Infiltrated

by Jay Richards


Knowledge and Power

by George Gilder


Darwin's Doubt

by Stephen C. Meyer


Wealth and Poverty

by George Gilder


Indivisible Review

by Jay W. Richards


The Israel Test

by George Gilder


God and Evolution

Edited by Jay Richards


Signature in The Cell

by Stephen C. Meyer


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August 20, 2013

Government Demoralizes Public & Allies

The revelations of politicization of government functions--such as the IRS and national security agencies--cannot help but undermine people's trust in government itself. The latest story in the Washington Times is about how the White House leaked highly classified documents to the media about secret operations in Iran. The clear implication is that they were leaked to bolster the reputation of the President and his Administration, recklessly indifferent to damage to our security and allies.

Hard working people in the security agencies are being abused and cheapened by such misuse of their efforts.

There also is a chilling effect on civil discourse as the result of stories about surveillance. Privacy is not something you value lightly when you see how it can be violated--and your every email and conversation can be misrepresented and made public. Knowing that you have little privacy left is one thing; knowing that a government in power cares little about protecting that privacy is another.

Continue reading "Government Demoralizes Public & Allies" »

August 19, 2013

Germans May Want "Less Europe"

A little noticed speech by Angela Merkel indicates that Germany is joining the U.K. in seeking "reform" of the European Union. In almost all conceptions, reform means less regulation of nation-states by bureaucrats in Brussels.

This is important to the U.S. and our North American trade partners. If the EU can de-regulate their economies to any degree, so can we. But that is the opposite direction from the one taken by the Obama Administration.

Continue reading "Germans May Want "Less Europe"" »

July 22, 2013

Egypt's Choices

by John Wohlstetter

What a 12-year-old boy says about democracy....

Take three minutes out of your day to watch this Egyptian democracy video (2:50) featuring a boy, 12, who understands democracy better than our president, anyone in the administration, many in Congress, many in the media & many in the punditocracy.

Alas, as legal experts begin work on revising the Islamist-tinged Constitution, Egypt's liberals are delusional & disorganized. Hence the realistic choice for the foreseeable future is between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood & the military, with public sentiment favoring the military. We ought to support the latter, but Team Obama, by pushing for early elections, is unwittingly aiding the former.

Bottom Line. Egypt will be one of the Mideast's largest slow-motion country train wrecks, with political liberals in spectacular disarray, a moribund economy immiserating its multitudes and a society fracturing along tectonic religious & ideological fault-lines.

July 11, 2013

Freedom in Egypt, then Democracy

Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter carefully disentangles the concept of democracy--which many in the world, including some in the U.S.--confuse with majority rule, regardless of safeguards for freedom--freedom for minorities of politics and religion and ethnicity. The problem at hand is Egypt, but it could be most of the former USSR, Africa and Asia.

July 3, 2013

Hard Fate of Obama's "New" Policy on Muslims

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President Obama's new foreign policy on Muslim countries--the "New Beginning" declared in Cairo in 2009--is now visibly in ruins.

Under Mr. Obama the US Government seems to have an excellent instinct for choosing sides at just the wrong moment. In Egypt we gave up on Mubarak only as his exit was being assured and now the same with Morsi. Placards in the anti-Morsi crowds last week deplored Obama and the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Ann Patterson, for urging Egyptians not to take part in the demonstrations.

Writes Egyptian Dr. Tawfik Hamid of the Potomac Institute, "Egyptian and Arab liberals alike cannot understand why the Obama administration did not take a clear stand against the several anti-democratic actions Morsi took after he came to power. These included seizing all powers in the country, breaking his promise to select a Coptic vice president, encouraging Islamic thugs to surround the Supreme Constitutional Court and threaten its judges if they issued any ruling against Morsi, and above all, cheating in the referendum on the new constitution of the country for the benefit of the Islamists."

Under George W. Bush we stood for freedom and democracy, even if there was some inevitable hypocrisy involved. Under Obama the fulsome speech in Cairo about new relations with Muslim countries was followed by a foreign policy that essentially is opportunistic, impulsive and--in the end--incoherent.

We couldn't express support for the pro-democracy crowds in tyrannical Iran, seemed eager to abandon democrats in Iraq, are wishy-washy in Afghanistan, unclear in Syria, and so it goes. If some conspiracy-minded people thought that Barack Obama was the Manchurian Candidate--a secret Islamist--that person would have to admit that the conspiracy must have gotten mixed up somehow. Either that or the Candidate turned out to be incompetent,


Continue reading "Hard Fate of Obama's "New" Policy on Muslims" »

June 13, 2013

Turkey: "Trying to Start a Civil War?"

Claire Berlinski has a personal report on Taksim Square in the new Spectator (U.K.)

People, she points out, have asked if Prime Minister Erdogan, by personally directing the water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas, is "trying to start a civil war." When Erdogan left the country, things quieted down. When he returned, back came the riot police.Oddly, he seems to have divided his own party and united his diverse and normally non-coopeerative opposition.

Some meetings are being held at last.

But Americans are especially anxious on the diplomatic front as the USG starts to move toward sanctions (favored by Turkey) against Syria.

June 3, 2013

Turkey And "A Menace Called Twitter"

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Sometimes you don't have to take sides. An example may be the current civil insurrection in Turkey, pitting agitated citizens who are young secularists or liberals--they are not necessarily the same, especially in Turkey--and even historic preservationists against the government and its probably majoritarian religious conservative backers.

Parsing the conflict, columnist Mustafa Akyol persuades this reader that there is reason to identify with both sides--and neither.

And yet, the present government has come a long way toward reconciling with the West in recent years. If it were overthrown, the secularist replacement might seem better nominally, but could set back Turkey's amazing economic progress and its recent diplomatic exertions. The government doesn't listen well to critics, but there is no reason to think its replacement would do better.

Photo Credit

Continue reading "Turkey And "A Menace Called Twitter"" »

May 31, 2013

National Service: Oldest and Worst "New Idea"

Oped articles were placed in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal this week (both of which require subscriptions, so never mind any links) on the topic of universal national service. That suggests that there is a campaign afoot once more to reintroduce this recycled "new" idea into the public dialogue. I certainly hope so. It will be roundly defeated, providing an educational experience for all those who are tempted to increase the authoritarian tendencies of government. It will become a rallying cry for liberty for a new generation.

I know because I started combatting national service in the early 1960s when George Gilder was editor and I was publisher of a Republican journal called Advance. In the Summer 1963 issue we published an article by Congressman Tom Curtis of Missouri, "Youth and the Military", calling for an end to conscription. That was pretty bold at the time.

"Together with monetary savings and stronger defense, such a system could strike at the heart of the disrupted lives of our youth," the good Congressman wrote.

That was true fifty years ago--about a decade before the draft was finally abolished--and it is true now.

Continue reading "National Service: Oldest and Worst "New Idea"" »

May 29, 2013

Counterattack on Cyber-war, Cyber-hackers

Every day carries new stories of hackers and the damage they are doing to American businesses and government. "Pentagon Moving to Stem Hacker Attacks," the Associated Press reports today. Our country's defenses, power grid and business operations--and individuals--are at risk. It is not an over-statement to say that our country as a whole is at risk.

Yet there is no sign yet of effective defenses.

Two crucial ingredients are missing in news stories and articles on the subject: 1) Hardly anyone knows enough about the problem to explain it in technically correct terms that also are comprehensible to the average informed citizen. 2) Virtually no articles until now have explained what needs to be done to fix the problem(s). Domestically, a few very annoying crackpots in garages get arrested. But the serious problems come from overseas. Mostly the Government talks darkly of retaliations and remonstrations, whether the putative villain is in China or Iran. Businesses, perhaps fearing lawsuits and hoping to escape the hackers' attention, meanwhile, keep mum.

What the public has not had, therefore, is an explanation of what can be done on a large scale and why what we are doing now does not work.

George Gilder, Sr. Fellow of Discovery Institute and author of several books on technology and public policy (Microcosm, Life After Television, Telecosm, The Israel Test, etc.), has written a white paper that does the job.


Continue reading "Counterattack on Cyber-war, Cyber-hackers" »

May 24, 2013

Goodbye Al Qaida: Hello, Islamist "Loners"

President Obama picked a fine time to announce that the war on terror is winding down and that Al Qaida is on the run. The Benghazi attack last September should have destroyed that argument as a campaign theme; but it didn't, since a video-maker was falsely but successfully blamed for provoking the attack. (The official script eventually was changed, but, bizarrely, Nakoula Baseley Nakoula, the hapless video-maker, is still in jail.) Now Mr. Obama is making the claim again, just after a likely confederate of the Tsarnaevs dies in a confrontation with the FBI in Orlando and two self-proclaimed Islamists murder and butcher a British soldier on the street in London.

Speaking yesterday, the President announced a cutback in the use of drones and a renewed intention to close Guantanamo prison, asserting that such moves are justified in part because of the decline of Al Qaida. We're effectively back to the campaign theme of 2012: "GM is alive and Bin Laden is dead."

War on terror? Says the Commander-in-Chief: "This war must end. That is what history advises. That is what democracy demands."

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Continue reading "Goodbye Al Qaida: Hello, Islamist "Loners"" »

May 28, 2013

USA Losing Popularity

The United States is going down in popularity. It wasn't supposed to be this way under Barrack Obama; just the opposite was supposed to happen.

Says the BBC Poll, "Views of the US have shown some sharp declines among the citizens of its allies the UK (46%, down from 60%), France (52%, down from 62%), and Germany (35%, down from 44%), as well as in Egypt (24%, down from 37%). On a global scale, however, views have only slipped slightly (from 47% to 45% positive, with 34% now negative)."

As our colleague, former Congressman John Miller, has noted in the past, the US usually is popular when we are not doing anything. Even in World War II (the "good war") US activism hurt our popularity.

Continue reading "USA Losing Popularity" »

May 15, 2013

B.C. Election Will Spur U.S. Pipeline

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A stunning provincial election surprise in British Columbia Tuesday returns the more free enterprise Liberal Party to power with a larger majority over the left wing New Democrats (NDP). The NDP was expected to win--it was up eight to nine points in pre-election surveys--because of supposed voter opposition to gas and oil pipelines to connect Alberta's energy fields to ocean shipment points in B.C. The NDP had pledged to stop the pipelines.

The Liberals will exact environmental protections, but they support the pipeline expansions, especially the controversial Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline to ship Alberta tar sands crude oil through Burnaby, B.C. With the oil pipeline and the Enbridge Northern Gateway gas pipeline expansion both likely to get a go-ahead in B.C., Canada's leverage in persuading the Obama Administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline through the central U.S. probably is increased.

Had the New Democrats, who oppose the B.C. pipelines, won yesterday, the national Canadian government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper would have lost a psychological advantage on the energy issue, as well as a practical alternative to Keystone. Now Mr. Harper can advise the Americans, either allow Keystone to go through or we will send our added energy supplies to China.

The pipeline controversy was expected to hurt the incumbent government of British Columbian Premier Christy Clark. Instead Liberal Party strategists think it helped. British Columbians apparently were satisfied that the gas pipeline and the extension of an oil pipeline would not hurt the environment and would boost the province's economic future. This sentiment was plainly missed by pollsters going into the election.

Photo Credit

Continue reading "B.C. Election Will Spur U.S. Pipeline" »

May 14, 2013

Strange Alliance of Islamists and Left

It seemed strange at the time, and it continues to seem strange: the radical Left in Europe (and the U.S.) and the Islamists fundamentalists in Iran were in effective alliance at the time of the Iranian revolution. The ramifications are felt today, for sure.

Nir Boms and Shayan Arya have a useful, if not exhaustive, analysis.

Continue reading "Strange Alliance of Islamists and Left" »

May 13, 2013

Pressure Cooker Whistle Blows

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A Saudi Arabian has been detained as he entered the US at Detroit carrying a pressure cooker in his luggage.

The Tsarnaev brothers' weapon of choice, the pressure cooker apparently can be converted to a bomb following directions online, courtesy of al Qaida.

Will we soon have pressure to ban pressure cookers? Well, some Miami-Dade County students have a petition for just that cause. Williams-Sonoma already has taken pressure cookers off their store shelves. Can Crate&Barrel be far behind?

Continue reading "Pressure Cooker Whistle Blows" »

More Calls for Reshape or End of EU

The recent local election successes of the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) have shaken everybody up, even the Labour Party. Regarding the EU Prime Minister Cameron wants to mend it rather than end it, and President Obama has given him his blessing. Cameron also is proposing a free trade zone with the U.S. and Britain, which has long made sense. But it is hard to see how that works--unless one of two things happens. 1) Britain exits the Eurozone, or 2) part of "fixing" the EU is to abandon much of the regulatory regime and to make freer trade among free market/democratic countries a stronger standard going forward. The "fix", in that case, means an end to the EU as we know it and a new free trade zone that includes Europe and North America.

Continue reading "More Calls for Reshape or End of EU" »

May 9, 2013

Added Voices Raised on "Benghazi Patsy"

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the petty crook and video-maker in Los Angeles who was made the fall guy for the Benghazi killings, was the subject of a discussion with my Discovery colleagues yesterday before I blogged "Free Nakoula". Was I going out on a limb? Not at all.

Not only has Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit been on this topic for months, but today Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, also has a fine piece on "The Benghazi Patsy" at Politico.com.

Remember, after the killings, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised the father of one of those killed that the maker of the video would be "arrested and prosecuted." Indeed, he was. And he is still in jail, though ostensibly for parole violation.


Continue reading "Added Voices Raised on "Benghazi Patsy"" »

May 8, 2013

Free Nakoula

America is supposed to be a country that doesn't have political prisoners. But Nakoula Basseley Nakoula looks increasingly like one, a small time Los Angeles crook made a scape goat to cover up the Obama Administration's failure in Libya and the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The claim that Nakoula's puerile video against Islam led to a violent "demonstration" in Benghazi was immediately obvious at the time to Gregory Hicks, career diplomat and Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, as a fabrication. He has just testified to Congress, "I was stunned. My jaw dropped."

Continue reading "Free Nakoula" »

May 3, 2013

"They're Out of Sorts.." in the UK

The three major parties in Britain are faced tonight with a huge movement of votes in local elections to the relatively new United Kingdom Independence Party. UKIP's main issue, ironically, is Britain's place in the European Union.

Essentially, the Establishment is out of sorts. The UKIP has been dismissed as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" by Prime Minister Cameron, who now has to explain that, of course, he is not talking about the roughly quarter of the country that voted UKIP. Still, alarm bills are ringing in political party offices and teeth are gnashing in newspaper editorial offices and the BBC.

It reminds me again of the old Noel Coward song, "There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner."

Continue reading ""They're Out of Sorts.." in the UK" »

March 26, 2012

Afghanistan: Finally an Opportunity for Plain Talk

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By John R. Miller

The recent unintentional Koran burnings and the mass anti-American demonstrations and killings of four American officers have occasioned not only abject apologies from President Obama and our military commanders but the usual excuses from the American State Department and their foreign policy think tank friends. "We must work harder to gain the trust of our Afghan allies" goes the chorus.

But what seems like a setback is not one--it is an opportunity for the United States to deliver a message to the Afghan government and, more importantly, the Afghan people.

Imagine if President Obama said the following:

These past weeks the American people have watched as thousands of Afghans have demonstrated against the United States and called for us to leave Afghanistan. These demonstrations have occurred with increasing frequency over the past several years and are often supported by government action or inaction. We have also watched as two American military officers were shot in the back in Afghan government headquarters. These killings of American and coalition personnel working with Afghan forces also have occurred with increasing frequency over the past several years. Over the last several years we have also watched while your government has wasted millions of dollars of American aid, issued anti-American statements and made unilateral demands for apologies and changes in our efforts to help you.

The reasons given for the recent demonstrations, killings and demands focus on the unintentional killing of Afghan civilians and the unintentional burning of Korans by American forces.

What the American people have not seen are any demonstrations against the Taliban for their entirely intentional killings of thousands of Afghan men, women and children, even though these intentional killings, according to the UN, outnumber the entirely unintentional killings by NATO forces by over three to one.

What the American people have not seen are any demonstrations thanking the United States for sacrificing over a thousand of our young soldier and Marine lives to free you from the Taliban. What the American people have not seen are any demonstrations thanking the U.S. and its coalition partners for the hundreds of millions of dollars they have contributed to help you set up a stabile, democratic government.

During the coming days the American government and people will watch to see what kind of demonstrations occur and listen to messages from the Afghan people and government on whether you want to see us continue our efforts in your country. If the answer continues to be "no", we will not leave as planned in 2014; we will leave immediately.

We realize our immediate departure may well leave Afghanistan to the Taliban and we do not relish the terror that may follow. However, we live in the 21st century and all peoples must make their own choices. The choice is yours. We await your answer.

No one, least of all the Afghans, believes that President Obama will deliver such a message. And yet how refreshing it would be to hear our leader leave the diplomatic double speak aside and talk sense.

Continue reading "Afghanistan: Finally an Opportunity for Plain Talk" »

January 10, 2012

Russian Photoshop Trick Explodes

A reform-minded Russian blogger, Alexei Novalny, was the target of a photoshopping scam that tried to link him to the discredited plutocrat Boris Bereshovsky. It looks like something the old KGB might have done, so fingers pointed to the Kremlin where Novalny's blog have been unwelcome lately. To retaliate against whoever smeared him, Mr. Navalny ran the real picture, which showed him standing with presumptive Presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, a likely rival for Vladimir Putin in the March 4 elections. Then Novalny photoshopped a hilarious procession of other figures--from Stalin and Napoleon to Putin himself, then to a Space Alien. . And posted them on his blog.

The message: in the age of the Internet you can't photoshop as in days of old. Come clean!

December 28, 2011

Those Who Dwell in a Cell

Let us pause in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas to remember, and (if so inclined), to say a prayer for political prisoners around the world. One of them, Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, has published a letter in The Moscow Times from her prison cell that reminds us of the personal risks leaders assume even in supposedly democratic regimes. Some regard Tymoshenko as corrupt, but it's hard to judge. The state in such countries has most of the instruments of publicity, as well as law, on its side.

What one can say is that politics should not be criminalized (to use Mark Helprin's useful phrase). There may be some corrupt politicians in jail, but there are surely many more in prison on trumped-up charges, guilty mainly of threatening the political prospects of their opponents. In the popular view, courts treat elected officials more leniently than ordinary people. But the opposite is often the case if the official or former official is a dissident.

December 20, 2011

The Hush-Hush War

Some wars develop like a quiet fire that nobody notices until it suddenly engulfs a building. That may be the story of Iran today.

The Iranian regime's anti-American covert actions have been going on for years and seem to be escalating. Attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan that are abetted by Tehran and attacks by Iranian agents in Iraq are manifold. What is new is the US's apparent willingness to fight back more directly. This is a turnaround from the earlier policy of the Obama Administration to engage and placate the mullah regime.

Michael Ledeen reports two explosions today in Iran, adding to the list of mysterious calamities that some are linking to Israel's Mossad. Iran probably is not publicizing the setbacks because they expose Iran's vulnerabilities. Today's explosions hit an oil refinery and a Revolutionary Guards site.

Mr. Ledeen, who has followed Iran for years, believes that domestic opposition is behind the explosions. However, who can say at this point? With the Iranian currency in a 15 percent drop in the past three days, the citizens of Iran certainly have plenty of economic as well as political and cultural grievances against the regime.

"Even before the steep drop of the rial over the past three days," Thomas Erdbring reports in The Washington Post,
"Iranians appeared increasingly to be losing faith in their currency. In recent weeks, customers have formed long lines to buy gold, forcing the government to halt all direct official sales last week.

"'People fear that the government is running out of money, and they are taking their measures,' said Hadi Lari, an economist."

Meanwhile, ABC is unusual among major media in reporting on development of the so-far covert war.

December 10, 2011

Russian Version of Crony Capitalism

No country's history proceeds on its own anymore, uninfluenced by events elsewhere. Thus, there was a great deal of interest in Russia in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, just as there were with the Arab Spring. Yet, in the aftermath of the demonstrations against Vladimir Putin and United Russia that followed the parliamentary elections, Putin is blaming the public displays on--Hillary Clinton.

This is like politicians in the American South during the civil rights movement who blamed the demands for change on "outside agitators." If Putin merely expressed annoyance with the tone of U.S. scolding, it would be hard to disagree. Whether it is Clinton or her predecessor, Condolezza Rice, moralizing U.S. Secretaries of State seem to think that they should be constantly announcing what other governments "must" do. It's hard to know what such near-daily lectures accomplish, other than infuriating heads of state with whom we must deal. Once in a while? Sure. All the time; it is a little hard to take.

Nonetheless, Putin cannot imagine that his problems with the Russian people are the result of comments made by Hillary Clinton and the United States government. There was too much Internet evidence of fraud in the elections. One blogger became famous for the beatings he endured in government hands. These protests hardly look like the work of Ms. Clinton or the CIA.

Instead, Prime Minister Putin might consider that the long-suffering Russian people can see in the Occupy demonstrations in the U.S. how a truly democratic country handles dissenters. Comparatively, America almost coddles them. Police protect them, even when they invade private parks and public buildings and then set up camps. In Russia, the Kremlin either attacks demonstrators (in the old days) or, at best, criticizes them as stooges of the West (these days).

Russia is suffering from crony capitalism, a politicized form of mercantilism: state sponsorship of industries, state manipulation of supposedly private companies, preferential regulations and official corruption that hobbles new businesses. It isn't fascism, but it is hardly the kind of free marketplace of ideas and enterprise that Russians thought they were getting twenty years ago. Sadly, the first efforts at liberalism after the fall of communism were chaotic and badly delivered, and the consequent economic collapse brought about the Putin reaction. Had his party spearheaded more serious reform and resisted the temptation to enrich its leaders and managers, Mr. Putin ciould have succeeded much more than he has. Had he merely decided to limit his leadershi to the twelve years he has put in so far, he would have retained his popular standing. He probably could have kept (and still may keep) the mansions he has built for himself since assuming public office.

Instead, Russia now serves as an example of how persistent, unyielding crony capitalism can demoralize an economy and democracy. People are right to object. Paired with the fiscal failures of Social Democracy--through over-spending--in most of Europe, you have twin dangers that should flash political warning lights in America during our own lesser, but very real crises.

November 30, 2011

Non-Existent Nuke Plants Explode

Iran denies it is building nuclear bombs. and Israel doesn't acknowledge destroying them. It is the biggest non-story of the day, and nearly non-reported.

We are living in remarkable cloak and dagger days that affect the security of the world. Yet it almost seems to happen outside the notice of major media.

October 5, 2011

How Vladimir Putin Lost a Chance to Become George Washington

By Yuri Mamchur

george-washington.jpgIn the 1700-s British King George III called George Washington "The greatest man in the world." American history is taught well in Russian public schools, but probably wasn't delivered as well during the Soviet times when Vladimir Putin was a boy. Had Putin looked into the history books, he would've found out that he had given up the opportunity to become the Greatest Man in Russia's history. In fact, he lined himself up to become one of the less impressive men in history, one whose personal hobbies and views, combined with age and historically long terms at the steering wheel (surpassing even Stalin) may lead to some results other than a free market economy...

What is the secret sauce for being the "Greatest Man in the World?" It is simple: be humble. Or as Bob Lefsets, an LA-based music producer says about the record industry and technology at large, "It's all about the timing." Putin failed at both. Unfortunately, his failures are much more than just his personal business. What really hurts is the fact that Putin built a strong, wealthy country and the momentum of that could have made Russia a role model to all, including the United States - responsible spending, non-involvement in foreign affairs, strong financial system, and... That's where the list ends. When talking to a Moscow friend, I mentioned Putin's accomplishments, to which he responded, "What do all of them mean if he failed at the most important thing -- grooming the leadership among the future generations."

In 1775, when George Washington accepted command of the Continental Army, he promised Congress he would resign his commission when the war was over. Once the British withdrew, he was true to his word. Just before then, Washington had been approached by the officers who pledged their support if he decided to seize civilian power. In response, General Washington scolded the conspiring officer.

Continue reading "How Vladimir Putin Lost a Chance to Become George Washington" »

September 19, 2011

European Political Union Fades Along with Euro

Maybe the governments of Europe should curb their diplomats' zeal for obfuscation and admit that the crisis in the Economic and Monetary Union is also a political crisis. Full European Union, politically speaking, is now deader than Monty Python's parrot.

Was it a mere two years ago that the Europeans seemed eager to enter into full political union? Only the votes of a Dutch plebiscite (then the Irish) initially held it up. U.K. elites (including especially the snide media elites at organs like The Economist and the Financial Times) were poised to surrender British sovereignty, and meanwhile to give up the British pound. Supposedly, only nostalgic right wingers opposed the trend. But in a national election David Cameron required a Tory/Liberal coalition in order to govern, in part because of his failure to attract enough Euro Skeptic votes to give his Conservative Party a majority on its own. Then the current economic crisis of the Euro hit. You don't hear much about a stronger EU any more.

Even the future of the currency union is suffering as ordinary voters who never had much time for EU politics realize that the full faith and credit of their own countries have been tied to the spendthrift nations like Greece that regard debts rather differently than do the bankers in Frankfurt or London.

British writer Roger Scruton thinks that culture, indeed, is at the heart of the matter. Writing in The American Spectator, he concludes,

"It was not economics but culture that engendered the euro--a culture of a ruling class at war with the people of Europe, wishing to establish trans-national government at all costs, and hoping to wipe away yet another trace of nationhood. By destroying those ancient currencies through which the people of Europe had expressed and managed their apartness, the European elite hoped to make a decisive move toward the goal of Union. Instead they have burdened the continent with new debts, new resentments, and a looming disaster that was not foreseen only because it had been ruled out as impossible."

