressing ideas that some find objectionable, that country's status as a free and fair democracy is in serious doubt. But while the Dutch will have to come to grips with their government's abject failure to uphold basic principles of human rights, the leaders of other nations must take notice as well.

The OIC has power and influence, and "hate speech" laws provide an extremely malleable tool to silence critics of radical Islam -- even if you are a member of a parliament, or indeed, perhaps, eventually, a member of Congress. Whatever pressure may be brought on the Netherlands to counteract the OIC's influence must be brought to bear. For if Geert Wilders is tried and sentenced, it will establish the precedent Islamists have been striving for -- and one day, none of us will be free to speak out against them.

5) The Democrats and Israel
By Daniel Pipes

With Democrats now in charge of both the executive and legislative branches, what changes might one expect in U.S. policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Personnel appointments so far fit the center-left mold. On the plus side, as analyst Steven Rosen observes, this means that none of the team brings a "defined left agenda of dangerous delusions – indeed, many of them are sensible and intelligent, resistant if not immune to the nonsense that blinds the majority of academicians." Especially when recalling Barack Obama's earlier associations (Ali Abunimah, Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said) and the potential alternate "dream teams", this comes as a relief.

On the minus side, Rosen notes, the prospective staffers "are moderate and centrist to a fault, with no one to sound the alarm about the extraordinary dangers we face, to propose a response beyond the usual."

Looking at the larger picture, beyond personnel, one finds a similar mixed picture. Note the pro-Israel resolution Congress passed earlier this month "recognizing Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process." It passed the Senate unanimously and the House by 390-5, with 22 members registering "present." Of those 27, 26 were Democrats; and the 27th was Ron Paul, a Republican in name only.

This vote implies two points: First, the strong, bipartisan pro-Israel attitude of Americans has weathered the Gaza conflict. Secondly, persons cool or hostile to Israel overwhelmingly find their niche in the Democratic Party.

Polls over the past decade consistently substantiate that Americans strongly back Israel, but Democrats less so than Republicans. Already in 2000, I showed that "several times more members of the Republican Party are friendly to Israel than are Democrats, and their leaderships reflect this disparity." In recent years, poll after poll confirmed this pattern, even during the Hezbollah and Hamas wars. To cite a few:

March 2006, Gallup: "are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?" Reply: 72 percent of Republicans and 47 percent Democrats sympathize more with Israelis. (Difference: 25 percent.)

July 2006, NBC/WSJ: "are your sympathies more with Israel or with the Arab nations?" Reply: 81 percent Republicans and 43 percent Democrats sympathize more with Israel. (Difference: 38 percent.)

August 2006, LAT/Bloomberg: Do you agree that "The United States should continue to align itself with Israel"? Reply: 64 percent Republicans and 39 percent Democrats agree. (Difference: 25 percent.)

March 2008, Gallup poll: 84 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats look at Israel favorably. (Difference: 20 percent.)

December 2008. Rasmussen Reports: 75 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats say Israel is an ally of the United States. (Difference: 20 percent.)

Republican support for Israel is persistently larger, ranging from 20 to 38 percent more than the Democrats and averaging 26 percent. It was not always thus. Indeed, Democrats and Republicans have dramatically changed places in their attitudes toward Israel over sixty years and three eras.

In the first era, 1948-70, Democrats like Harry Truman and John Kennedy showed warmth to the Jewish state while Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower were cool. In the second, 1970-91, Republicans like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan came to appreciate Israel as a strong ally; as I concluded in 1985, this meant that "Liberals and conservatives support Israel versus the Arabs in similar proportions." With the end of the Cold War in 1991, however, a third era began, in which Democrats focused on the Palestinian cause and cooled to Israel, while Republicans further warmed to Israel.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition rightly notes that "Democrats are increasingly turning their backs on Israel." That trend anticipates a likely tension over the next four years, whether or not to adopt a more "European" approach to Israel.

Tensions already exist. On the one hand, the Obama team has been uncritical of Israel's war against Hamas, while stating that it will not deal with Hamas, that Israel is the key Middle East ally, and that U.S. policy will take Israel's security interests into account. On the other hand, it has shown a willingness to associate with Hamas, plus displays tendencies to a more "even-handed" approach, to push negotiations harder, and to divide Jerusalem.

In short, policy toward the Jewish state is in play.