The need for co-operation among the developed nations has never been more obvious, but it can't come at the cost of sovereignty. Ordinary people held back the tide. Bleak as prospects are now, they could have been worse.

September 15, 2011

Gaddafi May be in Desert Oasis

Late Thursday reports have it that Libyan rebels have entered the Gaddafi stronghold city of Sirte. However, Debka Files is reporting that Col. Gaddafi, two of his sons and a cadre of loyal troops have established a base in Targan, a widespread Sahara oasis far from Tripoli. Capturing it will take a lorgistical effort of which the rebels and NATO so far have not been capable. Also, Gaddafi is thought to have the backing of a least one major tribe in the area.

August 31, 2011

In Defense of Hillary Clinton

A Slatest column by Jack Shafer demands that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton resign because of a Wikileaks report that cables "under her name" went out asking U.S. diplomats to spy on their counterparts overseas. Shafer is repeating a demand of Wikileaks' founder, Julian Assange.

Simply put, what do Slate and Jack Shafer (and Julian Assange) really know about the State Department? Are they aware that virtually every State cable not about a very specific item goes out under the Secretary of State's name? In other words, the likelihood that Hillary Clinton sees, let alone approves, any given cable of the hundreds or thousands sent daily is next to nil.

The reason for this procedure, I guess, is to make sure that whatever someone sends out from Foggy Bottom has the full force of the Department behind it. But, the custom does lead to preposterous conclusions like Shafer's. If Secretary Clinton did organize a spying expedition, the leaks would, indeed, be embarrassing. But it is highly doubtful that she would have the time, let alone the interest.

Secretary Clinton, to the surprise perhaps of former critics, has done an impressively professional job at State. Let's leave it at that. As for the news that U.S. embassies spy on other embassies, pass me my smelling salts; I'm so shocked. Next thing, we'll have foreign diplomats spying on us! You think?

August 30, 2011

Tel Aviv vs. London: Clear Heads vs. Mush

We all consider it safer to live in England than in Israel. But is that assumption correct? Judith Levy says "no".

August 24, 2011

Russia Church Celebrates 20 Years of Freedom

In the telling of the Russian Orthodox Church, freedom began 20 years ago when the attempted coup against Gorbachev was defeated and Yeltsin took over.

August 22, 2011

Canada Mourns Left Wing Happy Warrior

Maybe there are Canadians who knew Jack Layton, who died yesterday, and have something bad to say about him. But I rather doubt it. From this Yankee's distant viewpoint he was a gentleman of the Left who gave a fervent, yet happy, sheen to Canadian politics. The Hubert Humphrey of Canada's New Democrtatic Party, Layton was a gallant champion of labor and the disaffected. He managed in the last election to oust the Liberal Party as the nation's Loyal Opposition and did so while still suffering from cancer.

Indeed, as the campaign proceeded, Layton seemed bouoyed by the crowds, nearly throwing away his cane. He savored Parliamentary life and reveled in campaigning.

Only 61, Layton will long be honored by the Canadian Left as a heroic standard-bearer, and by everyone else as an exemplar of the worth of democratic politics. As Canada graces the free West, Layton graced Canada.

The Conservative Government of Canada should gieve, especially. They may not again have such a worthy opponent.

August 21, 2011

After Libya, Watch Iran and Venezuela, Too

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The fall of Gaddafi in Libya will lower price expectations for oil prices further. Libyan oil is "sweet" and accessible. Remember that when the civil war began six months ago, prices rose. What goes up, must come down.

Libya's revolution is bad news for Assad in Syria (see below), but it also is bound to be unwelcome in Venezuela, where free-spending anti-Western Hugo Chavez is wobbly, and in Iran, where the mullahs need oil money to still criticism from the masses. Less money equals less support.

In America and Europe, lower oil prices will assist economic recovery more than any government "stimulus" one can think of.

Reuters

August 20, 2011

Libya is Falling; Watch Out, Assad!

Fighters in the early news stories out of Libya were wearing heavy jackets; now it's T-Shirts in the searing sun. But finally Gaddaffi's fate appears more certain. Tripoli is surrounded. Government ministers and military are defecting, each undoubtedly bringing new intelligence to the insurgents and deepening fear in Gaddaffi's circle.

Think of how Bashir Assad, in Damascus, must be viewing the news of Gaddaffi's peril. When Libya's prospective liberation is realized as fact, Syrian rebels will take fresh courage and determination. More arms from Iran and goons from Hezbollah in Lebanon won't change the calculus then.

If Syria goes, how long can Hezbollah hold on in Lebanon?

Pessimism is in vogue in the West today, given the economy and the seeming intractability of the Taliban. But as the tenth anniversay of 9/11 approaches, think of all the positive changes that have taken place in the MIddle East. Even the situation of Israel may be improving, thanks to its decade-long boom and an increasing technological prowess that--among other things--is allowing the tiny dynamo to create new defenses against the Iranians as well as Hamas. Bin Laden is dead. Saddam Hussen is gone and a democratic government operates in Iraq. Gaddaffi is failling fast. The end of the duplicitous Assad family would be an excellent new development.

August 15, 2011

What Do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck Have in Common?

By Yuri Mamchur (cross-posted at Real Russia Blog)

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Coincidentally, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored the Fanagoria archeological expedition, and my friend, just like Putin, retrieved a similar vase; it's now resting at our family's dacha (country home) in the Moscow suburbs. A photo of our vase is coming, after my family back in Russia takes it and sends it over to Seattle where I am currently.... -- YM

What do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck have in common? They are celebrities, and nothing more! Everybody knows them, but no one is too sure what exactly any of them is doing. Karl Rove's article in The Wall Street Journal "Obama's No Good, Very Bad Week" nails all the necessary points in regards to the American president. Obama talks, blames, and smiles i-n his white unbuttoned shirt. That, apparently, is not enough to curb the worst financial crisis in world's modern history.

Ben Affleck? He is a celebrity and a handsome man. But no one can really remember his most recent hit movie. To help out Russia Blog readers who are his fans -- the movie is called The Company Men, and features another now-irrelevant star, Kevin Costner. With a production budget of $15 million, the movie grossed only $4.9 million worldwide. An "ouch" moment for the film's investors -- a feeling similar to that which the Chinese government is experiencing in relationship to Obama's White House economic program.

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However, in our weekend stardom marathon, Vladimir Putin takes first place with his new action movies of diving underwater and retrieving ancient Greek artifacts. By a pure coincidence, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored archeological expedition in Fanagoria--a Russian town that is the location of an ancient Greek city. The Russian government under back-then President Putin didn't want to do anything with the expedition, leaving the sponsorship to Russian private businessmen, some of whom fell out of Putin's favor... But that's a different story. Today, when Putin is prime minister, the government donates about 50 rubles (one dollar and eighty cents) per day to the income of each of the scientists and archeologists working on the site. That is, not much. However, uncomfortable facts and unwritten rules of ethics do not prevent the prime minister from going on a lavish vacation to the site he never supported. Meanwhile, Russia's ruble--backed by piles of gold, diamonds, gas, oil, and zero innovation--is slipping alongside the "evil" dollar (the ruble has lost 10% of its value next to the struggling dollar in the past several weeks).

Continue reading "What Do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck Have in Common?" »

August 8, 2011

Islam--With Institutions of Liberty

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One of the most intriguing political writers today is Mustafa Akyol of Turkey, a journalist and commentator in Istanbul, whose book, Islam Without Extremes: An Islamic Case for Liberty, has just been published by W. W. Norton. It is Akyol's argument that freedom in the ways recognized in the Western tradition, will be best promoted in Islamic countries if the government is in some sense Islamic rather than secularist.

He has a point, indeed, several points. Most 20th and 21st century Arab dictatorships have been secular and have feared and siuppressed Islamists--Syria, Iraq, even Egypt and Tunisia. These regimes have been ruthless, as we see now in the cities of Syria.

But we also see a different extreme in Iran, and, for that matter, in de facto daily governance in Pakistan. There Islamists cruelly attack people of other faiths and impose a tyrannous brand of Islam on their own co-religionists.

Unfortunately, Akyol's model of a best path in contemporary life is Turkey. Its government has repudiated many of the excesses of the former secular government and turned its economy, at least, toward the West. However, Turkey is also a poor model on many accounts; press censorship, for example. True freedom of religion for another.

Akyol therefore is most interested in historic examples of the kind of liberty-loving government he thinks is possible for Muslims. For these one must go back a long ways, and the record isn't clear.

On the other hand, the models of republican freedom for the American Founders were not untainted, either. Think of democratic Athens and Reublican Rome. In other words, the American Founders had to invent the system they wanted. The historic "models" were mainly points of reference.

At his strongest, Akyol holds out the hope for a brand new version of government within an Islamic context.

August 2, 2011

Arab Spring Not Helping Russian Influence

Yuri Mamchur, head of Discovery's Real Russia Project, is printed in The Daily Star in Beirut today.

July 23, 2011

Protesters in Syria Burn Flags of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah

Somehow Western media missed the demonstrations in Syria that protest the support of that country's dictatorial regime by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah (now the major power in Lebanon and a client of Iran). Muhammed Fadhil does cover it--from nearby Iraq.

Iran, at least, is also heavily involved in Iraq, but in undermining the government there--the democratic government.

July 20, 2011

Palestinian Public Wants to Eradicate Israel

One can't rely on polls, for many reasons. Nonetheless, it is sobering that a poll conducted in the Palestinian Authority territories shows overwhelming support for jihad to eradicate Israel, not live in a peaceful two-state arrangement.

Any Palestinian leader--now as in decades past--who desired to reach a peaceful two state solution faces the threat of assassination, not merely rejection at the polls.

July 16, 2011

Caroline Glick Surveys Growing Arab Bankruptcy

Israel, with China and India, is one of the few countries that is growing economically. The US is mired in a budget and debt struggle, with Americans still not recognizing the extent of their exposure. Europe is even worse off. But the Arab countries, starting with Egypt and Syria are going broke right now. Masses of Egyptians could starve.

The perspicacious Caroline Glick surveys the threat from an Israeli standpoint, but the danger affects us all.

July 12, 2011

Libya Exit Ripe, but Legal Threat Looms

France is reporting feelers from Tripoli that Gaddafi may be willing to discuss an exile option. But there's a legal cloud over any solution.

I have advocated the prudence of providing an exile strategy for persuading dictators to step down. It has to be circumstantial; that is, you can't legislate such an outcome in advance. "Prudence", after all, entails judgement, not pre-judgement. In the case of Libya, a lot of bloodshed and treasure could be spared if Gaddafi left.

But the Libyan dictator has to be considering the possibility that a safe exit and resettlement cannot be guaranteed in the presence of the International Court at the Hague. It's things like this that cause civilization to tie itself in knots. There are people who would like nothing more than to see Gaddafi leave, and then, again, there are people (including some of the same people) who would have nothing more to once he is gone than to come after him legally.

Knowing that, he stalls--and more people die.

July 1, 2011

Damaging America While Abroad

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Brief mention must be made of Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, or whatever state will have him after redistricting, who recently went to Syria to get some headlines. Regardless of how his declarations are explained, they were inappropriate for someone in an official position. Here we have another American official who is at variance from U.S. foreign policy and is lending his credibility to an oppressive dictator. Plenty of American officials and celebrities are willing to do this kind of thing: think of the parade that visited Saddam Hussein before the two Iraq wars.

One difference is that Assad's people are in open revolt right now. They were being gunned down even as Kucinich enjoyed a personal, head of state type photo op with Bashar Assad.

Another difference is that we used to excoriate free lancers such as Kucinich. In a properly ordered political world, a stunt like his would terminate his hopes for any public office. At the least there would be public disavowals and shunning. Unfortunately, the exquisite sensitivity the media display toward celebrity wrongdoing tends to concentrate on gaffes in public utterances. It's not what you do that counts, but what you say, and especially how you say it.

Getty Images

June 23, 2011

Estonia, the Anti-Greece

Estonia, Richard Rahn argues, has been doing everything right since the Soviets left, except perhaps for joining the Euro. That sounds about right. The little Baltic land, upon becoming free, decided simply to skip the "middle way" that trapped so many countries into welfare state socialism and instead go right to modern capitalism. Now, with a six percent growth rate, it is prospering mightily.

Unlike Greece or most American states, Estonia's bureaucracy is minimal. Indeed, Rahn reports, the Estonians handle their business with the government on the Internet. Having lacked real banks for so many decades they also never had checks; and today they just send transfers from their accounts to whatever store they are frequenting.

They have a flat tax. Their debt is 1.6 percent of GDP.

In some ways, Estonia makes the US, as well as places like Greece, look backward.

June 7, 2011

Hackers Steal Students' Summer in USA

At Real Russia Blog Discovery sr. fellow Yuri Mamchur describes a truly rotten act of cyber piracy: a group of Eastern European hackers robbed thousands of youth in that region of their chance to spend a summer working in the United States. I have encountered some of the student workers in the past--at resorts, National Park restaurants, etc. Working here is a great experience for them and for us. Now it is ruined for many.

Cyber crimes are increasing, yet it is hard to see that private companies or the government care enough to implement protective measures. Our IT guru says that protection is clumsy and time-consuming, especially if an organization has varied kinds of computers. Still....

Strangeness & Importance of Turkey: Two Views

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Turkish national elections are next Sunday and the party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to triumph. A number of Westerners have noticed the tendency of Erdogan to sue critics for slander if they say anything unflattering of him--and in Turkish courts he wins a number of those suits. If you want evidence of why the First Amendment is so crucial to American democracy, Turkey today provides an answer.

We at Discovery have a couple of friends who know Turkey well, though each in a different way. Usually these days Mustafa Akyol, a columnist in Istanbul, and Claire Berlinski, an American writer living there, disagree about Turkish policy, culture and foreign policy. But both have well-considered perspectives worth knowing. Mustafa is author of a forthcoming book on the reform path Islam might take (Mustafa, of course, is Muslim). He is irenic, pro-Western and cautious, but also very hopeful for the future of his country.

Continue reading "Strangeness & Importance of Turkey: Two Views" »

May 26, 2011

Gilder Weighs in on Israel Vs. Obama

Huge efforts are being made by Democrats to reconcile President Obama and American Jews who are favorably disposed toward Israel. To some extent the efforts are successful, witness the campaign of Rep. Debby Wasserman Schultz to turn conservative Jews' criticism back upon them as "partisan". The issue, you see, is not the President's call for "1967" borders, but the impudent criticism of that position.

Meanwhile, however, opinion of Obama in Israel is strongly negative, as many articles and interviews, and a new poll in The Jerusalem Post, indicate. Only 12 percent of Israelis consider Mr. Obama pro-Israel.

This subject is not academic to Israel. Egypt has just reopened its border with Gaza, making it far easier now for Hamas to get weapons to attack Israel. Indeed, rockets already are raining down on Israel.

Discovery Sr. Fellow George Gilder, author of The Israel Test, spoke in recent days in New York at The Israel Project and an American Spectator event on the Middle East, helping to show that support for Israel is not just a correct moral and military posture for America, but an extremely important for our economy. George also has an article just out in the June issue of The American Spectator, a "Special Report" on "The Arab Debt to Jewish Settlers." It's a rebuttal to the accepted account of American progressives.

May 23, 2011

Where is Obama on Future of Jerusalem?

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Listening on the radio to President Obama's speech on Middle East policies last week, I literally didn't believe my ears. It was gratifying to hear him address the call of democratic institutions in Arab countries, even if he gave no credit to George W. Bush, as if the vision began with him. However, when he declared himself for "1967" lines in a negotiated settlement between Israel and a new Palestinian state, I assumed he must mean "post- 1967 war" lines. The NPR commentators' soothing conclusions that the speech merely covered old ground made me think my assumption was right. But it wasn't. He meant pre-1967 lines.

Anyone who visited Israel before 1967 knows that the Mandelbaum Gate that separated Israel from Jordan meant that all of the old city of Jerusalem was in Arab hands and Israelis were not allowed. Furthermore, anyone could see with his own eyes (as I did as a young journalist in 1965) that the Arab side was ill-kept. There was no "Palestine". Jordan ran what is now the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Over the whole region, the line between the lands generally could be seen from the ground or air as a desert on one side and a garden on the other. Nothing positive had changed for hundreds of years on one side, while the new state of Israel had changed the whole prospect on its land in less than a generation.

Some Muslims insist that Jerusalem is a holy site they must control. But when they did control it, the site was neglected and sparsely populated. Israel revived it. The city is holy--the holiest--for Jews and Christians alike. The Israelis allow Muslims to worship freely there. It's not just another piece of property.

President Obama now has tried to back-track on his Middle Eastern speech. Major media and Jewish leaders that are essentially pro-Democrat before they are pro-Israel have tried to obscure the significance of the President's change of long standing policy. Well, that's politics for you.

Israeli officials also are trying to give the Obama Administration a break, but mainly as a diplomatic stance. Israel must depend at some point on the U.S. The Israeli public is something else, however. Inside Israel Obama is the most unpopular American president ever.

As President Obama and his apologists try to explain away his statements, I have a question that they still have not touched. It is a kind of litmus test.

Where does Mr. Obama stand on the future of Jerusalem?

Photo: National Geographic

May 14, 2011

Help Wanted: An Arab George Washington

In The Seattle Times, former Congressman and former Ambassador John R. Miller, a senior fellow of Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism and Human Rights, observes that the sad course of Middle Eastern politics will not become truly humane until leaders develop enough humility to relinquish power at set times and peacefully.

by John R. Miller
Seattle Times, May 13, 2011


WITH all the sympathetic commentary about the chances of setting up republican institutions in revolt-torn Arab countries, one point is so obvious that it is rarely mentioned: Founding leaders of newly democratized states must be willing to give up power.

The Middle Eastern dictators who have been or are in danger of being overthrown largely came to power through revolutions, enjoyed initial popular support and mouthed democratic aspirations. Many Arab leaders, excepting the monarchs, followed the example of the United States in setting up post-colonial governments, establishing democratic constitutions, calling their governments "republics" and calling themselves "presidents."

Continue reading "Help Wanted: An Arab George Washington" »

May 4, 2011

Bin Laden's Photo? It Doesn't Matter

The media buzzes with a controversy over whether the photos of the dead Osama Bin Laden should be published or not. I have a third opinion: it doesn't make any difference.

The infamous terrorist is dead. The U.S. has the DNA evidence, the man's hideout produced plenty of secondary evidence, he was identified by at least one woman present. It's the death, not the details, that matter. If there were going to be protest demonstrations of any consequence, they already would have happened. A picture wouldn't change things. As is, there don't seem to be many Bin Laden fans around, anyhow.

Further, not printing the photo won't cause any more or any fewer conspiracy theories. For years some people--the kind that gather around the tabloids at the supermarket check-out counter--believed that Hitler had not died in Berlin but was living quietly in Argentina. Did such delusions make any difference? Nope. Hitler remained quite dead.

On the other hand, we all had a chance to see the gruesome picture of Commie terrorist Che Guevara.after he'd been shot. Yep, quite dead. Nonetheless the legend of Che spread and soon spawned one of the T-Shirt businesses best selling designs.

The real follow up issues are how the US and its allies pursue the rest of Al Qaeda and bring the leaders to justice. And, sadly, it also appears that the issue of Pakistan is now on the table. The government there looks either ridiculous or duplicitous, or maybe both. It also may be that there are many divisions in Pakistan. The Navy Seals will have helped the anti-terrorist faction, I'd think.

Will U.S. Taxpayers Bail Out Spain and Italy?

American taxpayers, already tapped for domestic bailouts for big companies favored by the Administration, are about to get another violent shaking, this time to bail out European countries. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane is calling attention to the worsening situation at the International Monetary Fund.

Quoted by Human Events, McMorris Rodgers says, "Clearly, we hope that Spain doesn't request a bailout from the IMF, but given the direction of IMF policy over the last year, it's extremely likely. Let's remember: One year ago, we were told that Greece wouldn't need a bailout from the IMF. It happened. Then we were told that Ireland wouldn't need an IMF bailout. It happened. Ditto for Portugal. Basically, it's been a year of broken promises from the IMF and the European Union. Because Spain and Italy are afflicted with the same disease as the other three countries--too much government spending and borrowing--and since the Obama administration has made no attempt to protect U.S. contributions to the IMF, it would seem to be only a matter of time before Spain and Italy are standing in line for American tax dollars."

Already the American disbursements for earlier European bailouts are substantial. "The IMF has refused to provide a reliable number but, given America's contribution to the bailout, we estimate that our support of the package is equal to writing a check worth $600 for every man, woman, and child in Portugal," Rodgers stated. This ratio "was nearly identical for Greece and Ireland bailouts," she said.

McMorris Rodgers, Vice Chairman of the House Republican Conference, and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, are proposing legislation for tighter controls to protect U.S. interests at the IMF.

May 3, 2011

Minorities Gain Canadian Tories a Majority

Republicans in the U.S. might be wise this spring to send some agents to Canada to see how the Conservative Party there did it. Win crucial elections with minority votes, that is.

Canadian diversity is different than America's. You will see more Indians and Chinese, most notably. Regardless, Canadian Conservatives have not succeeded in the past in swinging minority voters away from the Liberal Party. This year everything changed.

For one thing, Tories this year nominated more minority candidates, including winners, not just sacrificial lambs. And Prime Minister Harper spent time building up the party's appeal to immigrant groups in urban areas--with particular success in the Greater Toronto Area and Greater Vancouver.

The National Post carries much of the story today, and in it is the tale of nine new Conservative seats in Parliament from the Toronto area, seats that provided much of Mr. Harper's new majority.

May 2, 2011

Canadian Voters Now Polarized, Happily

Our northern neighbor held a transformative national election Monday while the United States remained transfixed by the death of Osama bin Laden. Canadians went to the polls in slightly higher numbers (61%) than in recent elections and voted--a plurality--for a center-right government with "a strong, stable national majority," in the words of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Leader of the victorious Conservatives, and now holding a majority after five years heading a minority government, Harper won about 167 of the 308 seats in Parliament. The opposition parties plainly made a mistake five weeks ago by voting "no confidence" in Harper's government and bringing on an election.

Like Ronald Reagan, the very square Albertan, Harper, has succeeded in part because his opponents consistently underestimate him.

The formerly third ranking party, the New Democrats (NDP), perhaps did not conclude that the election was a mistake, however. The left wing NDP was persuasively more anti-Tory than the Liberals and therefore appealed more to young voters and progressive Quebec voters ready to "go national" again. Polar political magnetism therefore brought the NDP to a giddy second ranking with (about) 102 seats. The ebullient leader Jack Layton is now the new official leader of the opposition. Encumbered with a cane from recent surgery, and a recent cancer survivor, Layton seemed to treat campaigning as physical therapy and wound up at rallies waving his cane like a sword. Compared to the "Grits"--the Liberals--the NDP seemed authentic. For the first time in a long time, Canadian politics is organizing along the traditional left-right axis familiar elsewhere in the West.

Here's what else the election did:

Continue reading "Canadian Voters Now Polarized, Happily" »

Bin Laden's Unintended Accomplishment

The course of an Arab warrior often is propelled at first by a seemingly irresistible force of fanaticism, But then the pathways of these warriors, like footprints in the sand, fade away. Osama bin Laden certainly caused a reactionary jihad in Muslim countries, and it continues in several forms. But the law of unintended consequences also came into play, somewhat to Bin Laden's surprise. Indeed, Al Qaeda's major achievement in the past dozen years may have been to help stimulate the US and the West to help establish another path in the Middle East--a path to liberal democracy.

Granted, we're not there yet. But progress is being made. Still, it is interesting to read the reactions of Arabs and other Muslims to Bin Laden's death.

If the Muslim world does continue to transition to serious democracy (with all the attendant human rights recognized), the $1.3 billion we have spent these past ten years on Iraq and Afghanistan (and now Libya), not to mention quieter efforts elsewhere--and most of all, the deaths of several thousand victims of 9/11 and several thousands young heroes in the US and allied armed forces--will have been justified.

April 15, 2011

The Libyan War is One Month Old Today--Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

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The war in Libya--the one that the President said would take "days, not weeks"--is now one month old. We got involved to stop the killing of civilians, remember? But civilians are being mutilated and killed in such numbers now that the hospital in Misrata is glutted with blood. We don't do enough to enable a rebel victory; we do just enough to prevent a government victory.

Still, the Mall in Washington, D.C. is a scene of vernal bliss. In Harvard Yard the frisbees blow, beneath the proctors, row on row. Gentlemen of Berkeley now abed can almost hear the echoes of percussion bands. "We are the grass roots, we cover all."

It turns out that the anti-war movement in recent years was never anti-war, just anti-Republican wars. A new study from the University of Michigan puts that thesis forth.

Write Michael Feaney and Fabio Rojas: "Overall, our results convincingly demonstrate a strong relationship between partisanship and the dynamics of the antiwar movement. While Obama's election was heralded as a victory for the antiwar movement, Obama's election, in fact, thwarted the ability of the movement to achieve critical mass."

Since the University of Michigan study was reported about two weeks ago there have been few commentaries, let alone denials, from the Left. NPR's coverage tried to chalk it up to the absence of a draft, which would explain why this isn't the Vietnam War, but does not explain the anti-Iraq marches of the past decade. It also is suggested that people are less interested in contesting U.S. efforts to combat terrorism than they were to contest wars. Except that Libya is not about terrorism, per se, is it?

The anti-war movement is essentially the Democratic Party taking to the streets in times when a Republican holds the White House. The same made be said of the government employee union marchers in state capitals like Madison or Columbus.