6) A happy honeymoon for new President Barack Obama - for now

Shock and Awe! On his first full day, President Obama kept his campaign promises.

What did we expect - a divider, not a uniter?

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Obama has moved aggressively in the early hours of his precedent-shattering tenure to begin shutting down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, rolling back President Bush's last-gasp regulations, toughening ethics standards and repudiating Dick Cheney's secretive tendencies with take-that openness rules.

The honeymoon begins in unadulterated swoon. It will end; they always do. Staff missteps, rookie mistakes and legislative rebuffs go with the exalted turf of every Oval Office. A year from now, his numbers won't be so lofty. But Obama's honeymoon is apt to last longer than most.

Being the non-Bush is no small benefit. It's always easier when two-thirds of the country doesn't much care for your predecessor and his vice president.

He also benefits from the dangerously fragile economy. Americans are scared - really scared. Their 401(k) retirement plans are now 201(k)s. The country desperately wants to believe Obama can halt the credit crunch, spiking unemployment and disappearing life savings. That cuts him important slack, at least for awhile.

What's most important in Obama's early days is the nonpartisan style and tone he's established. He's lionized campaign rival John McCain, tapped a conservative minister for the inaugural invocation and reached across the aisle to Republicans. The politics of inclusion has helped his personal popularity soar since the election and generates goodwill he'll need for tough legislative battles ahead.

Obama knows the Democratic Left has nowhere to go. Still, he's been careful to repay their fervent backing in the primaries by reiterating his commitment to wind down the war in Iraq and talk up his pledge of a cleaner environment.

It surely wasn't a coincidence, either, that Bill and Hillary Clinton shared his pew at Wednesday's national prayer service - another symbolic bow to their fans.

Meanwhile, those truest of believers also have learned the lesson preached by Ronald Reagan to his conservative base: Better to achieve 80% of your agenda than jump off the cliff with the flag flying and get zero.

For their part, much of the non-Limbaugh right has figured out that while Obama may have been the Senate's most liberal member, he intends to govern from the center-left.

"The right may not be happy with him, but they're not scared by him," said a top Democratic Party activist. "This is not a cabinet of Trotskyites."

Then there's his real secret weapon - Malia and Sasha. They make Obama seem more authentic.

"The Norman Rockwell stuff is dynamite with Middle America," said a conservative Republican closely allied with the Bushes. "If he continues this, he can put the Republican Party out of business for years to come."

If he produces.

7) The Return of Carterism?
Arthur Herman

Among the first duties of the Obama presidency, all agree, is the restoration of America’s standing in the world. Poll after poll has shown how unpopular America is overseas, from London to Damascus to Beijing. Nor is there much disagreement as to the reason. As Fareed Zakaria puts it in The Post-American World, the reason is the “arrogance” displayed by the Bush administration—an arrogance that has blinded Americans to the fact that they can no longer push other nations around at will, and that their country now inhabits a multi-polar world.

The bill of particulars is by now drearily familiar. In the Middle East, Bush’s war in Iraq not only overstretched our military but radically alienated the UN and our European allies and undermined our position as an honest broker elsewhere, particularly on the issue of Palestinian statehood. Further damage to the American image was wrought by Bush’s refusal to abide by the Kyoto protocols on global warming, by the scandals over Abu Ghraib and the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, by the recklessness of our handling of Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, by our needless provocations of Russia over missile defense in Eastern Europe and our encouragement of Georgian adventurism. All in all, to listen to Bush’s myriad critics, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had it just about right in assailing “the arrogant course of [an] administration which hates criticism and prefers unilateral decisions.”

Hence the air of expectancy hovering around the Obama presidency, the sense of a new era dawning and a more hopeful direction taking shape. Obama’s own formulation of that hopeful new direction appeared last summer in an essay in Foreign Affairs. “The American moment is not over,” wrote the then-candidate, “but [it] needs a new burst of visionary leadership.” Promising a definitive end to the Bush doctrine, whose serial abuses had made the world lose “trust in our purposes and principles,” Obama foresaw an era of “sustained, direct, and aggressive diplomacy” that would rebuild America’s alliances and deal successfully with global threats ranging from terrorism to climate change.

America’s other important foreign-policy goal, Obama wrote, was reducing global poverty: the root cause, in his view, of terrorism and political extremism around the world. By “sharing more of our riches to help those most in need,” by building up the social and economic “pillars of a just society” both at home and abroad, America could bring security and stability to the entire world—if, he added, the task were undertaken “not in the spirit of a patron but in the spirit of a partner—a partner mindful of his own imperfections.”