April 13, 2011

In Canada Election, Even Candidates are Bored--but Political Realignment Could Develop

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On a recent report of The National, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's (CBC) nightly news program, a group of young voters were shown pictures of all four major party candidates for Prime Minister. They couldn't recognize any of them, not even Stephen Harper, the incumbent. But shown a picture of Barack Obama, the young voters laughed; they all knew him instantly.

Canada is having another national election, the fourth in seven years, but three weeks before the election, no one is paying much attention. In contrast, formation of a new government (administration in U.S. terms) afterwards could prove very interesting.

Continue reading "In Canada Election, Even Candidates are Bored--but Political Realignment Could Develop" »

April 2, 2011

Somehow, Freedom is Contagious

The estimable Bernard Lewis is interviewed in the Wall Street Journal, saying that we must not expect Muslims to adopt our ideas of "democracy" and "freedom". Yet, as the Journal interviewer notes, people in Damascus nonetheless shout for "freedom".

Prof. Lewis suggests that we would be better off allowing Muslim states to develop within their own traditions of justice. It sounds right, but....

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, noted legal scholar Ca Huy Ha Vu has been sentenced to prison for asserting that the Vietnamese are entitled to freedom, too. Vietnam, of course, is not Muslim. But it is part of the world, and the people there are people. And they seem to want freedom.

It is a Western conceit, I suppose, that we think the whole world would benefit from our experience in the development of free institutions. But maybe it is is a Western conceit of another kind that other cultures are not capable of appreciating the same longings that give rise to such institutions.

Is it possible that freedom and constitutional democracy, like some version of the free market, are universal aspirations, but that it takes exposure, education and assistance to realize them fully? It surely is true that some observers of the Middle East are deluded into thinking all "rebels" are liberal, in the Western tradition. Just as false, however, would be a contention that no significant number are liberal. Surely our job, then. is to find those who are liberal, and help them.

March 31, 2011

Wanted: Retirement Home for Dictators

(From today's Washington Times)

(NOTE: I erroneously transposed Elba Island and St. Helena in the story.)

March 30, 2011

Uganda Offers "Asylum", Will Gaddafi Accept?

Reuters reports that the Ugandans seem willing to host Muammar Gaddafi--"like anyone else"--if he seeks asylum. Uganda is more stable and the living probably is more agreeable there than in nearby Zimbabwe.

We do need somewhere to send dictators into exile these days. Switzerland some years ago decided not to play that role any more. In a place like Uganda, the terms of asylum could provide the host country with income (assuming applicants are allowed to take away some of their loot), prevent extradition as long as the former dictator behaves himself and save the dictator's home country a great deal of bloodshed by bringing about a peaceful end to his rule.

The "modalities", as diplomats call the details of an agreement, would have to be worked out, but as of now Uganda seems a good prospect for the retirement location of choice for Col. Gaddafi. Might not the same become true for other dictators on the world scene who need a little push to quit their posts?

Of course, in the meantime, the NATO allies (plus the air force of Qatar) need to increase the military pressure substantially, it would appear from news stories today. Exile is not Gaddafi's first choice; victory is.

March 29, 2011

Possible Departure Deal for Gaddafi is Closer

Speculation here (March 23 and 25) about an exile outcome for Gaddafi is in print at The Guardian (UK). African sites are under discussion by NATO diplomats. No country, but surely Zimbabwe is under consideration. It's almost as much a pariah state as Libya and Mr. Mugabe is unlikely to expatriate the Libyan dictator if someone sues him in international courts. That makes a gilder sanctuary potentially more attractive to Gaddafi and his immediate retinue. Zimbabwe also has beautiful scenery and modern conveniences, if you have lots of money.

The benefit of an exit deal for the Libyan people, of course, is the saving of lives that will be lost removing Gaddafi if he doesn't go voluntarily. Italy and France would benefit from a deal by re-opening the oil spigot and stopping the new flow of refugees from Libya. The U.S. would benefit by chalking up a foreign policy success and moving on.

March 28, 2011

Meanwhile, in Iraq, an Economic Boom

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Oil derrick in Iraq courtesy of novinite.com
Iraq's turn to democracy during the past decade preceded and undoubtedly helped inspire the current wave of revolutions elsewhere in the Middle East. Today, the nation where controversy centered for eight tumultuous years is relatively quiet as popular uprisings take place in other Arab countries. There is still occasional sectarian violence. But having been through an invasion and civil war (a civil war with several "sides", moreover), the one fully functioning Arab democratic republic in the region is entering an economic boom.

New oil contracts, construction of new pipelines to replace an antiquated national system and attendant economic stimulus to local businesses are raising revenues and hopes. The Iraqi Central Bank--whose creation the United States helped facilitate even while the nation was engulfed in terrorism in 2004--now predicts a doubling of per capita income in the next four years thanks to new oil production and rising oil prices.

Continue reading "Meanwhile, in Iraq, an Economic Boom" »

March 25, 2011

Mysteries of Libya Policy Unfolding

Slowly it is being revealed just why (other than confusion), the US "wants Gaddafi to go," but is not prepared to attack the man personally with our military.

One reason may be a desire by the President to have Gaddafi leave as part of a deal (as I suggested here a couple of days ago), but the second and connected reason may be that just who is available to replace Gaddafi is very much at issue. If we are going to go to the trouble of intervening, at least we should be sure to get a friendly government when it's over.

Several impressive figures have named themselves or been named to a shadow government, including yesterday a well-regarded University of Washington economist, Ali Tarhouni. All of them are the kinds of liberally oriented technocrats likely to promote a constitutional republic. But some of the rebel fighters, it is now confirmed, are just what Gaddafi warned they are: al Qaeda, or at least al Qaeda connected. The London Telegraph has that story today.

So, the Obama Administration and the NATO allies are trying to make sure the Libyan drama doesn't become a tragedy. In intrigues of this kind, the people in the White House often do have better information than the rest of us. In this case, especially, let's hope so.

The President said that the US would cede operational control to some other country quickly, which we now have done. He also said that the whole operation would take "days, not weeks" and his press secretary called it a "kinetic" action, which is the least descriptive term for bellicosity since Harry Truman termed US entry into Korea a "policy action." As the history books have noted, it was the "Korean War", not just a police action, and it took years and years to end.

Vogue Gets Bad Case of Asma

Vogue magazine is all fashion, but little common sense. The magazine continues to get criticism for its February 25 number that featured a homey profile of Asma, the "dynamic" wife of Bashar al Assad of Syria. It makes one uncomfortable reading it, given the news stories these days. But even before the violent repression of peaceful protests lately, Syria has been widely known as a dictatorship allied to Iran, a country that has tried to build nukes, a country that was used as a springboard for terrorists attacking US troops in Iraq.

The First Lady of Syria is very glamorous. Not so her husband and his regime.

March 23, 2011

Maybe Obama Sees Way Out for Gaddafi

The President is under withering criticism from many quarters for the strange dealings over Libya. The London Telegraph tries valiantly to make sense of it in a way that is at least somewhat sympathetic, saying the Mr. Obama is just being deliberative. No cowboy he.

Maybe so. So here is a way Mr. Obama might be justified. Maybe the reason he is for "defending civilians" as a military objective, and for Gaddafi leaving as a political objective (but note, not as a military objective) is that the White House is working behind the scenes to persuade Col. Gaddafi to depart the country for exile somewhere else. That would saveLibyan lives, presumably. Maybe Robert Mugabe would accept him and his kin in Zimbabwe, the way Gaddafi (briefly) took in Ugandan strongman Idi Amin in 1979. Mugabe is one of Gaddafi's few remaining fans.

A peaceful end for Gaddafi also would reassure his supporters, who include his tribesmen and many army officers, and might prevent a civil war. The way might be open then for peacekeepers, interim government, consultations, constitutional reforms, etc.

If this is President Obama's script, then good for him. I hope it works, but time is short.

If that is not the behind-the-scenes rationale, then I just have to shake my head and agree that the Obama Administration is really confused.

March 21, 2011

Soft War Fiasco, Too

Shooting wars were frowned up by candidate Obama. We were going to win the world for freedom and democratic institutions through "soft power".

But it turns out that the Administration has reduced at least some of the most effective soft power efforts, those run by the two U.S. political parties in their overseas institutes funded by the US government. Instead of hiding such efforts in the CIA budget, as occurred during most of the Cold War, the Reagan Administration brought them into the light through the National Endowment for Democracy.

Overall, the two parties' international groups do a terrific job. They even work well together--when they are abroad. But the Obama Administration is cutting back these relatively meager expenditures. From the feds:

Appropriations for the National Endowment of Democracy, FY 2000-2011 (in millions)

2011 ------ $110.9
2010 ------ $118
2009 ------ $115
2008 ------ $111
2007 ------ $75
2006 ------ $74.04
2005 ------ $59.2
2004 ------ $39.57
2003 ------ $41.7
2002 ------ $33.5
2001 ------ $30.93
2000 ------ $30.87

If you believe that helping foreigners in places like Egypt--or Libya--to understand the practical workings of constitutional democracy, a few million is peanuts. Some of the best money we spent in Iraq assisted the nascent political parties there to learn how to organize and to learn why--in a republic--they should respect the rights of people that don't agree with them.

There is little hope of long term peace if this sort of program is skimped.

Half Baked War

"Many choices: You pick the worst," says the old fortune cookie. That would aptly describe the U.S. role in the Libya war. If America has a clear policy, the Administration (a good portion of whose members are in South America) is keeping it a secret. We are for getting rid of Gaddafi as a "political" objective of our policy, but not as a "military" objective. Got that?

The Arab League also suffers confusion, having briefly decided that actually attacking Gaddafi was not what they had in mind--only stopping him from attacking "civilians". They now have decided to step back from micro-managing and are in full support again.

Meantime, however, the U.S. generals say they do not want to destroy the forces facing the rebels, merely to restrain them. That means a protracted conflict, the very opposite of the "days, not weeks" that President Obama said he was prepared to support.

But weeks, then months soon will pass if we fail to put Gaddafi & Co. out of business. Our position will grow more tenuous with the passage of time. Al Qaeda and the Iranians will find a way to get involved. What better way to pull the beard of Uncle Sam?

March 18, 2011

Don't Go Wobbly on Libya

The wily Col. Gaddafi declared a cease fire after the U.N. resolution authorizing use of force. If he stuck by it, President Obama, speaking at his press conference this afternoon seemed prepared in turn to avoid any military action against Gaddafi, thereby leaving him in power and establishing a tense division of the country between Gaddafi and the rebels. but pursuing that half-way approach to war would be feckless and reckless. It opens the prospect that the allies, including the U.S., will do the one thing in Libya they must not do: get sucked into a long term commitment.

The old Machiavellian principle is apt: If you attack a king, make sure you kill him. Don't merely wound him and make him vengeful. In other words, either get in and win, or stay out.

We are now in. But does Mr. Obama plan on winning or just creating another military swamp for the USA?

As of this morning, it seemed the Gaddafi's forces were still trying to assault the rebel positions, regardless of the so-called cease fire. That at least gives the allies a reason--an excuse--to to set aside the mild initial approach and go in for a military victory.

As Margaret Thatcher warned at the time of the first Gulf War, "Don't go wobbly."

UPDATE (4:15 P.M. PDT): No US action. President is winging toward South America. Gaddafi troops still attacking rebel positions.

John Bolton: "I am feeling sick to my stomach.."

March 17, 2011

"To the Shores of Tripoli..," U.N. Authorized

The dithering is over, the U.N. Security Council has voted to permit the U.K., France, the U.S. and at least a couple of Gulf states to take on Gaddafi's air force and army. There is celebrating going on in Benghazi.

China, Russia and Germany abstained from the U.N. vote.

It's Crunch Time on Libya Right Now

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The UN Security Council convening on the crisis in Libya

A U.N. Security Council vote on Libya is slated for tonight. If approved, U.S.-led action by NATO and maybe some Arab states could take place within hours of the vote. If China casts a veto vote, the real diplomatic crisis will start for the Western allies and the Arab League.

We have seen in the news only a dark reflection of the West's intense deliberations on Libya policy. The power struggle over this issue within the Obama Administration has been as fascinating as it is murky.

Hillary Clinton, looking at the big picture in the Middle East and the chance for the U.S. to ride the reform wave, is strongly for intervention. She has met with representatives of the rebels and apparently is satisfied that they are relatively liberal and not favorably disposed toward Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood. Defense Secretary Gates, knowing how easy it is to get into wars and how hard to get out, is strongly opposed. The Middle East, he would assert, is the very home of unintended consequences.

Only in the last day has President Obama, who haas seemed Hamlet-like, come down on the side of intervention. It is risky to help the rebels, he may have concluded, but the whole democratic trend in the Middle East will be set back if we do not. And having criticized Gaddafi publicly in the dictator's moment of peril, President Obama already has picked sides morally.

The trouble is, this Administration is still enthralled with multi-lateralism. It isn't enough that our European allies, notably France, are out in front of us for once, or even that the Arab League has urged action. The latter's support is impressive, because if Gaddafi prevails, the League will have to live with him again and he won't make it pleasant. But Obama also wants the U.N. to concur.

Continue reading "It's Crunch Time on Libya Right Now" »

March 16, 2011

Medved on Ghastly Terror Killings

At Town Hall Michael Medved has described the not so subtle way the media downplayed the truly barbaric killing of a large Israeli family by Palestinian terrorists. I commented in this space yesterday, but Michael has the details.

March 15, 2011

Anxiety in Israel

The barbarous murder of an Israeli family, including small children, by Palestinian terrorists has been treated with a yawn by most of the "international community." Caroline Glick, writing in the The Jerusalem Post, seems almost despairing. Israelis keep asking themselves, do we have to count only on ourselves?

Well, the answer, unfortunately, is yes. Even the United States does not seem to be immune to a fresh wave of anti-Semitism. The Jewish community, and its Christian allies, still have not awakened to the seriousness of what hatred is percolating in the West as well as in the Middle East. If Israel's friends in the US are expecting the Obama Administration to help, they probably should pay more attention.

Hysteria in Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany has announced the closure of seven of her nation's 17 nuclear power plants. This decision either is evidence of hysteria in the government, or evidence of pandering to popular hysteria by the government, or evidence that nuclear energy is so dangerous that an accident in a nuclear plant in Japan (after a 9.0 earthquake and a 25 foot tsunami) can fry the brain of political leaders half way around the world.

March 4, 2011

Bill for Egypt Now Comes to Israel

Israel's gas supply from Egypt was cut off by Hamas during the recent turmoil. Getting the pipeline fixed and the gas deliveries resumed has been a high priority for Israel, since replacement fuel is costing hundreds of millions of dollars. But now there is an official corruption investigation of the deal that the Mubarak government made with Israel, and the result is probably no more gas for an indefinite time. It's the first of some potentially grim consequences.

March 3, 2011

"Strong Democracy" and Muammar Gaddafi

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"Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" Muammar Gaddafi reads from the The Green Book to Professor Barber.

Prof. Benjamin R. Barber of Rutgers, a Distinguished Fellow at a progressive think tank called Demos, is a leading exponent of what he calls "strong democracy," direct rule by the people. Weak old fashioned (small "d") democracy that is set within traditional (small "r") republican institutions is objectionable to Dr. Barber. America's Founders wanted a government of checks and balances to cool democratic ardor and tame its dangerous tendencies. But Dr. Barber argues that we need strong leaders who will express democratic will directly.

Now it comes out that Mr. Barber is one of a set of intellectuals and officials who found reasons to admire the possibilities of Libya strongman Muammar Gaddafi and has served on the board of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. He has just resigned from the board, a bit late, one might say.

Happily, his long held views are well known and on the record. Here was his opinion back in 2007: "Written off not long ago as an implacable despot, Gaddafi is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat. Unlike almost any other Arab ruler, he has exhibited an extraordinary capacity to rethink his country's role in a changed and changing world."

Gaddafi, Barber proclaimed, is "flexible and pragmatic," the author of a direct democracy manifesto, The Green Book. The direct democracy angle is crucial because that is how Barber connected his hopes with Gaddafi and the aims of Brother Leader's "gifted" son, Saif al-Islam.

Why do American and European leftists have such a weakness for populist tyrants? There is a reason to tolerate authoritarian rulers whose policies arguably are the best that can be expected at a given moment in a particular country, especially if the only option is totalitarianism. But you can accept a strongman in power without celebrating him.

Gaddafi has blood--American blood--on his hands. For one thing, he authorized the Lockerbie bombing of Pam Am. He also planned at least one terror attack on Americans in Europe (Berlin). His own people in Libya have lived in fear similar to that experienced in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The most one would want to achieve with him is a formal diplomatic correctness

But Barber and others fell for Gaddafi. They probably thought they were using him. So did British prime minister Gordon Brown and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, among others. They wanted access to Libya's oil, of course. London School of Economics was happy to discuss "civil society" with Mr. Gaddafi and received a couple of million dollars for their interest. What did Benjamin Barber want? A model "direct democrat"?

Let's remember this cautionary tale the next time we hear proposals for more "strong" and "direct" democracy in the United States. The Benjamin Barbers have it wrong; the American Founders had it right.

Photo: AP

February 8, 2011

Toward Constitutional Democracy in Egypt

America should not strut its power before the Egyptians. First of all, our power is over-rated. Second, our overt involvement makes us a target for anyone who is disaffected in the world--and there are many.

But we should assist in the transformation to a more democratic state--one of checks and balances that protects minorities and assures safety for contrary political opinions within a constitutional order. It won't be easy.

What would that assistance look like? Consider Iraq; it is no model for democracy yet, but it would be in far worse shape if the US had not funded the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs to help the Iraqis create legitimate political institutions. These fine party based groups, chartered by Congress through the National Endowment for Democracy that originally was created by President Reagan, went about their work in Iraq quietly and with great sensitivity.

Continue reading "Toward Constitutional Democracy in Egypt" »

It's Egypt's Revolution, Not Obama's

The President has a habit of speaking of everything and everyone in his Administration with a first person possessive pronoun--"my Secretary of Labor," "my officials at Defense," "my ambassador", "my policy". Regarding Egypt and almost everything else in foreign policy he speaks like a petulant autocrat: "I want the transition to begin now." "The Egyptian government must..." "I expect such and such."

George H.W. Bush had trouble using the word "I". Barrack Obama seems to choke on "we".

Who made him Pharaoh? And why do liberals who complained of supposed American imperialism under George W. Bush ignore President Obama's pretending to order other countries around? What's the point of such empty swagger?

Continue reading "It's Egypt's Revolution, Not Obama's " »

January 31, 2011

Egyptian Muslim Group Sees New Glimmer of Hope for Reform Within Islam

The same proto-revolutionary activities in Egypt that terrify Israelis are giving some observers hope that a necessary encounter of Muslims with reform will be benefited from regime change in Cairo. It seems that efforts of voices of reform in Islamic circles in Egypt have gained courage in recent days and are proposing departures from the stern religious line laid down by the Mubarak establishment.

A clearer picture emerges of the religious policy followed by Mr. Mubarak and his ally, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar University. It has been to allow modest freedom, but restrain simultaneously 1) political action by Christians; 2) reform advocacy by Muslim clerics; 3) growth of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. President Mubarak and his ally, the Grand Imam, wanted all of these players kept in check. Mubarak probably reasoned that support for greater freedom for Christians or for Islamic reformers would give ammunition to the puritanical Muslim Brotherhood.

However, in recent days, notice has been taken at the Vatican of a group of Muslim scholars in Egypt who, with the demonstrations offering an opening of free speech, are calling for essential religious reforms.

Continue reading "Egyptian Muslim Group Sees New Glimmer of Hope for Reform Within Islam " »

Israelis United--in Fear of Post-Mubarak Egypt

The prospect grows that Hosni Mubarak will step down, one way or another, and the military will take charge temporarily in Egypt. Then what?

Caroline Glick, one of the most sage observers of politics in the Middle East, writes in the Jerusalem Post that the U. S. policy (wobbly as it seems) may result in a much worse Egyptian government. Whatever the balance of feelings in the Cario demonstrations, the great majority of people in Egypt, Glick writes, are anti-US, anti-Israel and supportive of greater Islamic influence in government. Writes Glick:

"According to a Pew opinion survey of Egyptians from June 2010, 59 percent said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics. When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

"Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves. 84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion."

Numbers like that have to give pause to all (small "d") democrats in America who think democracy will work out for the best in all situations. Our own nation's Founders enacted a constitution that protected minorities, divided power and made impulsive actions by government difficult. What chance does Egypt have of achieving such checks and balances?

January 29, 2011

Meanwhile, Back in Tunisia, A Peaceful Aftermath

The new Foreign Minister of Tunisia, Ahmed Ounaies, a professional diplomat, was at pains today to say that Tunisia is not trying to offer itself to Egypt as a model for change, even though the protests that led to the ouster of Tunisia's long term dictator ten days ago helped inspire the subsequent protest movement in Egypt, as well, perhaps, as those in Yemen, Algeria and Jordan.

Tunisia is managing quite well after its "Jasmine Revolution," as international media dubbed it. The corrupt ruling Ben Ali family has departed and its cronies were not accepted, either. A new crowd is in, elections are likely. Protests have died out and what's left of the protestors are being dispersed by security officials.

What is interesting is that there has been no sign yet that Islamists are able to exert any successful influence on the new government in Tunis. Tunisia has a relatively well-educated population, a sizable middle class and a secular tradition. Indeed, women are discouraged from wearing conservative Muslim garb and men with ambitions for government service are not allowed to grow the beards that Islamists favor.

If Egypt were to emerge from its present convulsions with a political profile like Tunisia's, many in the West would sigh with relief. However, to repeat what I've warned before, Middle Eastern countries are all different. Egypt, too, has a young population and an educated middle class. Egyptians supply engineers, journalists and teachers to oil sheikdoms throughout the Arabian Gulf region, for example. Among the Egyptian middle class there is broad religious tolerance. The country is well-connected to Western commerce. It is worlds apart from, say, Afghanistan.

But Egypt also has the Muslim Brotherhood, and that group in turn has ties to Hamas, which is virtually a client of Iran.

January 28, 2011

In Egypt, Facebook Stoked the Revolution; But Can it Govern?

The revolution in Egypt is another historic product of alternative media, espeically Facebook, home to the "April 6 movement" that commemorates the brutal beating death of a young Egyptian blogger who had exposed the 2008 beating of a demonstrator in the industrial city of El-Mahalla El-Jubra. Instead of stopping the communication, the police beatings provoked a huge following. And then a revolution.

Sonia Verma reports in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), "An estimated 3.4 million Egyptians use the (Facebook) social networking site, the vast majority under the age of 25. Egypt is the number 1 user of Facebook in the Arab world, and No. 23 globally." Many have mobilized behind the April 6 movement.

Twitter, meanwhile, keeps cryptic messages pouring out, some from foreigners imposing their own interpretations on Egyptian events (such as a crowd of enthusiasts from Chavez' Venezuela), but most from Egyptians telling fellow protestors where to show up for the next demonstration. YouTube videos provide homemade news coverage that leaves international broadcasters one step behind. The Mubarak government cracked down on cell phones and the internet for a while, but tonight some reportedly are operating again.

Continue reading "In Egypt, Facebook Stoked the Revolution; But Can it Govern?" »

January 26, 2011

Egypt Rioting Presents New Dangers for America

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Popular opposition to the Mubarak regime in Egypt--a government with $1.3 billion of US annual support--is on the edge of protests turning into rebellion, as happened in Tunisia. Claire Berlinski, who is affiliated with Discovery Institute, writes at Ricochet that the news blackout in Cairo is clouding developments there. But some tweets and other communications indicate a quickly deteriorating government position. The fact that protestors have not been stopped suggests that we may be witnessing a classic popular revolt: an aged autocrat is ousted by widespread steet protests and a collapse of police morale.

Then what? No matter how it comes out, there is potential trouble for the US. The Bush Administration wanted democracy for the region, but that's not how we are perceived there, even after the example of Iraq.

If Mubarak goes, the USA will be cited as weak and vulnerable. Pressure on Israel, via Gaza, will grow. If he stays, the repression will be blamed, collaterally, on us. The only happy outcome would be for the protests to be stilled, but a plan for democratic transition implemented. Even then, there is danger that the Muslim Brotherhood could regain support in an election cycle.

UPDATE: Much as the news, as in the Iranian attempted revolt last year, is coming from social media, including Twitter. For example, see: http://twitter.com/search?q=%23jan26

January 24, 2011

Moscow Style Attack Possible in United States

I never have written down this nightmare scenario before because who would want to give ideas to terrorists? But now the nightmare has been given an unavoidable real life demonstration at the airport in Moscow. The suicide bomber at Domodedovo Airport killed 35 and injured 168. That would be seen as catastrophic even in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it is unknown in recent European experience.

Very simply, a new door to terror has been opened. It leads right into the waiting areas of air terminals. Not the areas where passengers go after they have been checked by security, but the areas where people gather to meet arriving passengers or to queue up for ticketing. Sometimes there are hundreds of people in such spaces, more people than fly on a large airplane. They may have surveillance, but no baggage checks.

In the US right after 9/11 there were checks of incoming cars before they reached an air terminal. There were police inside the terminals. In Baghdad--at least when I visited there a few years ago--you were checked a mile from the airport--everything--then again when you came into the terminal, and then again before you boarded the plane. It seemed a huge, but necessary, hassle.

This attack in Moscow is setting off bells at Homeland Security and in the halls of Congress, I'm sure. No airport in the U.S. or Europe is safe from this kind of attack right now. Ultimately, the best protection against terrorists is police and FBI detective work that finds terrorists before they find their targets.

UPDATE: Yuri Mamchur, at our Real Russia Blog, describes a similar reaction. And consider: There were metal detectors at the Domodedovo Airport's waiting area, but they weren't being used. That will cause widespread questioning in Moscow. But one might question back, when it's 9 degrees Fahrenheit out, how do you get hundreds of people to queue up for the metal detectors outdoors? If they do line up, what's the keep the bomber from attacking the line?

January 22, 2011

New Wave of Arrests of Christians in Iran

The persecution--and prosecution--of Christians in Iran and other Muslim lands is under-reported. Here is another story that only made a ripple in the news, this time about 15 Christian converts on their way to a church meeting when the state security in Iran pulled them over, arrested them and put them in jail. Over Christmas, another 70 Christians were arrested in Iran.

January 21, 2011

Lovable Vienna "Most Livable"

Vienna always votes Socialist, but its manners are mostly conservative. In what other big European city will you see people wearing notably native costumes to work, church, theaters? Of course, the Austrian "trachten" is fashionably presented, especially for women. Moreover, the trachten-wearers show up at some of the finest opera productions, philharmonic concerts and museum exhibitions in the world. Even the churches abound in world-class music, perhaps because Vienna still attracts young musicians and they welcome the chance to share, and show, their talents.

A new most livable cities report (see this London Telegraph article) also lists other European cities highly, but somehow favors the middle-size big ones over the giants like London and Paris and Rome, which, in fact, are the most stimulating.

Yet, Vienna, through it was one of the largest cities in the world a hundred years ago, is now still charming and human scale, without the soulless crush of cities that seem to have burst their seems. For example, Vienna's multi-mode transportation system is both quaint and efficient.

Meanwhile, the current Austrian government follows more conservative economic policies than some of the EU's derelict nations and therefore is relatively more prosperous. That is evident in Vienna, where it took a half century after World War II to recover the pre-war glamor and shine. But they are back. The old imperial grandeur is seen only in the beautifully maintained palaces, but the city compensates for political excitement by hosting a constant parade of international conferences.

In North America, the clean and vibrant city of Vancouver stands out in the "most livable" report. Vancouver doesn't have Seattle's major league sports or front ranking arts groups, but it keeps improving. Vancouver enjoys a coffee culture much like Seattle and Portland and has even more rain. The city's zoning allows a mix of high rises and single family residences, providing an adequate and attractive density to support a fine transportation system and thriving shopping districts.

January 18, 2011

Canada's Prime Minister Harper, Five Years On

Peter Mansbridge of "The National", the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's (CBC) news program, interviewed Prime Minister Stephen Harper last night on his five years in office so far. It's a surprise for me to realize that Harper's Conservatives have lasted that long and that their position is as stable as it seems. From the very beginning, the Tory minority-run government in Parliament was seen as a short term reaction against corruption and incompetence among the long-dominant Liberals. Then it became mostly a popular rejection of talk of a coalition between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP). The Conservatives were, more or less, the only option left. (The Bloc Quebecois are formidable in French-speaking Quebec, but have no appeal elsewhere.)

Five years ago many Canadians were anxious about a Conservative government, mainly because most Canadians are probably center-left, not center-right. It is the splintered nature of the left--Liberal, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Greens--that made the Conservative victory possible. One had to wonder how long a Tory minority plurality in Parliament could be sustained with losing a vote of confidence.

But in the ensuing years, despite the international recession, Harper & Company have conducted themselves with aplomb. As he said in the CBC interview, the Government under Harper has had had serious scandals and has avoided disastrous mistakes on both the domestic or international fronts. In fact, Conservative adroit economic policy has helped position Canada as a rare standout performer among developed nations. Canada's dollar (the Loony) is a cent above the US Dollar--in great contrast to a decade ago--and the housing industry is in much better shape than America's. Gas-fed exports fro Alberta help Canada maintain a healthy trade posture.

Harper is not given to chest thumping, but he rightly noted to Mansbridge, "I think arguably we are running right now the freest, the most free enterprise government in the developed world. ... We're one of the few countries reducing our taxes. Even with our deficits and debt we're at some of the lowest levels in the developed world in these areas."

This situation, he observes, is the "reality" of Conservative government, not an ideological abstraction.

Canadians don't much like abstractions, actually. Their philosophical leaning may be center-left, but they are temperamentally conservative. They don't like radical change. That may help explain their current satisfaction with Mr. Harper. He doesn't enjoy a permanent mandate or even a long term one. But Canada has mature, reliable leadership right now and the country seems to respect it. Respect is a big political advantage in any country.

Part two of the Peter Mansbridge interview of P.M. Harper is tonight--on what the Conservatives would do in the (probably unlikely) event they were able to obtain a clear majority, not just a plurality in the House of Commons.

January 7, 2011

The Latest Story of Israel "Atrocities"

Remember the news over the holidays about the poor Palestinian shepherd who was minding his sheep when a gang of Israeli settlers drove up, attacked him and set fire to the hillside, killing much of his flock? Well, it seemed strange, and, in any case, it was untrue.The shepherd set fire to the hillside himself, by accident, and decided to blame the Israelis.

A little hole in his story got wider with the telling. He said the settlers were Orthodox Jews wearing kippahs (skull caps) and performed their attack on Saturday. Not only was there no good motive for such an attack, but Orthodox Jews wouldn't be driving on the sabbath, or setting a fire on that day.

Caroline Glick's fine website carries analysis at length, helping to give us again an illustration of the way a lie about Israel can travel have way around the world (to paraphrase Churchill) before the truth can put on its shoes on. Indeed, I'm not sure the truth's shoes are fully on yet. While I saw the news about the initial charge, I haven't seen any follow up stories in the US mainstream media showing it to be a fraud.

January 3, 2011

Grand Mufti Assails Terror "Outrage" in Egypt

The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Dr. Ali Gomaa, has denounced the terror bombings of Christian churches in Egypt, especially the New Year's attack in Alexandria. This normally might not be news, except that such high level support for anti-terrorism policy is necessary and welcome in Muslim lands. Unfortunately, it is all too rare, or is provided in too oblique a fashion--and, even then, not reported well in local and international media. The exploitation of "anti-blasphemy" laws in Pakistan, for example, is so accepted by the public there that the government dares not repeal the laws or provide reliable court interpretation to prevent capricious arrests.

Christians are under increasing private pressure and public persecution in most Muslim lands, including formerly tolerant lands like Morocco. Nowhere, except possibly Indonesia, are they safe both to practice their religion and free to open churches. This really is the scandal of modern Islam and demands action from within the Islamic community.

Meanwhile, with all the arrests in Europe and the US recently, anti-terror proclamations and news articles might seem to be called for. It would help if there was half as much attention given to combatting terrorism as there has been to supposed civil liberties violations at Guantanamo. Is one reason that Western elites are so reluctant to challenge persecution of Christians the reality that the guiding secularism of the West is itself ambivalent towards Christianity and seeks ever increased infringements on religion?

December 28, 2010

World Hails Claire Berlinski, Ben Wiker

Before this year of economic hope and ideological change concludes, I would like to record World magazine's citation of two of 2010's literary accomplishments, Claire Berlinski's "There is No Alternative": Why Margaret Thatcher Matters and Ben Wiker's Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read.

Actually, Basic Books brought out the Thatcher book in 2008, but it is becoming more topical--and popular--daily in the aftermath of the Tea Party's success and Mr. Obama's failures. Regnery's publication of the Wiker work is newer, but timeless in its application.

Both authors, saluted by editor Marvin Olasky in the December 18 issue, are Discovery Institute fellows. But you probably knew that.

December 14, 2010

The Giant Italian Shrug

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Reuters

The Northern European famously says, "The situation is serious, but not hopeless." The Southern European sums up his attitude as, "The situation is hopeless, but not serious." The American? Well, I always appreciated Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson's observation (I paraphrase): Some problems don't get solved, they just go away.

Take the notorious ungovernability of Italy. After World War II one kept reading news headlines screaming, "Government Falls in Italy." (As the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto might say, "Look out below!") It sounded terrible, but all that really was happening was that the governing coalition was dissolving and a new one needed to be formed. Like ocean currents below the whitecaps, the actual administration of the state continued despite all the frothy turmoil at the top.

That is one of the curiosities of watching the Perils of Belusconi in Rome these days. It sounds ominous, but nothing much changes. What soap opera could compare with this saga? Premier Berlusconi has taken European insouciance over leaders' private sex lives (in contrast to supposed American puritanism) to new extremes. He not only survives revelations about a parade of mistresses, but it doesn't seem to matter that some of the young ladies are really young, like underage.

And yet he survives politically. The government does not fall. He does not fall.

Italy is ungovernable. As ever. And life goes on.

December 12, 2010

Terror Goof in Sweden Evokes New Film

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If you want to understand the bathos of the bumbled terror attack in Sweden this weekend, go see the English film, Four Lions. Mr. Taimur Abdulwahab is not a hero nor entirely a clown. His mission to blow up Swedish civilians shopping for Christmas presents failed; his bomb laden car burned instead of exploding. Shouting in Arabic, Abdulwahab did manage to blow himself up, while injuring two passersby. For this glorious deed, which also left the bomber's Swedish wife and three children back in England to fend for themselves, Al Qaeda has taken credit.

The reason to see the film Four Lions is that it follows a group of four similarly benighted young jihadis in the UK who have no commonsense, fumble everything, and likewise end up dead. Their cause is preposterous as well as wretched and even they don't understand it. Four Lions is about absurdity trying to find a purpose, a morality tale about the false god of celebrity martyrdom. The film is painful to watch, but very funny in a bitter way. (I thank our friend and colleague, the talk show intellectual and critic, Michael Medved, for recommending it.) Dr. Strangelove was an anti-war satire, Four Liions is an anti-terrorism satire.

Meanwhile, Swedes are probably wondering what got into this young man's head to try to kill them. The question will torment his family, too. What no one should imagine, however, is that the latest bumbling bomber was much more than a misled and wicked fool.

November 22, 2010

Have Longer Term Negotiations with Russia

The SALT II Treaty arrives in the Senate with blessings from all the usual establishmentarians, but not with Sen. Kyl. Therefore it is in trouble. As things are going, it will not be ratified. We need to go beyond START to re-start.

At the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson sailed off to the Versailles peace talks without bothering to bring the leaders of the Republicans from the US Senate with him. He told the European allies what the US had to have, then came home and told the Senate what the Europeans had to have, which turned out in both cases to be what Wood Wilson had to have. Despite his health-destroying campaign across the country, Wilson's scheme for a League of Nations failed to gain Senate approval. The idea was flawed (it was too idealistic, as Theodore Roosevelt said), and it therefore contributed to the development of World War II.

Barack Obama, bearing Wilson's example in mind, might as well acknowledge that the Republicans, while not in charge in the Senate today, have the power to stop START. They have some good arguments, nicely described by our John Wohlstetter.

But, more than that, they have political logic on their side. We need a thorough new operating understanding with the Russians. It's not just limits on nukes. Accepting a missile shield in Europe (as the Kremlin seems more open to doing lately) could be part of that. But the array of issues is still bigger. Ultimately, treaties are expressions of mutual trust, not sources of such trust. Enlightened self-interest

Unlike many in the US, I think we can do business with the current Russian government. But here is a case where our government will have to proceed from a truly united American position. That doesn't exist now.

November 18, 2010

Why Margaret Thatcher (Still) Matters

Older, frailer, Margaret Thatcher is still alive as her warnings about the Euro--the issue that brought her down twenty years ago--are being born out. The people in her own party, as well as on the left, who opposed her then are not much interested now in defending their reasons to the press, Peter Oborne says in tomorrow's Telegraph, "Margaret Thatcher Knew the Single Currency Would Devastate Europe."

Mrs. Thatcher lost office, but her position somehow prevailed.

Writes Oborne, "Baroness Thatcher has often been accused by her politically motivated enemies of callousness. But backers of the European project are today happy to countenance unlimited human suffering in their mission to enforce economic and monetary union. Mrs Thatcher knew this would be the result of their deranged plan, which is why she fought to stop it. Her last battle as prime minister could not have been fought in a greater or more compassionate cause."

In addition to the article by Oborne, read Claire Berlinski's Why Margaret Thatcher Matters. Claire, a Discovery fellow, turns out to have been very timely, too.

Discovery Authors on Congressional Reading List

You might wonder how the newly elected House majority members have time to read, but of course busy people often read the most. So it is that George Gilder's The Israel Test and Claire Berlinski's Why Margaret Thatcher Matters are named in an article today by Tevi Troy at National Review Online. (Hat tip to Alex Lykken.)

If you are going to someone's house for Thanksgiving you might want to bring them one of those books ("It's what they are reading now on The Hill") instead of a bottle of wine or flowers. Or consider God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards and just published by Discovery Institute Press, especially if you have a misguided relative who thinks Darwinism is compatible with orthodox Christian or Jewish faith. Guaranteed to keep the table talk lively.

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Continue reading "Discovery Authors on Congressional Reading List" »

November 17, 2010

Restless Hoofbeats in the EU Corral...Echo in DC

Was it only a year ago that this blog, among other and lustier Cassandras, was warning Britons against the efforts to expand the reach of the European Union? Lord Pearson of Rannoch was treated as a genial but irrelevant old grouch for turning on the Tories over the issue. British sovereignty, which happens to matter to the US, whether we acknowledge it or not, was in jeopardy.

Then came the British election and David Cameron was surprised by the UK Independence Party's strength in England's Southwest ridings that helped deny him an outright Conservative majority (granted, that wasn't his only problem). Soon after came the Greek collapse, featuring riots by pampered public employees, with creeping fiscal ruptures opening in Portugal and Spain--Italy wobbling close behind.

This morning (it is morning in London) Telegraph readers are enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at the expense of Germany and France for the simple reason that the Brits still at least have the pound sterling. Ireland, that had to be cuffed and shoved into a second vote on acceding to the expanded Europe, now stands ready to demand fiscal rescue by her new family.

Continue reading "Restless Hoofbeats in the EU Corral...Echo in DC" »

November 11, 2010

Does Kremlin Plan to Break US Laws?

If President Obama implied--and unnamed CIA operatives stated explicitly--that an American intelligence officer who defected to Russia would be hunted down inside Russia by the CIA and killed, how would Mr. Putin react? Would he like to welcome the CIA killers to Moscow?

Well, the reverse situation is at hand in the famous Anna Chapman (no relation!) spy ring saga. The Kremlin infiltrated several agents into the US in truly mundane, petty positions and they were caught. Well, that's spying for you. They all made it home in an exchange and were toasted by Mr. Putin as heroes. The fetching Ms. Chapman has followed her spy career with what appears to be a more, shall we say, exposed livelihood as eye candy for men's entertainment magazines. Well, I guess a girl's gotta work.

But now the Russian agent who exposed her and the rest of the team of Spies Who Couldn't Spy Right has defected successfully to the US. And Prime Minister Putin makes it clear he is a marked man. And an unnamed intelligence officer says a "Mercader" is being sent to eliminate him. "We know who he is and where he is," the Kremlin source said. "Have no doubt that a Mercader has been sent after him already."

Really? Ramon Mercader was the assassin that Stalin sent to Mexico to kill Trotsky. Are we supposed to be impressed that the current Russian government might be using Stalin as a model? Are Americans supposed to accept the necessity of the Kremlin's coming over here to break our laws and indulge itself in killing people? If so, the State Department should be asking for a "clarification". At the least.

Sorry, Mr. Putin, but you are not allowed to have people in the US killed. That would change this whole spy farce into something much more consequential.

November 1, 2010

Remember Foreign Policy? It Remembers You

We are ending a nearly year long vacation from international affairs as the US of A swam, waded, waddled and frolicked in the mid-term election campaigns. Nothing wrong with that, except that Iran, Israel and....al Qaeda are not issues we can neglect further.

Michael Ledeen continues to offer superb and unique access to all these topics, especially the problem of Iran. His writing is well worth your attention. In the very near future we are going to be back--mentally speaking--in the Middle East. Arm yourself.

Start with what is plain now, if only suspected before, that Iran is assisting in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

October 31, 2010

Islamic or Islamist: There is a Difference

by Claire Berlinski


I recently interviewed Turkey's former ambassador to the United States, Faruk Loğoğlu. He is appalled--like many in Turkey--by the soft-headedness of the Obama' Administration's diplomacy in this region. He finds Obama's speeches about his personal warmth toward Islam ludicrous and inappropriate. "Obama can't play the religious game," he said. "He should be playing the security game. His policy toward Turkey is a bad imitation of the worst parts of Orientalism."

It's not merely the ideological color of the Obama Administration's diplomacy that worries me, but its incompetence. I've lately been examining in very close detail the events that led to Turkey's "No" vote on the Iran sanctions package in the UN. I'll be writing about this elsewhere; and the details are too complicated to summarize here. But one thing leaps out: our incompetence. How could there have been any ambiguity--and obviously there was--in our communication with Turkey about our negotiating position on the nuclear fuel swap deal? How is it possible that Turkey was receiving critically different messages from the White House and the State Department on an issue as significant as the Iranian nuclear program? It's inconceivable, but on looking closely at the evidence, it is clear that this is just what happened.

Continue reading "Islamic or Islamist: There is a Difference" »

October 26, 2010

Europe Wobbles on New Treaty

In case the frenzied American mid-term elections find you feeling anxious, it is nice to know that other people are fretting, too. For example:

The European Union's "Open Europe" news service has compiled an array of stories today about the confusion found nearly everywhere in the Old World about the future of the Eurozone. In the UK, where cost-cutting Prime Minister David Cameron was cheered by news improving economic growth, the PM is offering to ditch the idea of an EU referendum in his country in return for restraint on EU spending. Politically, that will not go down well in large parts of England and Wales where voters long for a chance to express themselves on further EU integration.

Meanwhile, the Germans increasingly are annoyed at plans to stick them with the bill for the financial derelictions of Greece and other big-spenders. The Czechs and Austrians aren't exactly thrilled, either.

A wise approach now might be to consolidate around a more limited and defensible EU that abandons its ambitions to run everyone's life out of Brussels bureaucracies and instead concentrates on least common denominator agreements on such matters as trade and economic development.

Here is the full Open Europe report:

Continue reading "Europe Wobbles on New Treaty" »

October 16, 2010

A Moderate Muslim: Ali Bardakoğlu

by Claire Berlinski


The Chief of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, Ali Bardakoğlu, has issued an admirable statement about the prime minister's efforts to involve Turkey's religious authorities in political debate. Leave us out of the discussion , he said. We're happy to advise you how to get right with God, but making the law, that's your problem.

"Don't leave the headscarf issue to us, let the politicians solve it through dialogue," Bardakoğlu told daily Habertürk on Friday.

Erdoğan had previously called for a solution to the issue through the involvement of the Religious Affairs Directorate, a department within the Prime Ministry.

Bardakoğlu responded by saying the directorate does "not make statements on order."

... "We can only comment on the religious aspect," he said. "It is up to the government to draw the lines of personal freedom ... Islam does not allow for the forcing of any beliefs or behavior upon people."

It's a robust rebuke, and good for him. This is the voice of the highest Islamic authority in Turkey. A perusal of his writings --which discuss, among other things, the historic relationship between the secular state and the Religious Affairs Directorate, or diyanet--suggest that his commitment to the separation of mosque and state is long-standing, deeply considered, and deeply held.

I certainly don't agree with all of his views, and if you look for hints of sloppy thinking, you'll find them. But on the essential and allegedly theologically impossible point--the separation of mosque and state--he's quite solid, and he is no marginal figure.

October 8, 2010

The Scary Lack of Clarity on War and Terrorism

Most political observers and public policy wonks are thinking hard about the elections. But war and terrorism won't less us take much of a domestic break.

1) The new Bob Woodward book helpfully forces us to ask (with him) about our nation's resolve in fighting terrorism abroad: "The president's committed to 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan but in these secret meetings in the Situation Room in the White House, he repeatedly says, 'We need a plan to get out. There can be no wiggle room. I'm not going to do 10 years.' He is out of Afghanistan psychologically and the question is, for a commander-in-chief, don't you have to be kind of the guy who's up there, 'Yes, we can, we're going to win.'?"

If you or a family member is a member of our military in Afghanistan, how does this make you feel? Are you willing to be the last man to die in Afghanistan (to paraphrase John Kerry)? Are you "out of Afghanistan psychologically" while still in it physically?

2) There is a similar strain of self-fulfilling defeatism in current Administration policy on preventing terror attacks. In today's Wall Street Journal, former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey is matter of fact in describing the recent success in thwarting a series of airport attacks in Europe--based on human intelligence gathered in Afghanistan ("How a Bagram Detainee Foiled the Euro Terror Plot"). But he warns that this rare kind of intelligence is imperiled by the Obama Administration over-reliance on electronic intelligence and unwillingness to employ "military commissions or other special purpose tribunals that can be established by Congress." We are left with a "choice that we kill them with drones or give them Miranda warnings and access to a 24-karat justice system designed for conventional criminals."

All of these suggests a defense policy fuse that leads to very possible, maybe even likely, bombs. Criticism is right out in the open. It's just that the average American is thinking about something else right now.

September 15, 2010

Brit Public Opinion Already Leaving EU

A YouGov poll in Britain shows a plurality of voters (47 percent to 33 percent) would vote to extricate their country from the European Union.

A YouGov press release notes, "The older generation appear particularly keen for Britain to leave its EU days behind. A substantial 57% of those over 60 say they would vote to leave the EU, compared to 31% of the younger 18-24 age group."

"This comes," the YouGov report continues, "as Conservative European MP Daniel Hannan launches a cross-party campaign to demand a referendum on Britain's EU membership, the promise of which has made and broken by multiple prime ministers during election campaigns."

Trouble is, none of the major parties supports reducing the UK's role in the European Union. But poll results like these certainly will retard any efforts to expand that role.

September 14, 2010

Patriotism, British Style

Does anyone surpass the Brits for staging ceremonial occasions? This short You Tube video shows the BBC Proms audience joining in the Benjamin Britten arrangement of the National Anthem, "God Save the Queen." The performance is poignant, gentle, yet strong. Note the regional flags along with the Union Jack.

September 7, 2010

Another Flotilla Tries its Water Wings

Maybe if a dozen or so ships attempted to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, that would work. At least, so thinks a coalition of anti-Israeli groups, including the well-financed Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and something called the Free Gaza Movement.

The Israelis believe that they can deal with this threat, even if they have to intercept the ships well out to sea.

In any case, it is hard to make a souffle rise twice, and the public relations tricks of the first flotilla last May 31 probably will be met by more adroit Israeli prevention techniques. It bears repeating to anyone who will listen, that Gaza is not destitute, nor deprived of medical care and foodstuffs. Any of these, once inspected by Israeli officials on land, can enter Gaza. The problem is military equipment.

Stratfor is reporting that Iran is busy funding still more rockets and other weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah. You have to deny this reality to persist in demanding that Israel drop its blockade.

Fortunately, like previous efforts to launch a new flotilla, this new one is more in the constant planning stage than in imminent likelihood of watery launch. Since some of the organizers are anti-Israeli Jews, and much of the support is from anti-Israeli Islamists, the situation should make for interesting late night scheming.

Pardon my cynicism, but I suspect that on such evenings various sets of spies mainly will wind up talking to one another. Who would you trust in such an operation?

August 29, 2010

What Happened to the "War for Oil"?

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There are still cars zipping around America's bluer neighborhoods with bumper strips from way back in 2003: "No War for Oil."

That was the Iraq war, of course. There is no need to belabor the memories of the marches, the snide TV and radio commentaries, the alternative media fits about the supposed conspiracy. The idea that George W. Bush and his evil buddy, Dick Cheney, were sending American boys to die for oil was simply taken as a proven truth.

Only now, seven years later, as US combat troops leave Iraq, is oil production in Iraq finally back to its pre-war levels of production of 2.5 million barrels a day and easing upwards. Electricity production is doing better, but not great.

And the US oil companies that benefitted? Well, Exxon is there, but the biggest players are the Chinese. Does anyone remember the Chinese sending any troops to Iraq? Or the Russians?

Hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars have been spent on the Iraq war. By no conceivable accounting will anyone in the U.S. get that much back in Iraqi oil revenue--ever.

The Iraqis, meanwhile, do have oil as their big economic hope. The country's reserves are nearly those of Saudi Arabia and already supply 90 percent of government revenue. The big danger, simultaneously, is that oil will corrupt a country already steeped in traditions of corruption.

But it is long past time for those "No War for Oil" bumper strips to come off, don't you think?

August 24, 2010

What Good are New Israel/PA "Negotiations"?

Talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas supposedly are going to take place shortly. Poor Benjamin Netanyahu has to behave as if he really believes success is possible, even if, in truth, the possibility is slight to none.

George Gilder of Discovery Institute, and author of The Israel Test, spoke a few days ago upon return from a recent trip.


This short video is part of of his trip report.

July 27, 2010

IRAN: Tougher Sanctions, Tougher Talk

By John Wohlstetter

This past week saw tougher lines taken re Iran....

The Washington Post reports that European countries are imposing tougher sanctions on Iran. Reuters reports that tensions rose between Russia and Iran due to Russia signing on for stronger UN sanctions. But Reuters reports that Russia hedged its bets Tuesday, condemning the European moves Monday to impose new sanctions outside the UN. Reuters noted that Iran fuel imposts took a nosedive" in July. And on Sunday ex-CIA chief Gen. Michael V. Hayden said that he sees a greater chance of a military strike being launched against Iran's nuclear facilities.