In short, instead of being the world’s swaggering policeman, America would become the world’s self-effacing social worker. The sentiment is hardly unique to Obama; it was a point of virtually unanimous agreement among those competing with him for the Democratic nomination. Specifically, it was the view of Hillary Clinton, his arch-rival and now his nominee as Secretary of State. In her own Foreign Affairs article (November-December 2007), she, too, blasted the Bush administration for its “unprecedented course of unilateralism,” which had “squandered the respect, trust, and confidence of even our closest allies and friends.” And she, too, promised a new start, focusing on international cooperation and multilateralism, exhausting every avenue of diplomacy before resorting to military action, “avoiding false choices driven by ideology,” and devoting our resources to problems like global warming and third-world poverty. If pursued sincerely and consistently, such a course, she was confident, would keep us safe, restore America’s image, and win the respect of the planet.


Or would it? For a little historical perspective, it might be useful to look at the last President who embraced exactly the same analysis of America’s foreign-policy problems and enacted exactly the same strategy for resolving them.

“The result of the 1976 election,” Michael Barone writes, “was Democratic government as far as the eye could see.” After the debacle of Vietnam, Jimmy Carter entered office determined to clean up America’s image abroad. Abetting him in his endeavor was the fact that Democrats controlled both houses of Congress by a substantial majority, while Republicans were broken and dispirited. Much as with Obama and his team today, the basic operating assumption of the Carter team was that U.S. assertiveness abroad, or what Senator William Fulbright called America’s “arrogance of power,” had become the primary source of international tension. It was time for a humbler, gentler posture: the post-World War II Pax Americana was over, discredited by Vietnam, and so were the cold-war assumptions on which it was based.

From Carter’s point of view, the United States could win the world’s trust again by helping to shape a more equitable international order. The polarities dictated by the U.S.-Soviet conflict had grown stale; the cold war itself had become increasingly irrelevant to the future of the planet, to what the Thomas Friedmans of that day were beginning to call “the global village.” Instead, the emerging division was between rich and poor, between the developed and the developing worlds.

In words eerily foreshadowing those of Barack Obama decades later, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who would become Carter’s national security adviser, wrote in Between Two Ages that the future tasks of foreign policy lay not with the “political” issues of war and peace but with the “human issues” of poverty and development. Washington’s “preoccupation” with “national supremacy,” Brzezinski declared, would have to yield to a global perspective—a perspective that, in another parallel with today’s arguments, many then thought peculiarly well suited to America’s lowered status in a world featuring such exciting phenomena as the rise of the “non-aligned movement” and the Third World. Above all, in Brzezinski’s view, Americans had to understand that using military force to shape the course of events, as we were disastrously trying to do in Vietnam, was not the cure but rather the cause of international crises; an America that hoped to be on the right side of history would have to learn to be less assertive.

As for the Soviet Union (concerning which Brzezinski happened to be a hawk), Carter himself intended to dispel what he would famously describe as our “inordinate fear of Communism.” Toward that end, he would proffer a hand of trust to a Moscow understandably suspicious of American imperial designs. This would eventuate in his proposing and signing a far more comprehensive arms-control agreement than Richard Nixon’s SALT I. It would also entail decreasing America’s military footprint around the globe, as in South Korea, where Carter felt that the presence of American troops hindered a peaceful unification of the peninsula. He even contemplated giving direct aid to the victorious Communist government in Vietnam.


How did all this work out in practice? It would be a gross understatement to say that reality proved a more complex and obdurate substance than was dreamed of in Carter’s philosophy. A few examples may suffice, starting with Latin and Central America—an area high on Carter’s list for healing the supposed split between the developed and developing world.

One priority for Carter was giving up control of the Panama Canal—a symbol of the bad old days of homegrown Yanqui interventionism. In April 1978, he scored his first (and only) foreign-policy success when the Senate ratified the Panama Canal treaty. The agreement, it was said, would inaugurate a bright new future for the tiny Central American country and, by extension, for Latin American relations in general. Unfortunately, with the Americans gone, Panama descended into a twilight world of corruption and violence and became a hub of the international drug trade. Successive dictators skimmed the proceeds of Canal traffic to entrench their power and oppress the Panamanian people. Eventually, under George Bush, Sr., American soldiers would have to be sent to topple Panama’s last and worst dictator, Manuel Noriega, thus providing a bitterly ironic ending to the era of non-interventionism.