July 22, 2010

Terrorists Strike Russia in New Way

Russia's terrorism problem is real and under-reported, including inside Russia. But yesterday's successful attack on a power plant in southwest Russia is an ominous sign of changed terrorist tactics and the Russian government's continuing vulnerabilities. It should cause Americans to wonder about copy-cat actions here. We prepare for airplane attacks, but not adequately for airport attacks, and for explosions in Times Square, but not for attacks at university football games in the middle west.

July 15, 2010

Israel Must Be More Than an Emergency

David Klinghoffer has an excellent article in the Jewish Daily Forward. However, I can't imagine who his "ardently pro-Israel, Catholic friend" is.

July 9, 2010

Gilder Gasses on Israeli Bio-Fuel

At the (George) Gilder Telecosm Forum we learn that Evogene, Ltd. (TASE:EVGN), a genetic engineering company, claims that its Israeli castor oil plant-based biofuel product is suitable in composition and chemistry as a raw material for producing bio-jet fuel. Evogene's US subsidiary is collaborating with NASA on to create jet fuel from plant oils.

The tests of the product were conducted by Honeywell International Inc.Co. (NYSE: HON) petrochemical and refining unit UOP LLC, which is now developing a range of biofuels for various uses.

Writes GEORGE GILDER,

"I am suspicious of any green energy breakthrough that depends for its appeal on low emissions of "greenhouse gasses." But Evogene is significant as an existence proof for the value of Compugen (CGEN) in silico platforms for drug discovery.

"In Israel [last week], one of the most impressive public companies I saw
(among 12 private companies) was CGEN, where my host Jeffrey Grossman introduced me to the management. In the last year they have launched four further platforms,
the last two in March and April of 2010. Martin Gerstel has reportedly gone euphoric on the company's prospects, talking of not 10X but orders of magnitude larger potential beyond 10X and predicting that half of all the future pharmaceuticals in the industry will be based on his silicon genetic models and platforms.

Continue reading "Gilder Gasses on Israeli Bio-Fuel" »

July 3, 2010

Iran Flotilla: This Crisis Averted

I blogged twice last month about the plans of Iran and its client in Lebanon, Hezbollah, to provoke the Israelis by sending "aid ships" against the blockade of Gaza.

It turns out that Iran thought better of it. This would be a bad time to confront the Israelis. They are still more powerful than their enemies. (Hat tip to Michael Ledeen.)

July 2, 2010

Thanks a Lot, Kremlin!

By Yuri Mamchur

russian-spies.jpg An American friend wrote to me about the current Russian spy scandal in America: "Not good PR for you and [your friend] if he decides to go to Harvard... this is all hilarious... I'm loving all the coverage of a bunch of Russians getting paid to befriend Americans. I wish the U.S. had a program like this, I'd totally do this! Can you imagine?! I'd get my rent and tuition paid just to blurt out stuff that you can automatically look up (in even more depth) on the internet."

This ordinary American summed it all up in the brief four lines: this is funny, embarrassing, wasteful, and - most importantly - hurtful to many Russians like me--to those who honestly fight through American immigration hurdles, challenge the financial crisis to earn income, pass application tests and study hard to get American college and graduate degrees, make new life-long friends, fall in love with America's culture and natural beauty, and by default share their knowledge (and income) with Russian and American friends, families, businesses, and government agencies.

Continue reading "Thanks a Lot, Kremlin!" »

June 30, 2010

"Boris and Natasha" Shake Up US-Soviet (er, Russian) Relations

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Stories continue to pour forth about the Russian spy scandal. Everyone seems a bit embarrassed. The Russians pretend to be indignant, but they don't deny that the eleven folks caught with lots of spy equipment, fake identification and other espionage giveaways, were, in fact,....well,....spies.

What really should embarrass the Kremlin is the apparently farcical quality of the spy craft. References have been made to John LeCarre and James Bond. A much more appropriate comparison is to the cartoon characters of Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale in the Rocky and Bullwinkle TV show that was popular from the 60s to the 80s. See, for example, an excerpt from "Boris and Natasha Take Washington."

Some think that all the Kremlin really wanted was what they got, impressions of life in the USA and what people close to government think. If so, it is another example of wasteful government spending. The Russian public need something comparable to the Tea Parties to demand better value for their tax monies. This pitiful excuse for spying is what about we would expect of the American government under Obama. It is the exact sort of soft power intelligence the Left here seems to think is important. Only it is hidden.

The Kremlin would be better off following the Internet, including our own Russia Blog! Given what they appear to be after, the Russian government should sponsor more conferences and exchanges right out in the open where people of different views and experiences from the US and Russia can learn from one another.

That would prove more productive, cost less and lead to fewer arrests.

Who Cares What Abstract "World" Thinks?

Our Senior Fellow John R. Miller makes good sense in The American Spectator with his critique of the Obama Administration's interest in public opinion overseas. It is mostly an abstraction and often misleading.

We all are addicted to polls and "public opinion", I'm afraid. It goes back a hundred years, when the craze began. Theodore Roosevelt once quipped, when asked what he thought of the new concept of public opinion, "I agree. I think the public is entitled to know all my opinions."

June 23, 2010

Canada's Big G-8 and G-20 Confabs Could Become Big Headaches

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The G-8 conference on the international economy is about to take place in small town Muskoka, Ontario, followed by a G-20 meeting this weekend in Toronto. Together they offer at least as big an opportunity for the world's traveling tribe of protestors to show off as they do for economically prosperous Canada.

The trouble is, whenever some city or country decides these days to boast a bit, the leftist furies assemble to undercut the effect. Remember the WTO in Seattle? As happened in Seattle, much of Toronto will be closed down.

Expenses for the international meetings in Ontario already are estimated at $1 billion. There will be a sightseeing and cell phone and airspace limits imposed for part of the time. To protect VIPS from agitators a $5.5 million fence has been erected--sure to be likened to that along the US southern border or the line between Israel and Gaza. Today a man was arrested for attempting to plant a bomb at the conference site.

Meanwhile, the conferences themselves are likely to be relatively boring. That is because international leaders don't agree yet whether a recovery is underway and sustainable, and are uncertain therefore whether to goose spending or reverse it. Our President wants to spend. But you knew that. The other G-8 leaders think deficits have to be reduced.

June 21, 2010

Update: Iran and Lebanon in Serious Water

Last week it was reported that "aid" ships already had left Iran to test the Israeli blockade of Gaza. It seems from reports today that the ships were delayed. Now they supposedly are ready, as is a ship from Lebanon. It still seems odd that this has attracted so little attention in the MSM. One wonders if the Iranians and Lebanese will be treated as true humanitarians or as the advance guard they are for breaking the blockade so more weapons can get in.

Meanwhile, US warships have passed through the Suez Canal on their way to the Red Sea. There is speculation that they may intercept the Iranian ships.

The role of Egypt becomes delicate. It does not like Iran and it let the US warships through the canal. Presumably, it would be prepared to let the Iranian ships through, going the other way. But the paperwork for approval might take a long time!

June 17, 2010

New Gaza Flotilla Crisis Begins for Israel

The world is not yet paying much attention, but ships apparently departed Khorramshahr, Iran on June 12, bound for Gaza. Iran is threatening to retaliate if Americans, or, presumably, Israelis, attempt to stop them on international waters. That is likely to spark a new crisis at sea.

Lebanese ships, possibly linked to the Iran-sponsored terrorists, Hezbollah, also appear to be headed to Gaza.

Israel has announced that it is relaxing the flow of goods into Gaza, but not, of course, to the satisfaction of Hamas. That is because the real purpose of the efforts to break the blockade has nothing to do with humanitarian aid--which can get into Gaza after Israeli inspection--but to set the stage for arms shipments into Gaza and escalation of violence by Hamas against Israel. That's what this is all about.

Strange to tell, the reality of the blockade's purpose, and the purpose of the would-be blockade busters, has not gained much attention in the international press. The imminent arrival of the Iranian ships is still not in the news at all.

June 13, 2010

Americans, Other Than Mr. Obama, Like England

Peter Hitchens of The Mail in London says America doesn't like England, and he is whining about it. (Or, as he would put it, whinging.)

He's wrong; someone please hand him a tissue and pat his hand. President Obama and some old pals like Bill Ayers may dislike England, or rather, condescend to her. They have imbibed a lot of radical rot in universities. But the striking thing about American opinion is something else. It's this: Most Americans probably like the British more than you all like us.

Continue reading "Americans, Other Than Mr. Obama, Like England" »

June 11, 2010

Medved Comments on U.S. Jews and Israel

A relatively new development in American politics and foreign policy is the increase in the number of liberal American Jews who have become pronounced critics of Israel.

The Obama Administration feels free to pressure Israel today because of the change in sentiment among this segment of opinion. And liberal American Jews undoubtedly have become critical of Israel, or at least ambivalent, because many are first and foremost liberals, and, hence, devoted supporters of President Obama.

These are some of the observations made in the June issue of Commentary. Within the magazine's symposium on "Obama, Israel & American Jews" is this excellent essay by Michael Medved, cultural critic, talk-show host and Fellow of Discovery Institute:

"At his core, Barack Obama is a leveler-an eraser of distinctions. Most Americans savor his unique ability to blur divisions based on race, or to demolish barriers between the impoverished and the privileged. In other areas, the president's leveling instinct creates far more controversy, particularly when it morphs into a stubbornly nonjudgmental form of moral relativism.

Continue reading "Medved Comments on U.S. Jews and Israel" »

June 7, 2010

A View of the Flotilla, from Istanbul

Claire Berlinski, an American writer in Turkey, makes me feel better about my confusion on the Peace Flotilla matter. I am not confused about the Israeli actions, but the reasons for the strange official reaction of Turkey. What is Prime Minister Erdogan up to and what are the implications?

In an article for City Journal, Claire at least makes one's uncertainty better-informed.

June 5, 2010

Turkey Turns from West, Embraces Despots

We should have seen it coming. Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to throw in with the despots of Iran and the terrorists of Hamas long before the phony "Peace Flotilla" tried to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza this week. Even in April Erdogan was describing Israel as the "main threat to Middle Eastern peace."

Today, Erdogan is quite plain. Israeli, he says, is guilty of "inhuman state terror", while Hamas is "fighting for their own lands."

Continue reading "Turkey Turns from West, Embraces Despots" »

June 3, 2010

What the U.S. Loses When Israel Loses

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Here is what you are not getting right now, even from that section of the media in America that is still pro-Israel: Israel is as important to the U.S. as the U.S. is to Israel. To the extent we damage our most reliable Middle Eastern ally, we are damaging ourselves.

George Gilder's The Israel Test is the one book out now that tells, extensively, how Israel matters to both the U.S. economy--especially in the cutting edge high tech field--and to America's strategic aims. It treats the cultural and historical reasons for U.S. support of Israel, but others do that, too. What matters, and what is missing from our national discussion, is how vital Israel is to American inventive prowess, manufacturing relevance and national defense. Israelis even have invented a device to let soldiers see through walls to activities that might be going on in a building they are about to inspect!

Continue reading "What the U.S. Loses When Israel Loses" »

May 31, 2010

The Phony "Peace Flotilla"

UPDATE: One of the most thorough analyses of the background of the Flotilla, including a report from the Danish Institute on International Studies that reveals the terrorist nature of several Flotilla sponsors, is by Melanie Phillips.

Iran and Hamas--and Islamists in Turkey--have a keen sense of Western media and how to play them. The Peace Flotilla is a good example. The flotilla was trying to break a blockade, and that is dangerous by definition. Like 60s radicals in the U.S. confronting the police or military, the whole idea was to provoke a reaction from Israel and sympathy from Western media.

That they succeeded is too bad for them and, because of the crocodile tears of Western governments, unfortunate for Israel.

But instead of "deploring" the Israeli reaction, the West should be deploring the intentional provocation. To the extent that the U.S. fails to back Israel in its insistence on security terrorists will continue to probe. They are probing the resolve of the U.S. at the same time.
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Weapons Found Aboard the Vessel Mavi Marmara: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvS9PXZ3RWM

May 18, 2010

Open the Soviet Archives--and Report Them

The history of Communism is not over, it continues in North Korea, Cuba and--in a hybrid form, in China. It may be struggling to be born in Venezuela. But the chief international agency for Communism in the past 100 years was the Soviet Union. The full story has not yet been told.

Claire Berlinski describes some remarkable documents--scores of thousands of them--that Soviet dissidents managed to copy and distribute in the West as the Communist system was crumbling. They mostly are being ignored. Liberals don't want to be reminded of the true state of the system whose threat they underestimated for decades, while today's conservatives seem to want to move on to other topics.

Continue reading "Open the Soviet Archives--and Report Them" »

May 15, 2010

Flashy Start, Dangerous Future for Cameron

David Cameron had to get elected in a Britain, a nation more addicted to welfare statism than is the U.S., and then, in order to form a Government at all, he had to form a coalition with a left of center party, the Liberal Democrats. So it probably would be too much to expect him to proceed with what is needed to revive the sagging, heavily indebted British economy: a Reaganesque agenda of spending cuts, tax cuts directed at growing the economy, and regulatory reduction.

Cameron does seem to have a mandate to make some cuts and is using it. But he not only lacks a mandate to cut marginal tax rates and capital gains takes--changes that would provide a stimulus to investment and new jobs--but he also is moving instead to raise capital gains taxes.

Technically, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg have five years to rebuild the economy, but it will be slow going and more painful than necessary. It's a bit like having two doctors, one who says, cut out the cancer and another says, don't cut out the cancer, and agreeing to compromise by cutting out half the cancer.

A "Conservative-Liberal Democrat" government is a political oxymoron.

May 7, 2010

Were Conservatives Too Pro-EU?

In the final days of the British election just completed the Conservative candidate for Prime Minister, David Cameron, finally began to speak out in a gingerly way about the need to limit the reach and intrusive power of the bureaucrat-dominated European Union.

Perhaps that is because he knew full well that there were a number of swing constituencies, especially in the Southwest of England, where Conservative chances of unseating Liberal Democrat incumbents hinged directly on the subject of UK relations with the EU. Cameron's comments helped, it would seem, in several (Truro & Falmouth, for example), but were too weak to matter in others.

The UK independence Party (UKIP), whose party chairman is Lord Malcom Pearson of Rannoch, saw its number of votes rise 50 percent over previous elections, making it the fourth largest party in the country. UKIP still has not elected a Member House of Commons. But what it did accomplish was the attraction of enough votes in the Southeast to make the potential difference between a Conservative defeat and a Conservative victory in about seven constituencies. And those seats, had they joined a couple of others in the Southeast that moved to the Tories anyhow, might have made the difference now between a hung parliament and a narrow Conservative majority.

For example, in Plymouth-Moor View the winning Labour candidate got 37 percent of the vote, the Conservative 33 percent, Labour 17 percent and the UKIP 7.7 percent. Had the UKIP votes gone, hypothetically, to the Tories, the Conservative margin would have been 40.7 percent. They'd have the seat now.

Continue reading "Were Conservatives Too Pro-EU?" »

May 6, 2010

Speed Counting in England

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2:38 Pacific Daylight Time; 10:38 in London.

The polls closed at 10, the exit polls of the SKY/ITV/BBC show a hung parliament, the Tories with 305 seats (19 below a majority), Labour with 255, Liberal Democrats with a surprisingly weak 61, the rest to minor parties. All of that will be adjusted as actual votes are counted. The Conservative Party strategists are saying that the final numbers will be better than the exit polls suggest--for the Liberal Democrats, but also for them.

An amazing thing for an American is that the election campaign of only four weeks is concluded today (Thursday), and only one hour after the polls close the first complete results will come in. Within another few hours is will all be done.

It helps, of course, that there is only one race (for member of Parliament) on the ballot, of course.

____

David Cameron has borrowed many public relations ideas from Barack Obama and had one of Obama's 2008 advisors, Anita Dunn, help him with TV debate preparation. but the conservative (and Conservative) London Telegraph is warning Cameron against emulating Obama.

Give This Man a Visa

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Memo to the State Department Consular Office in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq:

You have in your Kurdish neighborhood of Northern Iraq an Iranian student dissident of prominence who is a "Green" refugee deserving of an entry visa to the United States. Ali Shamsei has been imprisoned and tortured in Teheran and faces death when he returns. The mullah regime has labeled him an "Enemy of the People." The Iraqi government, nonetheless, plans to return him soon. He should be allowed into the U.S. instead.

The 30 year old Shamsei has skills in computers and financial management and is fluent in English. He can succeed here and remain of assistance to former colleagues in Iran.

The Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C., under former Reagan aide Morton Blackwell, is considering him for an international internship. Here in Seattle, Discovery Institute is prepared to welcome him for a speaking engagement--people need to know first hand about conditions under the Almadinejad regime.

May 5, 2010

"Land of Hope and Change," Ho Hum

The British election is so Americanized this year that Conservative David Cameron is borrowing from the political playbook of Bill Clinton (circa 1992) by campaigning right through the night before the Thursday election, while, for example, the more traditional candidate, Labour's Gordon Brown, went home to Scotland Wednesday to rest up and await the verdict of the voters. Tediously, all the candidates have tried to wrap themselves in Barack Obama's imagery, doing look-alike campaign posters (Lib Dem's Nick Clegg) and a retread slogan of Hope and Change (Cameron).

Thing is, as the Brits will find out, Hope and Change is a superficial feeling, not a program.It's not even a noble sentiment, like, say, "Land of hope and glory, mother of the free."

Latest polls put Labour a bit back up above the Liberal Democrats, with Conservatives still ahead by about seven points. That seven points would be a near-landslide in the U.S., but not necessarily in the U.K.

May 4, 2010

Crisis for Conservatives in Britain

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The most probable outcome in Britain's election Thursday is a narrow Tory lead. With what is being called (as in the U.S.) the "progressive" vote split between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives stand to prevail, but not with much of a mandate.

The vultures already are circling Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Some of his own supporters are speculating on the party leadership battle that will follow a widely anticipated Labour's defeat. It could well be that Labour will come in third in popular votes while still winning more seats than the ill-prepared and underfunded Liberal Democrats.

Continue reading "Crisis for Conservatives in Britain" »

May 2, 2010

British Tories Could Govern with Minority of Seats

Polls still do not indicate that the Conservatives will earn a clear majority of seats in Parliament later this week. The assumption has been that, in such a situation, Tory leader David Cameron would seek a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in return for a pledge of support for proportional representation--what the Lib Dems consider "reform".

But now it appears that Cameron may be willing to form a minority government, much as Stephen Harper's Conservatives have done--with considerable success--in Canada. They key is that the other parties, though they may have the votes to bring down the Government in such a situation, will be afraid to do so. The public, after all, will not be eager for another election any time soon.

Continue reading "British Tories Could Govern with Minority of Seats" »

April 29, 2010

The Hidden Big Issue in British Election

British voters go to the polls next Thursday with more potential for a true three way split among the leading contenders than has been witnessed in decades. Moreover, the three way split could change the very nature of British politics if it means that in order to form a Government the "winner" has to compromise with one of the "losers" on fundamental rules of political governance. That prospect is the hidden issue of the current campaign.

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Simply put, if David Cameron's Conservatives come in first in the number of seats won, but lack a majority, the only way they can govern in a stable fashion is in coalition with, presumably, the Liberal Democrats. (Barring the unforeseen, no one will want much to be associated with discredited Labour, whose leader probably will resign about eight days from now.) But the price the Lib Dems, led by Nick Clegg, may try to extract from the Conservatives is a "reform" (treacherous word) to institute proportional voting in future elections.

But other than surrendering still more sovereignty to the European Union, nothing would so weaken the British Parliament as proportional voting. The centrifugal forces of factionalism and regionalism would grow, spelling the end of purposeful government. The winner-take-all rule is rough on minority parties, but it does make strong governing possible.

Here is one of the most recent polls.

Continue reading "The Hidden Big Issue in British Election" »

April 28, 2010

Feeling Sorry for Prime Minister Brown

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Gordon Brown was caught on a live mic describing a Labour supporter he encountered as a "bigot". He later apologized, but it was the kind of gaffe that can sink a campaign. Already in trouble for all the reasons the supporter, Mrs. Gillian Duffy, a widow and pensioner, mentioned on camera while Brown chatted with her, Brown now also comes off as a hack (which he is not): insincere, haughty (he is that) and quick to blame his staff instead of himself.

The negative images are especially damaging because they re-enforce tropes about him that have been established loosely heretofore.

The campaign encounter with a polite, but relentlessly critical voter, is the kind of nightmare that would cause any politician to cringe. But it would not even have been a memorable news item except for Brown's mistaken belief his mic was turned off while he maligned 66 year old Mrs. Duffy. Now, however, the whole interview will be read, and seen on video, endlessly, including not only Mrs. Duffy's remark that politicians are afraid to talk about immigration, but also her comments that the Labour Government has run up such a huge deficit that it will be "tax, tax, tax for 20 years" to pay it down.

The tax issue, as I have written here before, is the achilles heel of Labour, and even a weakness for the LIberal Democrats. The only question is how adroit the Tories are in pursuing it. Happily for the Conservatives' David Cameron, a sensationally covered Labour voter has helped make the case for him.

The story is damaging when covered by the London Times, of course, but it also is nearly as damaging as carried by The Guardian. Rupert Murdoch owns the Times, and he also happens to own Sky Channel TV, and it was a Sky Channel mic that caught the P.M. jabbering unawares to aides as they drove from the scene, and it was a Sky Channel scoop the launched the story.

Continue reading "Feeling Sorry for Prime Minister Brown" »

April 27, 2010

Russians Have NOT Ended US Adoptions

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If you got the impression recently that the Russian government was ending adoptions of Russian orphans by US citizens, you should know that that is not the case. There was understandable--if over-stated--annoyance in Russia when a young boy whose adoption had failed in Tennessee was sent back to Russia alone on a commercial plane. "Outrage" would be a better description than "annoyance", however.

At the time, there was media speculation that the Russian authorities would cancel further adoptions to Americans. Then, unfortunately, the story dropped out of the news.

However, the National Council for Adoption, a coalition of well-established adoption organizations in the United States and an able public policy advocate for adoption, pointed out a few days ago that the Russians have not stopped adoptions to the US.

Today, the New York Times describes some Western R & R for Russian orphans.

It helps to remind us that sensational news, especially about Russia, is often incomplete and, for that reason, misleading.

April 26, 2010

Center-Right Wins in Hungary

Fidesz, led by the mediagenic Viktor Orban, has won a sensational 67.9 percent of the vote in the final round national election. The party that started as a libertarian protest twenty years ago (see post, April 12) is now fully in control, with 263 out of 386 seats in Parliament. It crushed the incumbent Socialists (15.3 percent) and destroyed the dreams of the far right Jobbik (12.2 percent), not to mention the Greens (4.2 percent).

Fidesz promised tax cuts and ends to little tyrannies--such as the prohibition of home distilleries that make the beloved plum brandies of Central Europe--and, more ominously, an end to the confinements of fiscal discipline imposed--responsibly-- by the Socialists.

All of Europe needs tax reductions and encouragement of investment. (So does the U.S). But it cannot avoid simultaneously a reduction in spending. To the extent that Americans notice, Fidesz will warm conservatives' hearts. But what about the spending? That's what could chill those same hearts in the years ahead. Even a Government with a mandate cannot flout the problems of a massive debt.

April 22, 2010

Polls in U.K. Show Folly of Believing Polls

Who won the second British election debate depends on which poll results one reads. The point, in summary, is either that people's views are volatile, or that you can't trust polls.

April 20, 2010

Blather Instead of Plain Speaking in U.K. Election

The British Parliament has overspent, over-regulated and over-taxed. That is what needs changing in the U.K. It's that simple, and yet none of the candidates for prime minister seems able to say so clearly.

The current election matters, of course, to to British, but also to the West, generally. The U.S. needs a European partner and NATO needs a leader. Unfortunately, British party leaders still can't find their way. Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats has shot up in the polls, entirely because of a good showing in the first TV debate. But underneath his attractive appearance is a lack of substance. Moreover, the built-in national weakness of his party in various ridings (districts) means it would be hard for it to win a majority of seats even with a majority of votes. The Conservatives--who seem to have raised the taxation issue only to let it slip away--still lead in polls but are offering one plastic phrase after another. So is Labour. The Liberals are retreading Obama's posters and offering "Hope."

They all want "Change", of course. But no one seems serious about it.

The leader who takes on spending, taxes and regulations in a convincing way may not get an instant response. The British public may be too divided into special pleading factions to appreciate the message at once. But leadership is about looking ahead and seeing the truth that others avoid. At some point in the campaign the voters will respond positively.

Most disappointing is David Cameron of the Tories. As Theodore Roosevelt said of William Howard Taft, "He means well feebly." His abstract chatter about "The Big Society" is numbing.

The great English Conservatives of the past--Disraeli, Churchill, Thatcher--were brave as well as prescient. They trusted their principles. They took chances, not surveys.

April 16, 2010

Liberal Democrat Changes British Campaign

The first of three TV debates in the British national campaign brought Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to the considered attention of many voters for the first time. He made a strong impression as the reasonable man in beteween two parties that, for various reasons, fail to inspire. By most accounts he "won" the debate.

The last time the Liberal Party constituted a majority in Parliament was in the 1920s when it was eclipsed on the Center/Left by Labour. Since then the Liberal ticket has been a kind of retirement home for protest voters and those too fastidious to back a party with a real chance of governing.

Could that change in 2010? Clegg'ssupport grew by three percent after the debate, according to one poll, while Labour P.M. Brown's vote dropped a point. The Conservative leader David Cameron did well enough in the debate to sustain the overall plurality the Tories enjoy in current surveys, but not well enough yet to secure a solid Parliamentary majority and avoid a hung Parliament.

If Cameron merely emerges with a plurality it would be very hard to form a Government. It might be even worse for them long term if they do form a government and have to compromise their principles even more than they do now.

Continue reading "Liberal Democrat Changes British Campaign" »

April 14, 2010

Piracy Threat Cannot be Avoided

The former president of the Seychelles Islands is in New York to warn of increased piracy in the Indian Ocean along the Horn of Africa. James R. Mancham will speak at Columbia University and later at the Discovery Institute-sponsored World Russia Forum April 25-27 in Washington, D.C.

Piracy also was also discussed in Seattle last night at an appearance by Koshin Mohamed, a Somali-American who recently returned from combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mohamed, 31, a community leader in Seattle whose childhood was spent in Somalia, said that international military aid is needed to stop the pirates and drive out the Al Shabaab (al Qaeda linked) terrorists that control 80 percent of southern Somalia. The country also needs development of economic options for youth if the opportunist crime-wave of piracy is to be stopped. As is, Mohamed said, impoverished and uneducated young men are easy prey to ideological Islamist encouragement to defy international law and raid innocent trading ships far out to sea.

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Koshin Mohamed spoke at Seattle Pacific University

April 13, 2010

Conservatives to Cut Taxes in Britain

David Cameron has just revealed a manifesto that finally adds spark to the election campaign underway in the U.K. The spark is the Tory pledge to reduce taxes.

Without the tax cut issue, the Conservatives would appear as little more than the familiar budget slashers, and while slashing does need happen, the take home pay of the electorate probably matters more to the economy and to the fate of the Tories.

The rest of the campaign will revolve around the sad stories of (mostly) Labour MPs who abused their expense accounts--a juicy, but old scandal--and the sheer weight of growing government control of ordinary people's lives.

Continue reading "Conservatives to Cut Taxes in Britain" »

April 12, 2010

Hungary Moves Toward Reagan-Style Agenda

One of the most successful campaign posters in history was that for Fidesz, the party of youthful, free market and pro-Western Hungarians in 1990. In an election that year to establish a new constitution that would mark the end of Communist rule, Fidesz' message was that voters should make a choice between the stolid old Communist ideology and the freedom policies promoted most strongly by the Fidesz Party. "Choose!", the poster insists, with a hilarious picture of two Communist leaders (the Soviets' Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany's Erich Honecker) giving each other an airport greeting smootch. The "choice" in the lower panel was an attractive young Hungarian couple wearing Fidesz buttons.

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Fidesz originally was libertarian and limited to members under age 35. Over the years it eliminated its age restriction and moved toward overall center-right policies, emphasizing a pro-growth, lower-tax. After the primary elections just completed, the party seems to be set for a majority victory, not just a plurality, in the final round. The Socialist opposition that united most of the left is fighting for second place with a far right, populist party, Jobbik. The Socialist collapse and the rise of Jobbik is what seems to have captured most press interest, but the real story is Fidesz and its program.

Continue reading "Hungary Moves Toward Reagan-Style Agenda" »

April 7, 2010

British Campaign Off to a Rousing Squeak

The Government of Gordon Brown and his Labour Party is frazzled and care-worn as the Prime Minister, at the end of his mandate, finally calls an election for May. But if you are expecting inspiration from the nominally Conservative opposition of David Cameron, you will be relegated instead to retread Obamaisms, such as "Hope, Optimism and Change", as if the original "Hope and Change" didn't connote false optimism enough. Then there is the Tory leader's wobbly spin on JFK, "It's no good asking what can government do for me but what can we all do together to make our society stronger."

What next from the sloganeers? "A Chicken in Every Wok"?

Labour is bureaucratic, sclerotic and divided. But Cameron's Conservatives seem to offer mere marginal improvements to an economy that is grotesquely over-regulated and nearly strangled with taxes. In recent weeks Mr. Cameron has lost a big lead in polls, thanks perhaps to his failure to offer any relief, or even sympathy, to taxpayers. Neither party seems much interested, either, in defending Britain from the greedy reach of Brussels' EU pests. The election choice therefore will be fought out on familiar, flatter ground: the Ins versus the Outs.

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Conservative leader David Cameron

Continue reading " British Campaign Off to a Rousing Squeak" »

April 3, 2010

"Professionalism" Now Means Antagonizing Allies

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We read that the Obama Administration is proud that America finally has "professionals" in charge of foreign policy. Such an improvement over G.W Bush, they tell the Financial Times, in a much-noticed recent article. ("U.S. Foreign Policy: Waiting for a Sun King," by Edward Luce and Daniel Dombey, available online only for registered subscribers.)

So where does all the vaunted Obama Administration "professionalism" come from? Why, from the very top.

"For better or for worse," say the authors, "Washington has grown used to the fact that Barack Obama runs the most centralised -- or 'White House-centric' -- administration since Richard Nixon. When Nixon wanted foreign policy advice, everyone knew where he got it from: Henry Kissinger, variously his national security adviser and secretary of state.

Continue reading " "Professionalism" Now Means Antagonizing Allies " »

March 31, 2010

Unholy Land: "On Tombs and Rage"

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Rachel's Tomb in Jerusalem

Americans tend to assume that all Muslims are anti-Israeli. Americans--or at least the media--also often fail to see through the stratagems of Iran's meddling in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and, for that matter, Iraq.

Two examples of outspoken Iranian expatriates who defeat the stereotype are Nirs T. Bom and Ido Mizrahi. They published "On Tombs and Rage" originally in the Israeli daily, Haaretz, and then in The Caspian Weekly, a journal that covers various events in the Middle East/East Asia.

In this article, the authors examine the ploy of taking umbrage over Israeli efforts to preserve two historic sites that actually are worth protection for the heritage of Muslims, as well as Jews and Christians. The Palestinian Authority could have used these projects to illustrate a willingness to cooperate on matters of common interest; eventually, after all, the restored sites could attract pilgrimages and tourist support. But at the least the Palestinian officials could have ignored the prservation developments. Instead, they chose to make propaganda out of distorting the issue, as the writers explain.

March 27, 2010

Success (Cross Your Fingers) in Iraq

The national election in Iraq was almost a tie among the two leading parties, with plenty of minor parties gaining seats. The losers are complaining, the "victors" celebrating, but the reality is that no government can emerge quickly from the results. A coalition will develop, and that slowly.

Let us pause, meanwhile, to admire the reality that Iraq has held another relatively solid and fair election. For its part of the world, that is a major accomplishment. Real contests took place, real politicking went on. What other country in the region has such freedom?

Well, sure, Israel. But, who else?

There is hand-wringing about possible violence, even "civil war", in the days ahead. But Iraq has horrible bombings all the time. They come from terrorists who didn't want this election to happen, not from the democrats of various allegiances and persuasions.

One other thing. For several years after the Coalition invasion, we were told that sectarianism would dominate Iraq. The refreshing thing about the elections just completed is how diminished a role sectarianism has played. I admire the Iraqis. They may be the pivotal power (again, other than Israel) in the region in years to come. It is partly because whatever government comes about now, it has ballots behind it.

March 14, 2010

Paranoia or Clearing Air? Two Views of Turkey

Two friends (of each other and of mine) have written well-publicized articles about the true condition of Turkish democracy today. They both seem reasonable and they overlap a bit, but they also clash.

First, look at Claire Berlinski's article from the Wall Street Journal.

Then read Mustafa Akyol's article from Newsweek.

I want Mustafa to be right. I am not sure that he is. I do know that the United States has not handled Turkish relations well for some years. For those of you who think it doesn't matter, Claire and Mustafa both could set you straight.

March 11, 2010

Joe Biden Flunks His Israel Test

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Sometimes, educational experiences are unpleasant. Vice President Biden was in Israel this week to cheer his "old friends," declare his joy at being "home" and, oh, by the way, encourage Israel not to build any more settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank. But during his visit the Israelis announced (by cooincidence or the unilateral decision of a faction in the Netanyahu government) that they were going to allow another 1600 new settlement housing units in (East) Jerusalem.

This provoked Joe Biden to rebuke the decision, and his mission more or less ground to a halt right there.

In The Israel Test, George Gilder argues that Jewish settlements have not hurt the Palestinian economy of the West Bank, Gaza or Jerusalem, but have greatly improved it. Before the intifadas of the 90s, Palestinians moved into the areas where Israelis settled and gained greatly from the collateral prosperity. Palestinian per capita income tripled in the period.

Continue reading "Joe Biden Flunks His Israel Test" »

March 10, 2010

Mexico Deserves Support on Trade Issue

The Obama Campaign in 2008 opposed George W. Bush's efforts on behalf of free trade, including the permission of qualified Mexico truck drivers to bring their goods into the United States. The reason was simple: big labor was opposed; in the Mexican case it was the Teamsters.

Now we are experiencing a near collapse of free trade progress and, in the case of the Mexican trucks, strong retaliatory measures by Mexico that, according to the Wall Street Journal, already have cost us $2.6 billion in export trade and some 25,000 jobs.

Continue reading "Mexico Deserves Support on Trade Issue" »

March 8, 2010

Nelson Mandela Versus Winnie Manela

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CNN interviewed Winnie Maneda, divorced spouse of Nelson Mendela, today and made the woman who once advocated "necklaces" of burning tires for inadequately motivated revolutionaries in South Africa seem proper and almost prim. But another interview, in the U.K., printed in the Daily Mail, gives a truer sense of the woman and her poisoned perspective.

Invictus, the film starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, did not get much attention at the Oscars show last night, but it deserves to be listed in the pantheon of films of political redemption. Whereas Winnie's hatred pointed in one direction, the suffering and reflection of Nelson Mandela headed him--and South Africa--in another, and history was transformed. It is not perfect, but, still, it is one of the quiet, beautiful triumphs of our time.

March 4, 2010

A German Island in the Mediterranean: "Viel Spaß!""

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Some German parliamentary members are advancing an idea for their country to to obtain a base on "Mittelmeer"-- at last, after all these centuries, a seaport on the sunny Mediterranean. It is a proposal to the Greeks to help them alleviate their notorious national debt by lightening their real estate.

Bismark would be astonished and delighted. However, since Germans today are mostly pacific (pardon the pun), do not expect them to build a naval base near Athens. Instead, Germany's new possessions probably will sport casinos and resorts where die Frauen can frolic as Nature intended, outside the gaze of formerly native Greeks. (Not that the Greeks have ever minded.)

Would you like a little spanakopita with your Kielbasa, Mein Herr?

February 28, 2010

Congratulations, Canada!

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Reserve used to be a characteristic trait of Canadians. Not patriotic. Defined by what they weren't--that is, not Americans.

No more. Canadians these days can't stop singing, "O, Canada" and painting their faces red and white. They shout and carry on like, well, I can't help noting, Americans.

Tonight they deserve congratulations and thanks. They have staged a magnificent Winter Olympics in the fabulous world city of Vancouver and the superb modern resort of Whistler-Blackcomb. They could have been stumped by the unseasonably warm weather, but they weren't. They could have been undone by the pressure of media and transportation. They weren't. Their guests are flying out of town feeling happy and grateful.

Especial praise goes to our Cascadia ally, British Columbia. What incredible strides the province has made in a generation or so!

Some said that Canadians should feel chagrined that they didn't win as many medals as the U.S., or even the Germans. Nonsense. Canada is a fraction of the population of the U.S. (even if you only count the states that have winter sports), and yet they managed a huge haul, including, of course the men's hockey gold, which was about all they seemed to care about this sunny Sunday afternoon.

Well, let them have it. We, in turn, are fortunate to have such fine, fun neighbors. They are excellent hosts and friends.

February 14, 2010

The Culture War Within Islam--Economics and Religion

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Americans remain justifiably concerned about al Qaeda and related terror groups, but it is worth pausing to note the considerable progress that already has been made in Muslim countries since 9/11 to undermine the jihadis. G.W. Bush correctly insisted that democracy should be promoted in the Middle East, even though democracy is not always an unmixed blessing.

Fareed Zakaria has a good wrap-up of the situation in Newsweek that actually provides some credit to Bush and to King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, where real and potential terrorists are being re-schooled or, if necessary, physically thwarted. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, huge efforts are made by the West to promote republican institutions (not just democracy, but ordered liberty, including minority rights and free speech). Economic development is included, but mainly on the basis of infrastructure. There is no particular emphasis on free markets, though all you have to do is look at the Kurdish region to see the relevance--how free markets encourage peace as well as vice versa.

However, one of the most interesting and under-appreciated models within the Muslim world is Turkey. There the old guard are the Kemalists who are such ardent secularists (though not as bad as the Baathists of Syria and Iraq) that they persecute Muslims as well as other religious peoples. Mustafa Akyol has written extensively on Turkey's history, politics and culture, and has tried to help the West understand that while the arch-secularists control the bureaucracy, the military and most of the media and academia, the pro-Muslim party in Turkey is actually the more tolerant of diversity of religion and of political opinion. Most crucially, Akyol is showing that the Kemalists are mercantilists (though that is not the word he uses) who advance business activities through government connections, while the conservatives--almost all of them Muslim--promote free enterprise. You can get much of the story from Mr. Akyol's frequent columns and articles, but watch also for his forthcoming book on the topic.

Continue reading "The Culture War Within Islam--Economics and Religion" »

February 4, 2010

China is Not our Enemy

George Gilder's op-ed article, "Why Antagonize China?" appears in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal. There is much to criticize China for, but the Obama Administration seems to have made finding fault with the Chinese a strange pre-occupation. This is not the way to get ahead. As Gilder asks, "How many enemies do we need?" in a world where we are challenged by implacable foes such as al Qaeda, not to mention Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

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Technology is an especially crucial arena for careful interaction with China. Notes our colleague Bret Swanson,

"From 2000 to 2009, the number of Internet users in China rose from 23 million to 338 million. http://www.internetworldstats.com/asia/cn.htm

China passed 700 million mobile phone users in fall 2009.

China and Taiwan together produce about 650+ million of the global annual total of 1.2 billion mobile phones. Still trying to pin down exact numbers. (China ~550 million; Taiwan ~100 million; Korea probably another 300 million)."

"As China becomes a larger portion of the global Internet community," Swanson continues, "it would be wise to keep them within the fold of global standards and (American private-sector led) governance (ICANN, etc). Pushing them away could lead to unpredictable fragmentation of the universal Net fabric. Not to mention possible disruptions to physical supply chains and knowledge flows in this seamless tech market.

"It is true China has stepped up enforcement of its previously ineffective 'Great Firewall' and blocked Twitter and Facebook on several occasions over the last year. China this winter also restricted new registrations of domain names to registered companies, blocking many individuals from acquiring new domains. But the overwhelming evidence suggests the Internet in China still mostly thrives."

February 3, 2010

21st Century Barbarism in Iran

Nir Booms of Cyberdissidents and Shayan Arya, Seattle-based Iranian-American activist, describe the increasing use of kidnapping and hostage taking to intimidate foes of the theocratic regime in Iran. Hostage taking is a barbaric practice to which the Iranians have added modern police state methods.

From Nir Booms' blog site is the article reprinted from The Washington Times.

If there is any cheer in the article it is the description of 21st century ways that have developed to resist the dictators.

January 25, 2010

Iran is the Stealth Issue of 2010

Time magazine, often accused of being a cheerleader for the Obama Administration, has been striking some questioning poses, including lately on Iran. Writes Massimo Calabresi:

"Now Obama faces the unpleasant reality that neither the engagement track nor the sanctions track appear to be going anywhere. His defenders at home and abroad say it was the right way to proceed, but skeptics of Obama's policy are emerging, even in his own party. 'What exactly did your year of engagement get you?' asks a Hill Democrat."

It is not at all convenient for anyone that the string is running out on Iran. Even the Administration would like to focus on domestic issues, or Haiti relief, or even al Qaeda. But Iran either is getting nukes or it is not. If not, then the U.S. can bluster indefinitely, as Iran's government is doing. But if the nukes are coming, it will be very hard for the U.S to look away. The entire region that Iran aims to dominate could come apart.

January 11, 2010

Terrorists and the Civilian Judicial System

Discovery senior fellow John Wohlstetter is all over the issue of whether it is wise and just to try terrorists like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber, in American civilian courts. His article today at The American Spectator takes apart the idea that this is another policy traceable to Bush.

During the Cold War there were people on the democratic Left in the U.S. and (especially) in Europe who, practically speaking, were more antagonistic toward anti-communism than to communism. In virtually every respect they were sanctimonious, self-dramatizing and tragically wrong.

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The Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab


We are now dealing with a similar liberal mindset on terrorists and the struggle against them. The former most-liberal member of the U.S. Senate is now President and beginning to realize what he--and we--are up against. He still cannot bring himself to use the phrase "war on terror." He does speak, belatedly, of a "war with al Qaeda."

Well, if it is a war, why is the al Qaeda recruit who tried to blow up an airliner Christmas Day being tried--at great cost and at great propaganda risk--in a civilian court?

January 10, 2010

Why the Stiff Upper Lips? Because They're Frozen

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Frustration finally is getting hotter in chilly Britain tonight as more snow is predicted for Sunday and ordinary citizens are put to increased inconvenience and even hardship. The supposed political news is about rump Labourites nagging Gordon Brown on military matters and legal questions that are being raised about Conservative fundraising. But the real political news surely should be the conspicuous failure of the central government to provide backup supplies of salt and "grit" for roadways (one of the two big salt mines says its supply runs out tomorrow). The same may apply to natural gas, an even more serious matter. In general, the Government seems lax on preparedness.

Prime Minister Brown has been very keen about the dangers of global warming, but he still appears rather absent-minded about the serious and more immediate British Cooling. That, more than inside-Parliament squabbling, could hurt him with the public. It actually affects people's lives in ways they experience.

I'm a long way off and don't see anyone else coming to my opinion about this yet, however. Let's see.

January 9, 2010

U.S. Foes in South America in New Money Trouble

Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Cristina Kirschner of Argentina (and Nestor, her husband and predecessor as President) have been the most powerful opponents of the United States in South America for the past decade. The Bush Administration tried to ignore them. The Obama Administration tried to mollify them.

Both Administrations' policies erred. But, never mind. "Historical necessity," as the Marxists say, seems to be catching up to the two bullying regimes. This not only is encouraging for the cause of freedom in the Western Hemisphere, but a potential blow to Iran, Cuba and other pals of the two South American far leftists.

The latest examples of political decay and financial impotence are Chavez' decision Friday to devalue the Bolivar by 50 percent and the failure of the Kirchners--so far--to force out the chief of Argentina's Centeral BAnk, Martin Redrado. (Redrado has refused to let President Kirchner raid foreign-currency reserves for her own agenda.)

It is one of the ironies of economics that these ardent foes of capitalism-- Chavez and the Kirchners--suffer when their adversaries do, only perhaps worse. Their governments are even more reckless and spendthrift than ours. And our recession leaves them in even worse shape.

January 8, 2010

Labour Party Slights Storm to Fight Itself

Not being in England during the worst weather in at least fifteen years, it is hard to know whether the stories of breakdowns in road operations (the government is flying SALT in from Europe and the U.S.), gas shortages and rampant transportation delays make much difference to the average Brit. But they mattered so little to the Labour Party that it chose this moment to battle with itself over leadership issues. That high priority apparently couldn't wait.

January 7, 2010

Warming's Alarm-Ringer Stilled by U.K. Chill

UPDATE: Weather conditions don't seem to be getting any better today in Britain and P.M. Gordon Brown seems still to regard the matter as relatively routine. Entering the coldest night in 15 years, The Telegraph reports on the shortage of "grit" for roads, and much else:

"Cheshire's Winsford salt mine also said it only has a few days' supply of surface salt left as a No 10 spokesman said there was no provision for central Government to take control of stocks.

"The National Grid issued its second gas alert in three days as the UK's freezing weather pushed demand to record levels.

"The operator's gas balancing alert came with gas demand expected to hit 454 million cubic metres today - higher than the all-time record of 449 million in January 2003.

"Roads, trains and airports were subjected to another day of havoc."

Prime Minister Brown is one of the world's most outspoken alarmists on global warming. He presently is one of the quieter spokesmen on the subject of his freezing country.

Could Snowdrifts Bury Prime Minister Brown?

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Labour has been running behind the Conservatives in British popularity polls, though lately the Tories have been fading a bit. But that was before a record-breaking and determined blast of cold and snow descended on the Sceptered Isle, and before the taciturn Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, failed to find the weather very invigorating.

Mr. Brown's reported response is a classic: "I think Britain can deal with these problems. There are always difficulties when we have a long spell of bad weather. But we can cope."

That may not be exactly what people want to hear, however. The U.K. is in the one of the worst winters in a century. Local governments are running out of "grit" to put on roads. The National Grid energy authority has warned that gas supplies are running low. People are losing income because they cannot get to work. Businesses are hurting. Some lives are being lost. What a leader needs to do in a situation like that is to show personal involvement.

Of immediate concern is that later today the U.K. may be getting still more snow. That, not political responsibility for governmental inadequacies, is what is on people's minds.

Nonetheless, looking ahead, one might observe that freezing weather has put more than one political career on ice in America, and the same might happen in the U.K. The powerful Mayor of Chicago, Michael Bilandic, was defeated in a Democratic primary election in 1979 after his perceived inattention to a stiff blizzard a few months earlier. Something similar happened to Greg Nickels, an otherwise politically well-situated Mayor of Seattle, who endured criticism after the Emerald City was shut down for several days during a December, '08 storm. He failed, though only narrowly, to survive a primary election challenge late the next summer.

Water, if not ice, damaged the re-election chances of George W. Bush when the President was slow to react strongly to Hurricane Katrina.

These are American examples, of course, but human nature and democracies share much in common on both sides of The Pond.

Maybe Gordon Brown should take a turn shoveling snow.

January 1, 2010

A Private Way to Help the Troops Win the War

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The Weekly Standard does a good turn in its New Year's issue by highlighting the work of Spirit of America, the philanthropy that provides funds for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to use as they sit fit in encouraging the local population.

One of the long standing frustrations of even top U.S. government officials who try to prosecute a war is the rigidity, red tape and second-guessing of bureaucracies when asked to supply funds quickly to troops on the ground who see first hand a need and want to fill it. You can rail against this sort of thing, but it has been the case for many years. No bureaucrat wants to make a mistake--by trying something new that isn't predictable and commonplace--the very expenditures, often small, that can make a big difference. The rule book is at hand to punish those who deviate.

That is why private groups are important. They can get things done--especially in building community support for U.S. objectives--in ways the government is not well organized to accomplish. Spirt of America is such a group. It warrants our financial support.

December 30, 2009

Policy of Treating Terrorists, and Terror States, as Criminals is Shredded

President Obama has tried to deal with Iran on the basis of reasoned diplomacy. Now we see a regime that has its vehicles run down demonstrators and blame "Zionists" and the Americans for the popular protests.

The President aims to empty Guantanamo prison and either prosecute the terrorists in U.S. courts--at enormous cost--or to send them back to their country of origin, such as Yemen. This approach is becoming an embarrassment as we learn that many returnees released by the Bush Administration (under pressure from Congress, please recall) have rejoined al Qaida.

Presumably the underpants bomber will be treated as a mere criminal, too, and given all the rights afforded to American citizens. He will be allowed to make grandiloquent propaganda statements along the way.

What makes President Obama think that the rest of the world understands and appreciates his policy of diplomatic niceness for dictators and criminal court cases for terrorists? After all, even most Americans don't understand--or agree--with it.

December 29, 2009

Canada, Count Your Blessings

You would think that our northern neighbors would be glowing with cheer these days. Contrary to the backbiting on television and in the blogs, Canada's economy is better off than ours and the Conservative party government of Stephen Harper seems reliable, if (in the classic Canadian manner), dull.

Dull is good, actually. Meet someone who complains about the dry cleaner ruining his shirt and his teen-ager denting the car and you are in the presence of someone who really should be counting his blessings instead.

Canadians on the cusp of the 2010 Olympic Games in Whistler/Vancouver, B.C., similarly, should be counting their blessings. There are reports that the country will benefit greatly--to the tune of "billions and billions of dollars"--and there are reports of the Games being of little or no benefit (and little popular enthusiasm), and reports that indicate "modest" benefits. But, what is lost in all the pseudo-economic models and opinion surveys is that no one really knows how much the province of B.C. and Canada generally will benefit--or lose--financially in the short run.

What they should know is that hosting such a prestigious event will confer lasting, positive attention on Canada as a first ranking winter tourist destination and a highly desirable place to work and do business. That usually has been the history of such events. Several billion people will watch the proceedings on TV. Journalists from around the world once again will admire the host country and the people. And British Columbia will acquire some good new infrastructure and sports facilities. (Another nice development is added passenger rail service to the U.S., via Seattle.)

If I were a Canadian looking for something to worry about right now, I would focus on something very practical: assuring airline security coming into the country and venue security for those Games.

Afterwards, relax and bask in the glory.

December 28, 2009

On Terror, Make Common Sense Common Practice

The President should acknowledge that there is, after all, "a War Against Terrorism". Authorities should be plain, of course, that the enemy is not Islam or Muslims, per se, but radical Islamists--and that that includes not just al Qaida, but also Iran, through its paid surrogates, Hamas and Hezbollah, assisted by the totalitarian communists in North Korea that ship nuclear and other armaments and the dictatorship in Venezuela that attempts to destabilize democracies (Honduras, Colombia) and makes common cause with Iran. Islamist radicals in Europe (especially the U.K.) and now inside the U.S. have been recruited, so they are properly identifiable as foes. What these allied terrorist groups and terror-supporting regimes have in common is hatred toward freedom and democracy as Westerners understand them. They hate Jews and Christians and will kill them in Iraq, Pakistan or wherever they can find them. They also have no compunction about killing fellow Muslims, so CAIR, et al, should spare us the argument that targeting Muslim extremists is targeting Muslims in general.