But Panama was in some ways a side show, if a symptomatic one. Underlying Carter’s entire approach to Latin America was his new stress on human rights as a touchstone of American foreign policy. “We can no longer separate the traditional issues of war and peace,” he declared at Notre Dame University in 1978, “from the new global questions of peace, justice, and human rights.” This was a bold statement, and on the face of it there was everything to recommend it—assuming, that is, that the yardstick of human rights was to be applied universally. But it turned out that Carter meant to apply it with extreme selectivity, and less as a yardstick than as a stick with which to beat our friends.

The argument went like this. In thrall to our cold-war mentality, we had been in the habit of reflexively backing right-wing dictators whose only virtue was that they were anti-Communist and pro-U.S. In so doing, we had betrayed our own democratic principles, in full view of a shocked and disgusted world. The time had come to reverse gears. Henceforth, Carter proclaimed, governments that violated their own citizens’ human rights would no longer receive American support but would instead incur our opposition. A foreign policy so constructed would, theoretically, encourage the growth of democracy in third-world countries and reduce the appeal of more radical or revolutionary ideologies.


In the event, the opposite happened. As Jeane Kirkpatrick pointed out at the time, instead of paving the way to democracy, the withdrawal of support from petty dictators in Latin America paved the way for a surrender of American interests—at the expense of our hopes for democratization.1 The only countries on which the U.S. could bring significant pressure to bear were those ruled by authoritarians who restricted certain freedoms while leaving others intact; by contrast, we enjoyed little or no leverage at all with totalitarian regimes that systematically destroyed all freedoms and treated us as their ideological enemy.

Thus the fallacy turned out to be not the old cold-war mentality but the new Carter human-rights policy. When we ceased supporting our bad allies, they were replaced by far worse antagonists. It had happened before in Cuba, where Batista was overthrown by Castro, and it was happening again in Nicaragua, where in the spring of 1977 the Carter administration, displeased with the corrupt, small-minded, and frequently brutal Somoza regime, cut off all aid to the Nicaraguan military in its war against the Sandinista insurgency.

In Carter’s view, allowing Anastasio Somoza to fall would demonstrate what Stephen Rosenfeld of the Washington Post called America’s “post-Vietnam intent,” and that intent would be further confirmed by our accepting the legitimacy of “progressive” movements like the Sandinistas. In July, when the latter triumphantly seized power, American representatives met with their leadership; in December, Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated that the “driving consensus among Nicaraguans” was “to build a new Nicaragua through popular participation.”

Christopher was mistaken. Somoza’s fall resulted in a bloody and drawn-out civil war that would cost the lives of some 50,000 Nicaraguans. The Sandinistas exploited the fact of an indigenous resistance movement, led by the contras, as reason to solidify their Castroite regime—precisely what Carter had assured Americans would not happen. In time, Nicaragua would become a key conduit for exporting Cuban influence and support to Communist insurgencies in El Salvador and Guatemala.

Thus did the supposedly outdated “domino theory,” an artifact of the cold war, emerge as a highly accurate predictor of what would happen in Latin America after the fall of Nicaragua. And not only in Latin America: by focusing obsessively on the presumptive split between developed and developing nations, Carter had turned the United States into a passive spectator while a global shift of power was taking place to the advantage of the Soviet Union and its proxies. Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam became the Soviet Union’s most important forward Pacific base. Pro-Soviet regimes consolidated their power in Africa, instituting Marxist economic policies that, in Ethiopia alone, brought about a massive famine and the death of hundreds of thousands. Over Christmas 1979, Soviet tanks and troops rolled into Afghanistan—just six months after Carter had embraced and kissed Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev and publicly praised his cooperativeness in the conduct of world affairs.


The one area where Carter seemed fitfully to grasp the nature of reality was in relation to Iran. Having inherited the Nixon-Ford commitment to the authoritarian Shah Mohammed Reza as a key American “proxy” in the Middle East, the administration found itself squeezed between its need for an ally in a strategically sensitive region and its selectively defined human-rights agenda. In 1977, tilting in one direction, Carter received the shah in the White House. The following January, the President paid a visit to Tehran and at a banquet toasted the shah’s regime as “an island of stability in a turbulent corner of the world.”