Be grateful for Muslims who have joined in the fight against the Islamist radicals, reporting them to authorities. They often do so at personal peril, which is why you don't hear about them much. We need to protect and encourage such people. Muslims arguably are suffering more than anyone from the radicals in their midst.

Continue reading "On Terror, Make Common Sense Common Practice" »

December 8, 2009

As Iranians Launch New Protests, Washington Should Speak

The uncommonly intelligent and courageous Iranian people are trying hard to get the attention of the world as they open new lines of protest against the dictatorial theocratic regime. The British seem to find a way to reply. What is holding up the Americans? Moral support is surely the least we can provide!

The people of Iran do not want the dictators. There will be a way found to extricate them from the hold of the authoritarians. We need to be with them when they do.

December 7, 2009

Spy Story: Russians Blamed for "ClimateGate"

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The Copenhagen climate summit has certain elements of conspiracy theory to it, including an attempt by IPCC Vice Chairman Jean-Pascal van Ypersele to blame the Russians for release of the ClimateGate emails. Why? Because a Russian server may have been used.

Here is a report by the London Telegraph writer James Delingpole on the pathetic attempt to turn the whole U.K./U.S. fiasco into an international spy story. (It was Delingpole who coined the "ClimateGate" name, by the way.)

The motive that the ClimateGate defenders attribute to the Russians is a desire to distract the Copenhagen negotiators from their work. It is hinted, moreover, that the Russians could have been paid. However, surely the ClimateGate defenders can come up with something better than that. For example, they could speculate that the Kremlin wants to keep oil usage respectable, since Russia is the world's number one producer. Natural gas, too. Or, just as likely, the Russians really would like the world to get a little warmer. A longer growing season, as V. Putin has joked. And perhaps the prospect of January picnics in the park outside the Kremlin.

If Congress and the British Parliament were doing their duty to their respective publics, hearings would be held in each body on the nature and extent and possible answers to man-made climate change. Opponents would be allowed to call an equal number of experts to testify. Put the whole thing on television and let the public see and hear it all.

There is a spectrum of informed voices on this topic, ranging from those convinced of global warming and its man-made aspect (these are the folks invited to Copenhagen); to critics who think warming is real and man is responsible, but that the CRU was irresponsible; to those who think warming is real and man may have contributed, but that the proposed cures are inappropriate and extreme; to those who think global warming is real, but not man made; to those who doubt that long term global warming is underway and therefore, human beings are not crucial agents. All these voices should be heard.

Meanwhile, trying to blame the Russians for hacking the CRU computers is so phony that it suggests desperation.

December 3, 2009

The Russia That Was

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I am not even Russian, but I cannot help being overcome by a sense of melancholy, nostalgia and loss when I see these glorious century-old color photographs of Imperial Russia and her people. These were taken in the decade before the First World War ruined so much that is here presented.

The pictures by the intrepid chemist and photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who departed Russia in 1918, were purchased by the Library of Congress in 1944 and appeared recently on the Denver Post blog site ( brought to our attention by Mike Averko).

Continue reading "The Russia That Was" »

November 29, 2009

Honduran Election a Welcome Victory for Democracy and Constitutional Governance

The conservative candidate for president won in Honduras and it is likely now that the United States will recognize his government, as will Panama and Costa Rica. The way the Washington Times plays it in early reports (big, legitimizing turnout, show of rejection for the ousted Zelaya) versus the Washington Post story (small turnout, many voters not happy with choices) is telling, isn't it?

Mainstream media, being liberal, are unhappy that the Hondurans upheld their own constitutional ban on added Presidential terms and--with united Honduras Supreme Court and congressional backing--ousted Manuel Zelaya. T They also aren't very happy that Zelaya's antics thereafter, backed by Hugo Chavez, failed to sway either major party in Honduras or that country's courts.

Actually, the election results are a big victory for democracy and freedom in Latin America and a setback for Latin America's authoritarian regimes like Chavez' and Castro's. Had Zelaya come back, Honduras could well have been muscled into a situation like that afflicting Venezuela.

Anti-Iran Resolution on Nukes Marks New Russian Stance

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Iran is now more isolated than at any time in over three years as the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors, meeting in Vienna, rebuked the theocratic Muslim regime for its disregard of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and efforts of the international community to find a peaceful resolution. Russia and China voted with the West, as did India. Only Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia voted with Iran, while a number of Iran's neighbors bravely abstained--Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan among them.

Russia's growing impatience with Tehran is the big development here, especially if it leads to a Russian vote at the Security Council that backs the IAEA position with real sanctions. Give some quiet applause to the Obama Administration (quiet, because matters are still delicate) and also credit Russia's increasing realism about economics and terrorism.

On the other hand, Iran's contemptuous reaction to the IAEA resolution and its announcement that it will build even more centrifuges is hardly a laudable achievement for Obama Administration diplomacy, is it?

November 13, 2009

Israel is now "The Startup Nation"

When it comes to technology, entrepreneur Jonathan Medved told George Gilder's Telecosm 2009 conference in Tarrytown, New York this week, Israel is the world's "startup nation," now eclipsing everyone else in the world (even the U.S. on a per capita basis).

There was great enthusiasm for Medved and other speakers at this year's Gilder show, which was built around The Israel Test, George's new book. A video greeting from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the conference.

On "Street Insider" at CNBC TV later, Jonathan Medved also described the remarkable prominence of Israel in green technologies, including desalinization, geo-thermal power and electric cars (thanks to Shai Aggaziz, who spoke last year at Discovery's Cascadia conference, "Beyond Oil".)

Another Medved, radio star/author/Discovery senior fellow Michael, was also a resounding success at Telecosm 2009. We hope to have his and other speeches at the event posted soon.

November 12, 2009

Medvedev Signals Kremlin Policy Shift

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Two trends of Russian government policy seem to be shifting, as witnessed by President Medvedev's major address today in Moscow. The first is the tendency in recent years for government to punish those individuals and companies deemed guilty of economic misbehavior. Now, it seems, the Kremlin is taking a more free market approach.

In foreign policy--connected to business, as well--the Kremlin seems eager once again to bring foreign capital back into the country, and to protect it. Russian leadership also seems to be warming a bit to the U.S., and cooling to Iran.

At least that is the interpretation many are putting on the fairly general statements in the Medvedev speech. See the following report from Stratfor:

Thursday, November 12, 2009
A Speech, the Russian Economy and U.S. Relations

"AS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DMITRI MEDVEDEV was preparing to make his second State of the State address on Thursday, some major shifts in Russian domestic and foreign policy appeared to be taking place. Those shifts seemed destined to affect not only the speech, but Russia as a whole."

Continue reading "Medvedev Signals Kremlin Policy Shift" »

November 11, 2009

Anti-Semitism in Sweden, Pro-Israeli Iranians

I can't join those denouncing moderate Muslims for not disassociating themselves from the Islamists, because I know a number of moderate Muslims who have done just that. In the Middle East and Central Asia, of course, many moderates are standing up to the Islamists, to the extent of losing their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the other hand, one might demand that supposed Westerners who learned the lessons of the Holocaust might be counted upon to resist anti-Semitism. But, as a story from Sweden points out, the ancient bigotry has a way of re-gaining fashionability.

Two Muslim Americans of Iranian background (Shayan Arya and Nir Boms), meanwhile, publish in the Jerusalem Post what should be a source of great anticipation; namely, the hostility of the people of Iran to the theocrats who currently rule.

George Gilder's Telecosm annual conference on technology and society is underway today in Tarrytown, New York. The theme is technology in Israel and what it signifies for America's economy and the defense of the West. If you haven't purchased Gilder's The Israel Test yet (and are not at the Telecosm conference), you can order directly from the Discovery.org website.

November 9, 2009

Great Day to Encourage Freedom

Ingratitude is part of human nature. So, too, is the convenient memory lapse. In Germany itself we see reports recently of East Germans who mourn the loss of the old DDR, though they quickly add that they surely wouldn't want the old system to return. West Germans, in turn, are quick to count the cost of rehabilitating the East after reunification, but they fail to mention the priceless gift of increased national unity and security.

Our friends at CEI have made a perfect short video to help us all remember and keep this anniversary of the Wall's fall in historic context.

Meanwhile, this afternoon at Discovery Institute we are hosting Steven Hayward, whose truth-telling chronological history of the Reagan Administration--The Age of Reagan--is a riveting reconstruction of a period too often represented now in a kind of gauzy glow. In fact, as Hayward shows, the Reagan years were tumultuous and sometimes even frightening for those who fought its battles. The judgement that they had been hugely successful was not clear until well after President Reagan left office. Unfortunately, human nature also can create a false nostalgia.

Hayward's book is like a splash of cold water in the face in the morning. It wakes you up. It is not agreeable at once, but then it refreshes and encourages. It helps you face the pessimism of now.

October 30, 2009

Iraq Beyond the Bombs

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Patrick McDonald, whose regular job is with the Elections Division of the Washington Secretary of State's office, is a member of a 200 member Washington National Guard unit that just returned from a second tour of duty in Iraq--helping train elections officials and providing logistics for its Iraqi hosts. Master Sergeant McDonald has two Purple Hearts from his tour three years ago, but this time he came home in much better shape, healthy and happy. Among the things he told us in a speech this week at Discovery Institute:

* Safety is much improved, despite the recent violent bombings. You can drive from the airport ("Route Irish") without fearing for your life, you can shop on Haifa Street, you can dine out--unless you look like a really good target. A few years ago, none of this was possible.

* The crucial oil industry has recovered to pre-invasion levels of production and shipment, about two and a half million barrels a day, enough to fuel many of the needs of the new government.

* Electricity is up to about 20 hours a day, far better than even under Saddam--before the war.

Continue reading "Iraq Beyond the Bombs" »

October 25, 2009

Gilder, in Israel, Sees Still More Tech Inventions Coming

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Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli prowess in technology is the subject that started George Gilder on the path to writing The Israel Test, and it is the subject also that Gilder will emphasize in the upcoming Gilder/Forbes Telecosm 20009 conference in Tarrytown, New York November 10-12.

In Israel last week to promote his book and to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gilder talked to many old and new friends in the remarkable Israeli technology industry that now is second only to America's. Among the topics he investigated was the invention of new long life batteries at Technion, "the MIT of Israel."

The batteries seem destined to revolutionize electronics and eventually to lead to the long-sought, long term electric automobile battery that was discussed this past week, also, at the "Beyond Oil" conference sponsored by the Cascadia Center at Microsoft's Redmond, WA campus.

(Reminder to the media: Gilder is director of Discovery Institute's Technology and Democracy program, and Cascadia is a center within Discovery Institute.)

"Bibi" Netanyahu, in his meeting with Gilder, apparently expressed enthusiasm about the varied themes of The Israel Test, which he recently read; not just the explanations for Israel's dramatic contributions to technology in the past decade, but also Gilder's original insights about Jews, Israel, capitalism and the nature of creativity.

Gilder has lined up a stellar cast for Telecosm 2009, a project co-produced with Forbes, and he says he expects the political and cultural vibrations to nearly equal the investment and technology interest this year. The annual Telecosm conference is not a program of Discovery Institute, although a number of our fellows, in addition to George Gilder, take part.


In Israel, The Israel Test already is the number one book (in English) on Israel.

October 21, 2009

Yet Another Crack in Pipeline Dominance

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Western fears that Russia may use its dominance in gas production and distribution to influence political decisions in Europe are dealt another blow with word that the Azeris and Turks are making considerable progress on an alternative route.

The Russian "threat" thereby diminishes.

October 16, 2009

Sleepwalking Toward Armageddon

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Slim Pickens rides a missile down in Dr. Strangelove

Discovery Senior Fellow John Wohlstetter, author of The Long War Ahead, is working increasingly on the topic of nuclear proliferation. Here is a lecture that he gave at the Discovery headquarters in Seattle on September 30. I asked John to "terrify us", but also "give us some hope at the end," and he complied beautifully.

Counterinsurgency is Tough, but Effective

The political left is looking for a safe and relatively easy way to continue the war in Afghanistan while lowering American casualties. Strategist Max Boot shows why that won't work (except to exasperate the American public further), and why painstaking counterinsurgency is the way to go. Over time, the hard way is the shortest way.

October 12, 2009

Lessened Prospect of Russian Gas Dominance?

It is helpful when the media cover major industry conferences, for seemingly boring meetings sometimes reveal real news. That is what happened at the World Gas Conference in Buenos Aires recently, as reported by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at The Telegraph in England.

The confirmation of new gas supplies is cheering Americans eager to diminish the nation's reliance on foreign oil and Europeans who feared over-commitment to Russian resources.

By the same token, it is upsetting to some Russians, understandably.

"Needless to say, the Kremlin is irked. 'There's a lot of myths about shale
production,' said Gazprom's Alexander Medvedev.

"If the new forecasts are accurate, Gazprom is not going to be the perennial
cash cow funding Russia's great power resurgence. Russia's budget may be in
structural deficit."

We wrote about the Canadian and U.S. potential supplies years ago. Now the visions apparently are coming true.

October 10, 2009

The Irony of Afghanistan

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Those who say that President Obama has achieved nothing in foreign policy are wrong. He has achieved the Nobel Peace Prize. That's something.

In the real world, however, we are left with terrible indecision on Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan. (On Israel, we are left with a terrible double standard.)

Charles Krauthammer is at his best when things are at their worst. I can only laud this column.

October 6, 2009

Opportunity for Real Bi-Partisanship on Afghanistan

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America's national interest and the safety of the world lies in successful prosecution of the war on terrorism--by whatever name you call it. Accordingly, a full year before the next Congressional election it ought to be possible to forge a bi-partisan consensus on a crucial element in that struggle: the war in Afghanistan. This is not just about tactics. It is about political will and a determination to sustain it.

If the two parties in Washington, DC can get their respective acts together, the public will agree. In to win--and there is no other reason to be there.

September 29, 2009

Brazil's Bizarre Foreign Policy; Obama's Amoral Foreign Policy

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Silva de Lula of Brazil is coming under well-deserved domestic criticism for his bizarre decision to allow former Honduras President Manuel Zelaya--a pal of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro--to use the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa as his campaign headquarters in a running dispute with the current leaders of Honduras.

Why the U.S. is playing along with Zelaya and his far left cronies is a mystery. Zelaya defied the Supreme Court of his country when it ruled his actions to perpetuate his rule unconstitutional. There has been almost no discussion of the reality on the ground, except by Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal and the paper's editorial writers.

Silva de Lula plainly is pandering to his otherwise-neglected far left base; he has not proven to be the demagogue he first appeared--except in this instance. In so doing, he gives assistance to Hugo Chavez who usually is his hemispheric foe.

The role of the USA is even stranger, part of a general policy, it seems of attacking our friends and giving comfort to our foes.

September 26, 2009

May we Now Call it "Terrorism" Again?

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Instead of abating, terrorist threats have increased in recent weeks and months as allied resolve in the face of Muslim extremists' pressures has wavered. In an effort to influence the Sunday elections in Germany, the Taliban and al Qaeda are proposing attacks on that country--naming today's Oktoberfest crowds in Munich as a prime sensitive spot--unless the Germans remove troops from Afghanistan. Most famously, a terrorist attack in Madrid in 2003 led to a change in Spain's government and the removal of Spanish troops from Iraq. In other words, the tactic is known to work.

Meanwhile, the FBI is busy rounding up terrorism suspects in Dallas, New York and Seattle, among other places. A Dallas plot was at the point of execution when foiled--the FBI had had a secret agent in place.

In Seattle, we heard as early as 2006 of efforts locally to recruit for al Qaeda among the population of immigrants from Somalia. So, fortunately, did the FBI.

On the world stage we have the spectacle of Iranian perfidy and the biggest terror plot possible, the development of nuclear weapons and a stated desire to see Israel and the U.S. destroyed. Now the Russians are noticing, which could be progress. (However, this commentator thinks the Russians will never get serious about Iran because their own purposes are better served by distracting and weakening the U.S.) We'll see. Actions will speak louder than words now.

But what about "words"? The Obama Administration has all but banned use of the phrase "War on Terror". A lot of good it has done. Does anyone still really think we merely are facing assorted criminals?

September 25, 2009

Psst! There's an Election in Germany, and it's Close

One of the most important elections not covered much in the (US) media in recent years is the one taking place this Sunday in Germany. The question seems to be whether Prime Minister Angela Merkel's conservative coalition can manage a substantial enough victory to claim a clear-cut mandate or whether the P.M.--who sought headlines at the G-22 Summit in Pittsburgh as her best last-minutes chance for publicity back home in Germany--will be forced into another coalition with the Social Democrats.

I'll be watching to see if the Linke leftists, successors to the old communist party of East Germany, as well and the Greens, continue to pick up the support slipping away from the lackluster Social Democrats.

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The outcome matters more than people here in America seem to have noticed. Even though Merkel has joined the panders blaming the greed of bankers for the current recession, her real causes are tax cuts that can revive the German economy (and indirectly help ours) and continued support for NATO's war in Afghanistan.

The linked story from The Independent ends with some funny combinations that victory might bring, depending on the various political parties' traditional colors. Here in America, we are stuck with basic red (state) and blue (state) imagery, and even that isn't very well-established. I'll still take our two party system to the confusion of theirs.

September 22, 2009

Census Cancellation is Embarrassment for Russia

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A developed country does not cancel its regularly scheduled census of population, especially when one is constitutionally required. So it is not a surprise that the decision of Rosstat, the Russian State Statistical Service, to "postpone" the 2010 census on budgetary grounds was taken over the objection of Rosstat's highly regarded professional staff and at the behest of politicians in the Kremlin. The political leaders don't realize the seriousness of their mistake.

This may seem like a minor matter, except that it reflects high-level confusion about reality--the kind of reality a census captures. Indirectly, it damages economic prospects because it shows that public statistics cannot be accepted as reliable for planning and marketing purposes. If the Kremlin hopes that a several year delay will help it disguise negative demographic trends, it is deluded. Observers now will imagine far worse than an accurate census would show.

The decision is particularly unfortunate in light of the notorious statistical deceit that characterized the USSR. In that grim era statistics might as well have been another branch of state propaganda. Population and other numbers were so decrepit that the best analysis of the true condition of Russia demography probably came from Dr. Murray Feshbach, a brilliant analyst at the United States Census Bureau and, later, the State Department.

Feshbach, an amiable, chatty person in private, was amazingly adept at collecting and deconstructing official Soviet numbers, cross referencing with odd information--such as train schedules and shipping notices--to gain an insight into the truth that the Kremlin in those days hid. He was so good that Soviet statisticians repeatedly sought him out at international conferences to obtain copies of his reports to help them fill in the holes in their own. Feshbach was able to give them the kinds of data that they were not allowed to collect, or--in some cases where they did collect it--data they were not allowed share with their own domestic colleagues.

Are we going back to those days? Dr. Feshbach, now 80, retired in 2000, but maybe he can be pressed back into service--not service to the US government, but to beleaguered statisticians and businessmen in 21st century Russia.

September 18, 2009

Iraqi Future Needs Champions in the U.S.

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Iraq--other than Egypt, perhaps--is the essential Arab country. With a free, democratic Iraq you have the potential for serious long term peace in the Middle East. Afghanistan is important and Iran must be prevented from gaining nukes, but even victory in Afghanistan and a peaceful revolution in Iran would not generate the dynamic and models that a stable, Western-friendly Iraq would provide the region.

Iraq has a relatively educated population with a long, noble history. Iraq has oil--the fourth largest supply. It has water (the Tigris and Euphrates of storied past) and therefore agriculture. It has sunshine--albeit with the liability of terrible heat in summer. It has fishing in the south and pasture land in the rolling green north. It has access to the sea and shipping lanes. It could be peaceful and prosperous. It could provide leadership for peace in the Middle East.

Our friends at "Iraq the Model", the popular, prize-winning Iraqi blog-site, Drs. Muhammed Fadhil and Omar Fadhil, with their bother, Dr. Ali Fadhil--have matured in the process of reporting on developments in Iraq in a style and with a sensibility that should bring encouragement to Americans. They have a faithful following of about 1000 visitors a day.

It was a mystery to me over the years how they kept safe. But, in fact, they were not safe. The terrorists eventually found and killed their brother-in-law. So it was that the Fadhils joined their political ally, Mithal al-Alusi (a member of Parliament) in making blood sacrifice for their country's future. (Mr. al-Alusi, as I have reported in the past, saw his two sons killed before his eyes and has been attacked himself many times and nearly went to prison for daring to travel to Israel. Fortunately, the new Iraqi court system has protected him from his enemies.)

I met with Muhammed and Omar today and concluded that their admirers in America need to help them establish a permanent program. If you have any ideas how to do so, contact me. There needs to be an American outlet for their talent that will assist them in promoting the cause of liberty in their part of the world.

Despite the hundreds of billions the US government is spending on the Iraq war and reconstruction, there apparently is almost nothing to build the civil society that needs to emerge now. This is a call to the private and non-profit sector. Who will answer?

September 17, 2009

Was there a Deal Behind the Missile Shield Decision?

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Russian authorities are happy, Czech and Polish officials feel as if they have been used and abused by the United States, and Republicans are outraged that President Obama has decided to scrap plans to build a missile defense in Eastern Europe. The stated purpose was to guard Europe against intimidation by a nuclear Iran, but Russia professed to feel threatened and encircled. Now, presumably, Russians don't feel threatened and Iranians feel liberated to move ahead with nuclear development.

But here is the real test of this decision: did the U.S. gain anything by it in terms of protection of Europe (and Israel) against Iranian nukes? The next few months will tell.

The USSR and the USA were strangely but truly united in working against nuclear proliferation for a couple of decades--the 70s and 80s. In my time as US ambassador to the UN Organizations in Vienna in the 1980s this was the one field of relations in which mutual cooperation was sincere and real. Indeed, the way in which the United States came closer to the USSR at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine in 1986 may be cited as a key turning point in the Cold War. The Soviets realized that we really didn't want to humiliate them, but only to help them deal with a real crisis. It led to a breakthrough that extended beyond the nuclear realm.

In those days the Soviets were clear that they did not want Iran to develop nuclear arms. Now, with the new Russian regime, oddly, the government's posture is not so sure. If the Russians really do think that Iran--snuggled right up against them--poses no nuclear danger, their leadership surely has lost its sense of long term strategy.

As is, it appears that the Obama Administration has managed to offend our Eastern European allies and to make a unilateral concession to Russian sensibilities. Other allies are sure to take note and become cautious. Maybe (as I believe) the missile system was over-rated and presented in a strangely maladroit manner. Still, it hardly makes sense to give it up for nothing in return.

But what if there is a background understanding between the White House and the Kremlin? If there is, and Russia comes around to joining Europe and the US in firmly opposing Iranian nuclear ambitions, it will be a major Obama accomplishment as well as a real "reset" of US-Russian relations.

If nothing is given in return, just more weapons sent from Russia to Iran, well, that will say something, too, won't it?

Think, meanwhile, of that recent, very quiet visit to Moscow by Israeli P.M., Benjamin Netanyahu. No comments were made by any of the participants.

(Cross-posted on RussiaBlog.)

September 16, 2009

Gratitude

There is much to be grateful for tonight here in Washington. Our senior fellow John Wohlstetter, who is writing on nuclear proliferation, a public policy topic so old it is new again (or going to be), just held an exquisite book party to celebrate his Discovery colleague George Gilder's The Israel Test (#590 on the Amazon list, #1 on the subject of Israel). In John's apartment in the famous Watergate, looking over the Potomac at sunset, George described the inspiration of his father, who visited Germany in 1936 and vowed to come back to the U.S. and do all he could to defeat Hitler. His father did that--a mere 22 year old, but well-connected in New York society--and then enlisted as a pilot in what became the Second World War, and died.

In The Israel Test, George has written an astonishing love letter to Israel that somehow also manages to be a new treatise on his long time theme of capitalism as a system that prizes human exceptionalism. He sees the need to defend Israel and the potential for Israel truly to become again a light to the nations.

Human exceptionalism is also the theme, as it were, of Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell. As George Gilder says, Meyer's book is a debate changer, the most comprehensive examination yet of the issue of Darwinism versus design. No one can claim to understand that debate without it. (The American Spectator reviewer, Dan Peterson, described himself as "Blown Away".) It's 700 on Amazon's list, and tops in at least two science categories.

Then there are all the books that have come out lately from Ben Wiker (Darwin's Myth) and Jay Richards (Money, Greed and God), among them, and hold your breath for David Berlinski's forthcoming The Deniable Darwin. Senor fellow Wesley J. Smith's current cover story in National Review, on Creeping Euthanasia, is a prelude for his new book this winter.

I add the film on the Cambrian Explosion of life forms 580 million years ago--"Darwin's Dilemma"--by Illustra Media that is just about to premier at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, featuring many Discovery fellows. Adolescent-acting Darwinists are trying to disrupt the opening, but their Acorn-style agitation only will add to the piquancy of the film's signal achievement. I was a guest at an early screening and conclude that it is going to be another winner.

The materialist Left is losing out.

One walks down Sixteenth Street near the White House and sees the monstrous, four story posters for "card check" and "full employment" on the lobbying organizations that now sidle up to power. One hears the stories, on the other hand, of the plain folk who showed up on the Mall in the hundreds of thousands last week to protest government health care, and one sees the cracks in our social consensus.