Having made it appear that Washington approved of the regime’s brutal practices, which included jailing and torturing thousands of Iranians, and having compounded the error by making the shah appear to be America’s puppet, Carter then tilted all the way in the other direction by backing America out of Iran even as the shah’s grip on power tottered and collapsed in the face both of genuine popular protest and of the Islamist campaign waged against him by the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini. By December 1978, Carter announced that the United States “would not get directly involved” in keeping the shah in power. “That,” he said, “is a decision for the Iranian people to make.” What few knew at the time was that Carter and his principal advisers, including Brzezinski, were urging the shah to crack down, something he refused to do unless he could announce to the world that the United States had ordered him to kill Iranian protesters.

In the end, the shah chose to run rather than fight, abdicating his throne and fleeing the country on January 16, 1979. The ironies were cruel. One was that a President publicly committed to supporting human rights and ending support for dictators had wound up urging a dictator to shoot his own citizens in the streets. Another was that the United States had lost its “island of stability” in the Middle East—and lost it, moreover, to Khomeini, who would soon present to the world an exceptionally vicious demonstration of the distinction between authoritarianism and outright totalitarianism.

The fall of the shah, the possibility that a Khomeini-dominated Iran might end up in the Soviet orbit, and, finally, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan finally forced Carter to deal with the geopolitical realities of the cold war, the very conflict that he and his advisers had insisted was irrelevant to the world’s future. After three years of watching his utopian hopes for the world dissolve, Carter had belatedly discovered the virtues of a robust and assertive American foreign policy. It was in this new mood that he declared an increase in American defense spending, the first since the end of the Vietnam war. It was in the same mood that in April 1980 he finally authorized an attempt by the U.S. military to rescue 52 Americans held hostage since the seizure of the American embassy five and a half months earlier. But the effort was doomed almost from the start. Badly conceived, insufficiently manned or supported, and obsessively micromanaged from the White House, the rescue attempt ended in death and disaster, the administration’s final foreign-policy fiasco and a low point for American prestige.

Through it all, Carter still refused to consider any decisive use of military force. He refused to send aid to anti-Communist rebels in Afghanistan; he refused to use the U.S. military to prevent the Nicaraguan Sandinistas from supporting Marxist guerrillas in neighboring countries; he refused to consider any stronger action against the Iranian hostage-takers; and he expressed disgust when Ronald Reagan, his opponent in the November 1980 election, called them “barbarians” and “criminals.”


In sum, Carter’s attempt to soften America’s profile in the world had left the United States in the most perilous position it had known since the Korean war. Soaring oil prices, especially after the fall of the shah, had made a shambles of the global economic order. New Soviet proxies held power in nearly a dozen states in East Asia, Africa, the Middle East (including Afghanistan and South Yemen), and Latin America. More than 85,000 Soviet troops occupied Afghanistan; 35,000 Cuban troops were in Africa. Russian and Cuban military advisers operated in countries like Ethiopia, South Yemen, Mozambique, and Angola with impunity. Soviet SS-20 missiles had been installed specifically to threaten Western Europe and intimidate the NATO alliance.

Even worse, the Soviet Union had become a major military power in the Western hemisphere. At Cienfuegos in Cuba, Soviet warships, submarines, and Backfire bombers enjoyed access to air strips and naval facilities, much as they did at Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam. A Soviet combat brigade was training Cuban soldiers in the art of anti-tank warfare—admittedly, not very helpful for fighting in the jungles of Central America, but very useful for future operations in places like Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, or the Arabian peninsula. Russian reconnaissance flights off the east coast of North America were becoming frequent, and so was electronic surveillance of American telephone and cable traffic. Meanwhile, the Cubans and Sandinistas were continuing to supply insurgencies in Guatemala and El Salvador. In 1979, the tiny island country of Grenada had become a full-fledged Cuban ally and a staging ground for expanding Communist influence in the Caribbean.

The one place where Carter and his defenders could point to success was with the Camp David accord between Egypt and Israel in September 1978. But the exception was only apparent, and in any case proved the rule. For a bilateral Israel-Egypt agreement was not something Carter had sought or welcomed. Quite the contrary: his Middle East policy rested on achieving a “comprehensive” settlement with all parties to the Arab-Israel conflict, and with the active participation of the same Soviet Union whose forces had only recently been kicked out of Egypt by President Anwar Sadat. The visit of Sadat to Israel in November 1977 thus came as an unpleasant surprise.

For nearly a year, the White House fought against a separate peace deal between the two countries, and it was only out of a kind of desperation that Carter finally decided to call the Camp David meeting. By then, both Sadat and Begin were more than ready for a final agreement; for both men, the chief virtue of an American commitment lay in the hope that it would prevent the USSR and its Arab allies, including the PLO, from derailing the peace they had struck between themselves.2 So much for multilateralism.


In January 1981, Ronald Reagan and his foreign-policy team came into office determined to reverse the post-Vietnam trend of declining American power and the Carterite assumptions that rationalized and justified it. For them, the world’s dividing line ran not between the rich and the poor but between the enslaved and the free.

Reagan believed that by promoting American interests and defending America’s friends, we would benefit both ourselves and millions of others all around the world. Some, like our NATO allies in Europe, would benefit directly, under the umbrella of collective security. Others, like the emerging nations of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, would benefit indirectly, as a resurgence of American confidence revved the engines of global economic growth and protected peoples from subjugation by others.

Far from seeing American military supremacy as a provocation, Reagan proudly defended America’s record as “the greatest force for peace in the world” precisely because America was free as well as strong. His policy would consist of an unashamed, unapologetic assertion of American exceptionalism and an application of, in his words, “the timeless truths and values Americans have always cherished to the realities of today’s world.” In the process, Reagan would establish a new paradigm for American foreign policy, or, rather, he would reestablish, under a conservative Republican banner, the liberal foundations of the post-World War II Pax Americana stretching back through Presidents Johnson and Kennedy to Truman.

This is hardly to say that Reagan’s conduct of foreign policy was without flaws, or that his successor, George Bush, Sr., who presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union and the breaking-up of its empire, did not commit his own blunders, both major and minor. But Reagan and Bush’s re-assertion of the Pax Americana, instead of wrecking our international image or alienating our allies, not only helped build a series of highly successful international coalitions and united fronts but also freed up the forces of globalization, making possible an unprecedented future growth of international trade and thereby undergirding the prosperity of the Clinton years.

We need not linger over those years or over Bill Clinton’s own foreign policy, which vacillated wildly from Carter-style multilateralism, accompanied by deep cuts in the U.S. defense budget, to a post-Rwanda, post-Bosnia activism applied in an often incoherent and ad-hoc fashion. Nor need we rehearse the story of George W. Bush’s tenure in office—an eight-year period marked at the beginning by a deep wariness toward international commitments and “nation-building” and then, after, 9/11, by a dramatic return to the basics of American exceptionalism and a resounding commitment to the expansion of freedom and democracy. The point is that between the two of them, Clinton hesitantly and Bush wholeheartedly, post-World War II American foreign policy turned away from the humbler, gentler multilateralist model of the Carter years and, in so doing, reverted to form.

Now Barack Obama comes into office, trailing clouds of Carterite rhetoric and Carteresque ideas about the inutility of military force, the sovereign worth of “aggressive diplomacy” (an incoherent and meaningless phrase), and the need to accommodate ourselves to a world in which we are no longer even an economic superpower, let alone an example to mankind. Of Carter himself, it might be said in mitigation that he assumed the presidency at an exceptionally bad moment, in the wake of a humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam and in an atmosphere of defeatism among many prominent figures in the political establishment and, among others, a feeling of positive revulsion toward both the ends and the means of American power. Carter was wrong to think that the way forward was to adopt, wholesale, the arguments of the anti-Vietnam-war movement—wrong in theory, and dangerously wrong in practice. Still, one can understand why, in the circumstances, someone of his bent might have come to the position he did.

But today? When Iraq, the most egregious example of Bush’s supposedly reckless zeal to go it alone, is turning out to be a success, reaffirming the rightness of America’s cause and the soundness of the postwar vision? Why adopt, today, the arguments and proposals of those who still pretend that Iraq has been nothing but a sordid failure, or who hold that the fact of its success proves nothing whatsoever about who we are and what we stand for?

Some of Obama’s early choices for high-level foreign-policy positions—particularly General James Jones as National Security Adviser and the incumbent Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense—suggest that the President-elect may be reconsidering his priorities. One can only hope so. In his book Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger writes that the experience of history is a statesman’s one sure guide. As the historical experience of the last 30 years has demonstrated over and over again, and as the historical experience of the last eight years underlines once more with blinding clarity, Carterism is not the way.