But that is the present. The future is in the minds--and writing--of colleagues like Gilder and Meyer, et al. In a gloomy time, they are a reason for gratitude and good cheer.

September 15, 2009

Canadian Waterdrip Torture

The prospect of an election in Canada was put off another indefinite period as the Bloc Quebecois decided to vote in favor of the Conservative Government's budget. But a no-confidence vote could be raised by the Liberals in a couple of weeks anyhow. This can't be good for the Conservatives--to have their position determined entirely by the opposition parties.

That's what you get with a minority government.

Parliamentary government has its strengths. And its weaknesses.

September 14, 2009

Water and Rumblings in Turkey Warn Politicians, Too

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Turkey had a serious, Katrina-like major flood last week, that somehow has not been much noticed in in the rest of Europe and U.S. The scene apparently was messy and residents are complaining that Prime Minister Erdogan, when he was mayor of Istanbul, bears some responsibility for faulty planning.

Turkey also has been hit by a number of earthquakes recently that, likewise, have not been reported much outside that country. Claire Berlinski, author, has seen the hand of corruption in certain building failures and worries that a big quake could be disastrous.

If the flooding hasn't made the news in the US, I have to imagine
that the series of small earthquakes we've had here in the past few
weeks hasn't, either.

It's hard to know what this means. Seismologists are divided. Some
think it's good news (pressure is being relieved in small quakes,
making a bigger quake unlikely); some think it's very worrying -- a
sign that things are unusually active below the ground. The building
I'm living in now was recently renovated to bring it into compliance
with earthquake safety codes. A few days ago I spoke to the engineer
who supervised this work. He told me that every day he walks through
the city and feels unspeakable dread."

Turkey has suffered worse than most nearby countries from the current international recession. Putting it all together, a major U.S. ally could be in for inevitable political upheaval in months to come, in addition to its other woes.

September 4, 2009

This Will Not Help the Liberal Campaign in Canada

In something of a surprise, Canada seems to have turned the corner on jobs, adding 27,100 this past month, according to Statistics Canada. That's not a lot and they are all part-time and the unemployment rate still climbed a notch, to 8.7 percent. But new jobs represent a kind of fresh breeze in a long, stale recession. They point up the fact that Canada has done better on the jobs scene than the U.S. American unemployment is up to 9.7 percent now.

Even some limited good news in the economy will be a boon to Conservatives if, as expected, the Liberals force an election this fall. (See my post below, from September 3.)

September 3, 2009

Hard to Keep Up: More Praise for The Israel Test

The Israel Test by George Gilder continues to get stunningly positive reviews by conservatives, such as this one today by Clifford May in National Review.

Somehow, however, the liberal media are pretending not to notice.

Liberal Impatience and Canada's Confusion

Canadian Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, lacking patience, has decided to force a vote of no-confidence in the Stephen Harper-led Conservative government, and thus precipitate a national election this fall. He may succeed in winning that election.

But then what?

The latest poll shows the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 32.6 percent each, with the balance supplied by Canada's three other contending parties--the labor-left oriented New Democrats, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Greens. Even last spring, as the international recession worsened, the Conservatives held a strong polling lead, largely because Canadians had just had a string of national elections that had led to more, rather than less, turmoil. Canadians don't like turmoil. They wanted to give the Tories more time.

Now the boredom factor may be setting in, however, and a jolly election campaign might be just the thing to enliven the lengthening autumn gloom. If the vote were to take place, oh, say, next week, one suspects that the Liberals might win it. Ignatieff is the most articulate politician in Canada, with real intellectual heft and campaign stump appeal. He looks good, sounds good and inspires confidence.

That doesn't mean, however, that he necessarily wears well or is a magician who can turn thin gruel into Beef Stroganoff. Upon inspection, the Liberal complaints against the Tories seem small, if not contrived. Supposedly the Harperites are responsible for raising the budget deficit from an expected $32 billion (Canadian) to $52 billion and have done to little to promote international trade. They also are said to be deficient on issues as pension insurance and limiting ATM fees. As a platform, these planks appear too weak to carry the burden of even Canada's relatively short federal campaign of six weeks' duration.

Anyone want to go to the barricades over ATM fees?

Of course, the real issue, as everywhere, is the economy. But 1) Canada is hardly alone in suffering from the recession and it just doesn't ring true to blame the Harper government for--say--the auto industry's woes. 2) Harper has avoided the wild budget spree of the Obama Administration in the U.S., while nonetheless giving the economy a big Canadian goose of stimulus spending. In all this, Harper (correcting an earlier inclination) has consulted with his opposition a lot more than previous prime ministers in similar situations.

Mr. Ignatieff reproaches the p.m. for not doing more for trade. Mr. Harper has been in office four years and yet "he's never visited China," Ignatieff charges. An outsider might observe that it is hard for a prime minister to tour the world when he has a minority government whose opposition threatens an election at any moment. As for China, Mr. Ignatieff just cancelled his own China tour because of election considerations.

The Conservative campaign has its own problems. Tory TV ads trying to paint Ignatieff as a elitist dandy don't seem to have worked at all. But, eventually the Tories will figure out that people care about interests closer to home. Expect Stephen Harper to jab Michael Ignatieff hard on his current promise to close the budget deficit without added taxation, a position that is especially suspect in light of his statements a few months ago that more taxes might be needed. Blaming Conservatives for the deficit is not persuasive. Worrying voters that the Liberals will raise their taxes potentially is persuasive.

So why do the Liberals pine for the polls? Well, even Canadians, as I say, get bored and there usually is great fun in the prospect of a big fight.

Yet, if the big fight is merely tendentious, public boredom can turn to annoyance. And even assuming that they do win, the danger for the Liberals is that, once back in office, but as a minority, they may find themselves even more hogtied than the Tories today. How patient will the public be then with the currently impatient Liberals?

September 2, 2009

September Election Could Move Germany to Right

by Mathias Brucker

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All smiles in the CDU


This month may see one of the world's most important elections for the year. Germans will decide on September 27 whether their country--by far the largest economy of Europe--will get a relatively conservative government (with lower taxes and spending and support for the Afghan war) or another "Grand Coalition" of the Conservatives and their current government partners, the Socialists. Not only would spending and taxation remain high, support for the allied cause in Afghanistan would continue to erode. The Conservatives (the CDU) would be under constant pressure to slip further left in order to keep the Social Democrats (the SPD) from going on the attack.

Today the CDU forces seems to be on the path to victory, but the scene was much the same during the 2005 campaign, when the actual election turned out to be so close that a coalition government became necessary. What helped the SPD close the gap in that campaign was a barrage of claims that CDU tax reform was "socially unjust".

A similar thing seems to be happening now. In addition, public support for the Afghan War is dropping

So there are two possible outcomes: the conservative parties (CDU and the Free Democratic Party, the FDP, its smaller ally) will get a majority and form a conservative government. The other possibility is that the same will happen as it did in 2005, and the conservatives won't have a majority of seats in the Bundestag, and neither will the SPD and its Green Party allies. The party making the difference would likely be Germany's fifth party, the post-communist "Linkspartei" (literally, the leftist party). As no one wants a coalition government consisting of three parties, especially with the communists, a Grand Coalition would be the only option.

Ominously, the Linskspartei did pretty well in the state elections that were held last Sunday, whereas conservatives as well as social democrats lost votes. This surely adds momemtum to the leftist party's federal campaign. However, it should not be exaggerated; the left won in the former East as well as the party leader's tiny home state of Saarland, "the Delaware of Germany." Its standing in the far more densely populated western Germany is still small.

A more conservative government in Germany might help slowly to move Germany as well as Europe to the right, but there will be no sizable conservative revival, even then. The German "conservatives" are just too centrist to instill enthusiasm for true conservative reform. Come to think of it, Germany is probably one of the most leftist countries in Europe, with but a few conservative strongholds here and there. The incorporation of formerly communist Eastern Germany really hurt Germany as a whole. It made a conservative country -- and one of the richest in the world, one might add -- much more leftist. Since reunion the German economy has been doing not as well as before, with the country spending some 6% of its GDP on "structural reform" in the former East (more even than the entire American defense budget as a percentage of GDP). Also, many formerly eastern Germans still have communist sympathies and perspectives. Overall, whatever else it accomplished, reunion has damaged the right.

Americans will want to watch the German elections closely. The policies that are adopted after it will bear greatly on the German contribution to world economic recovery and NATO support for the War in Afghanistan.

August 31, 2009

Sol Stern on The Israel Test--and "Gilder Haters"

The best book reviews are the ones that add not only to what one knows about a subject, but also to what the book author knows. That is what characterizes Sol Stern's City Journal review of George Gilder's The Israel Test. Stern knows how Tel Aviv is faring in the current economy--which is, great--and how French Jews are buying condos on the new Israeli Riviera. And how, if the Palestinians had some control on their rage, Gaza's sandy beaches could become a huge tourist draw, too.

Needless to say, this all supports Gilder's themes in The Israel Test, and Stern, needless to say, thinks Gilder's book itself is outstanding. He goes on to express an amused observation about the likelihood that Gilder's "stark, almost apocalyptic terms will bring out all the old Gilder haters." Who might they be? Discovery Institute friends will know.

"Just as his seemingly elitist defense of the traditional capitalist virtues and of the nuclear family infuriated them, just as they were enraged by his objections to modern feminism and, more recently, his evangelizing for Intelligent Design, they will surely reject out of hand (Gilder's) understanding of the underlying factors behind the current conflict in the Middle East. That's too bad."

I'll say. But for all those who appreciate the full Gilder canon, The Israel Test will prove an exciting adventure.

August 24, 2009

The Real News from Afghanistan

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The news from the election in Afghanistan, as was true in 2005 in Iraq, is not accurately reflected in the major media reports. As in Iraq, the Western media mainly are interested (as one reporter told me when I was in Baghdad) in explosions and blood. Here is an interesting report from a serious journalist on the ground, living in Kabul.

Notice once again the quality of courage in the population.

Lockerbie Bomber's Release: A Growing Scandal

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The release of Abdel al-Megahi, the Lockerbie bomber, to Libya--where he was given a hero's welcome--may just be the beginning of another damaging scandal for the Labor Party in the U.K.

At first it looked like a naive good-will gesture to Muammar Gaddafi, who, instead of welcoming it in a low-key way, made a humiliating homecoming display of the bomber-terrorist. But now questions are being asked about what deal may have been involved between the Government led by P.M. Gordon Brown and Gaddafi. Was there some quid pro quo, and if so, what?

Americans understandably are upset at what looks like appeasement of terrorism. But there is silence from the White House itself. This raises the question of whether our British cousins bothered to consult on this one and what assurances were given them--and on what basis.

This has the feel of a story with legs. Even if the U.K. Government did not have efforts going to secure gas rights in Libya, as some have charged, the whole episode seems to have been a first class blunder.

August 16, 2009

Mexicans Get I.D. Cards

The battle over privacy issues that has delayed creation of standard I.D. cards for Americans should be drawing to a close. After all, whatever privacy we enjoyed in the past, the safety requirements of the post 9/11 world have overridden them. As a plain fact, you cannot fly in a commercial airplane or transact other business without a driver's license or similar official identification. What a uniform I.D. card would do, of course, is help establish citizenship and the rights that go with it. A driver's license does not. And a passport is issued only to those who request it, mainly for foreign travel.

In this light, it is interesting to note that the Mexican government has few of the scruples that have held up an I.D. card for Norteamericanos. The government of Mexico is on the cusp of requiring the same for everyone. I don't think anyone on this side of the border has begun to think through the consequences of this development.

August 10, 2009

The Israel Test: a Substitute for the Ad Campaign Israel Needs?

John Wohlstetter is prejudiced in his praise of The Israel Test; he's a friend of the author, George Gilder. Of course, a review by an author's friend has never happened anywhere else, has it?

Regardless, John is a friend and colleague of mine, too, and I know what he does when he disapproves of a friend's views: he goes silent. This article in The American Spectator is, in fact, a very good introduction to the George Gilder's book.

The best lines are these, at the end:

Israel could be the economic engine for the entire Mideast. This is the new Israel, no longer a financial ward of America. It is this Israel that most Americans know not of. "Israel Inside" would be a great slogan for an ad campaign educating Americans about the new Israel, and its supreme value to America and the West. In lieu of an ad blitz, Gilder's book does the job beautifully.

Israel does need an "ad campaign" right now because its foes seem to have a great many people intimidated. George is fearless. His book goes where many media voices seem afraid to go.

See also this interview in National Review online, with Kathyrn Lopez. The Daily Telegraph's Stephanie Guttman just blogged her review, available here.

August 7, 2009

Russia's Game in the Levant

Russia is being accused of support for Hezbollah in the terrorist group's war with Israel. The pro-Israeli Debka file makes the assertion in a dispatch from earlier this week that ought to cause serious concern in Washington. If it is not true, it should cause some efforts in Moscow to contradict the claim.

Unfortunately, the Kremlin cannot yet see straight in the Middle East. The interests of Moscow are not the oil lines, but the ideological lines that divide the region. By allowing Hezbollah to roll up Israeli spy rings in Lebanon the Russian intelligence agency FSB may have made Israel more vulnerable to attack from the North. In the end, that means the Israelis will have to punish Southern Lebanon yet again when Hezbollah rockets rain down on Israel. If the Kremlin has facilitated this future, they should be held to account. If Debka's report is a slander, let's hear a reply, please.

Here is the Debka story:


Russian secret service helped Hizballah bust Israel's Lebanese spy rings
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
August 5, 2009, 10:16 PM (GMT+02:00)


Russian FSB agent in action
Western intelligence sources in the Middle East have disclosed to DEBKAfile that a special unit of the Russian Federal Security Service - FSB, commissioned by Hizballah's special security apparatus earlier this year, was responsible for the massive discovery of alleged Israel spy rings in Lebanon in recent months with the help of super-efficient detection systems.
Those sources report that the FSB and Hizballah have amassed quantities of undisclosed data on Israel's clandestine operations in Lebanon and are holding it in reserve in order to leak spectaculars discoveries as and when it suits their purpose.
This disclosure, if borne out, would indicate that the Russian agency, which specializes in counterespionage, is engaged for the first time in anti-Israel activity in the service of an Arab terrorist organization. An Israeli security sources describes this turn of events extremely grave. It also cast an ominous slant on Moscow's deepening strategic involvement in Syria.
It was generally assumed until now that new electronic devices supplied by France to the Lebanese army were instrumental in uncovering the suspected Israeli spy rings. It now transpires that the Lebanese army was not directly involved; it only detained the suspects handed over by the Shiite Hizballah.
Those same sources disclosed that FSB agents, by blanketing every corner of Lebanon with their sophisticated surveillance systems, were able to detect the spy rings one by one and additionally hack into Israeli intelligence data bases.
The Russians dated Israel's massive clandestine infiltration of Lebanon to shortly after its 2006 Lebanese conflict. The Lebanese Shiites sustained heavy casualties and, fearing an Israeli surprise attack at that point, began conscripting thousands of young Shiites as fighters pell mell, without checking their backgrounds. In their haste, they also rounded up Syrian and Egyptian migrant laborers in Lebanon.
Israel used the opportunity to recruit large numbers of agents in both these groups, especially among the conscripts sent to Revolutionary Guards camps in Iran and Syrian military facilities for training.

August 6, 2009

Even Aljazeera Sees the Folly in Iran

Maybe Aljazeera is a Sunni operation, or maybe it just feels the need to acknowledge the reality of Iran's governmental disaster. This essay by Berend Kaussler tells the tale.

The essay also may say something about the changing personality of Aljazeera.

August 5, 2009

Buzz Building on The Israel Test

George Gilder's new book, The Israel Test, is starting to get around. We ourselves have already filled over 1,000 book orders in house. (Actually, we recommend that purchasers go to Amazon.com to order. For both orders you can still come to us.) Mona Charen had a terrific column a few days ago on George's appearance at the AEI. David Pryce Jones has a fine article out in the National Review, and The American has published a long excerpt of the book.

The growing buzz may have somthing to do with the fact that there really is an Israel test going on right now in international affairs. We definitely are on the case -- led by George.

Continue reading "Buzz Building on The Israel Test" »

July 31, 2009

Russia Taking Political Killings More Seriously?

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Journalist Anna Politkovskaya, killed in 2006 in what appeared to be a contract murder.

Political killings have declined in recent years in Russia, but still tend to blot Russia's image in the filed of human rights. Several recent contract murders have been tied to Chechnyan politics, where complex rivalries have been taken to Moscow in a violent manner.

Now comes the story of an apparent murder attempt that was foiled by police. A plausible suspect seems to be in hand. If so, this gives the Russian government a chance to show its determination to strike back at terror-tactics, regardless of their source.

I am skeptical of assertions that the Kremlin itself has backed such political terror tactics. But now--with a live suspect in police hands--is the time and the chance for the national government as well as the police to demonstrate their true resolve. It also is time for the international community to pay more attention to these matters.

July 29, 2009

Biden's Russia Gaffe

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If there is no domestic constituency that is offended, a gaffe is not treated as a gaffe. But Vice President Joe Biden's snarky remarks about Russia fall into the gaffe category anyhow. What is the point?

July 28, 2009

A Successful Election in a Moslem Country

You haven't seen much at all about the elections just held in the Kurdish region of Iraq, perhaps because they were relatively uneventful. But that should be big news. Not only were the elections apparently fair and free of violence, but all sides seem to agree that a new third party, "Change", captured the second highest number of seats. As usual, the distinguished Iraq the Model blog has the report (two, in fact). http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/

Contrasts should be drawn with the continuing disgrace in Iran.

July 26, 2009

Russia's Educational Perspective on Religion is Very Different from that of the United States or Europe

A new Kremlin plan to teach students religion or secular ethics is meant to combat the aimlessness of youth.

Perhaps it will--to some extent.

The approach is probably unique--teach what is again the dominant state religion (Russian Orthodoxy) as the one acceptable Christian faith, and also teach--according to student desires--Islam (the religion of a sizable minority, particularly in the South), Buddhism or Judaism, and give the students the alternative of a coarse in secular ethics. It will seem fair to many, maybe most, Russians. It is quite different, obviously, from the "scientific atheism" of Soviet days.

The program will get a lot of criticism, however. First, the most eager evangelists in Russia today are probably the various kinds of Christian pentecostals, and there is a sizable Roman Catholic population in certain ethnic centers. So the government apparently is starting a new struggle with these groups in schools, of all places.

Then arises the question of how smart it is to have Islam taught in state schools. Who is going to teach it? What is going to be taught? Might the government find itself trying to deal with hostile Friday mosque sermons because of the kind of Islam it promulgates in the schools? Where does that lead? How will populations in areas where Islam is a majority faith react to state school classes that offer instruction as well in other faiths?

Regardless, the new Russian model is so jarringly different from what is on offer in the United States that it may be worth careful monitoring by Americans. We no longer provide much at all in schools of the old, slightly Protestant civic religion of yore. The struggle in the U.S. is over whether to allow any expressions of faith in schools, whether in Commencement speeches by students or in after-school religious clubs.

Overall, America has benefited by a general separation of religious instruction and public education, as in other fields. A state religion gets lazy. It becomes synonymous in students' minds with state politics, which cannot be good.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for students learning more about the religious heritage of their country. If the Russians are erring on one side of that objective, Americans may be erring on the other. If nothing else, comparisons of results should be interesting.

One place where the outcomes may be studied closely is....China.

July 15, 2009

Sanctions Against Iran?

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I don't know The Caspian Weekly, but two writers there, Nir Boms and Shayan Arya, are making a good case that the West should impose economic sanctions against the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran. The reason is that the Iranian government seems determined to defy the international community and its own agreements regarding nuclear weapons development. Even the U.N. seems clear on this.

The question is, would sanctions hurt or help the cause of peace? Very likely help, in my opinion. President Reagan certainly confronted the Soviets on many subjects in many ways, but he also was willing--and did--negotiate with them. In the case of Iran, we could negotiate after imposing sanctions, at least in theory.

But the truth is that it doesn't matter much whether we want to negotiate: the theocrats in Iran have made it clear they are not going to indulge that fantasy. Therefore, all the "realists" recommending caution actually are recommending inaction. One way or another, as the authors say, the Iranian regime must be pushed--hard. Maybe they will respond to real pressure. Maybe the people will find a successful way to rebel. Regardless, there is not much time left. The present drift is not a strategy.

July 14, 2009

Focus is Back on Israel

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The Ahmadinejad regime in Iran has been wounded internally, thanks to the brave advocates of freedom who took to the streets, but it probably will try to stabilize its position by foreign policy truculence and a "breakthrough" on nuclear weapons.

It is in this incendiary environment that George Gilder's incredibly timely book, The Israel Test, is coming out (pub date, July 23). It already is getting noticed.

Here is a tiny excerpt--and an admonition at the end!

"The central issue in international politics, dividing the world into two
fractious armies, is the tiny state of Israel.

"The prime issue is not a global war of civilizations between the West and
Islam or a split between Arabs and Jews. These conflicts are real and
salient, but they obscure the deeper moral and ideological war. The real
issue is between the rule of law and the rule of leveler egalitarianism,
between creative excellence and covetous "fairness," between admiration of
achievement versus envy and resentment of it.

"Israel defines a line of demarcation. On one side, marshaled at the United
Nations and in universities around the globe, are those who see capitalism
as a zero-sum game in which success comes at the expense of the poor and
the environment: every gain for one party comes at the cost of another. On
the other side are those who see the genius and the good fortune of some
as a source of wealth and opportunity for all.

"The Israel test can be summarized by a few questions: What is your
attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or in other
accomplishment? Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you seethe at it?
Do you admire and celebrate exceptional achievement, or do you impugn it
and seek to tear it down? Caroline Glick, the dauntless deputy managing
editor of the Jerusalem Post, sums it up: "Some people admire success;
some people envy it. The enviers hate Israel."

". . . . Today in the Middle East, Israeli wealth looms palpably and
portentously over the mosques and middens of Palestinian poverty. But
dwarfing Israel's own wealth is Israel's contribution to the world
economy, stemming from Israeli creativity and entrepreneurial innovation.
Israel's technical and scientific gifts to global progress loom with
similar majesty over all others' contributions outside the United States.

"Though Jews in Palestine had been the most powerful force for prosperity
in the region since long before the founding of Israel in 1948, more
remarkable still is the explosion of innovation attained through the
unleashing of Israeli capitalism and technology over the last two decades.
During the 1990s and early 2000s Israel sloughed off its manacles of
confiscatory taxes, oppressive regulations, government ownership, and
Socialist nostalgia and established itself in the global economy first as
a major independent player and then as a technological leader.

"Contemplating this Israeli breakthrough, the minds of parochial intellects
around the globe, from Jerusalem to Los Angeles, are clouded with envy and
suspicion. Everywhere, from the smarmy diplomats of the United Nations to
the cerebral leftists at the Harvard Faculty Club, critics of Israel
assert that Israelis are responsible for Palestinian Arab poverty. . . .
Denying to Israel the moral fruits and affirmations that Jews have so
richly earned by their paramount contributions to our civilization, the
critics of Israel lash out at the foundations of civilization itself--at
the golden rule of capitalism, that the good fortune of others is also
one's own.

"In simplest terms, amid the festering indigence of Palestine, the state of
Israel presents a test. Efflorescent in the desert, militarily powerful,
industrially preeminent, culturally cornucopian, technologically
paramount, it lately has become a spearhead of the global economy and
vanguard of human achievement. Believing that this position was somehow
captured, rather than created, many in the West still manifest a primitive
zero-sum vision of economics and life. . . ."

Get an advance copy now! This is classic Gilder and on a "new" subject. I had the pleasure of editing it in two stages. This is going to be a winner.

July 13, 2009

Hindsight on Honduras

The Internet provides occasional news that doesn't seem to make it into the print media, as in this interesting assessment (though biased, to be sure) of the situation in Honduras. Now that I think about it, Chavez does appear to have let up about Honduras, and so has the Obama Administration. This is another situation that actually is under-reported. The key developments seem to be occurring without much external notice.

July 10, 2009

Understanding Obama's Ghana Choice

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Source: The Wall Street Journal Vendors in Accra, Ghana, hawk memorabilia Friday in anticipation of President Obama's visit, his first to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office. News International/ZUMA Press

When it's all over, on his first presidential trip to sub-Saharan Africa, President Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, will have spent only one day in Ghana on a visit that began today following the G-8 summit in Italy. But what this trip lacks in duration is more than made up for by what it symbolizes.

The only sub-Saharan stop on the president's visit, most analysis indicates that Ghana is being singled out for good behavior in a region where rule of law is the most endangered of concepts. While not perfect, unlike many sub-Saharan African nations, (including Nigeria, that despite its oil-fueled potential for great wealth and power, continues to be the picture of instability) Ghana has instituted market and political reforms that have grown the economy and resulted in smooth transitions of power in the most recent presidential cycles.

As Reuters has reported, "Obama's Ghana visit has triggered a bout of angst in Kenya, his ancestral homeland, and Nigeria....Nigeria has an appalling record of organizing transparent polls and ethnic violence after a disputed election in Kenya in 2007 killed at least 1,300 people and shattered its image as the region's stable economic powerhouse."

Despite all of Ghana's progress, observers and Ghanaians alike say the country needs to guard against "democratic setbacks," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Transparency is still weak, checks and balances ineffective, news media independence isn't well established and power is too centralized....

Cautious appraisals of the current situation should be understood against the backdrop of the past, which for Ghana was quite different than the present.

In the early days of post-Colonialism, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Ghana was the very picture of far-left authoritarianism. The cultish nationalist leader was Kwame Nkrumah, who was treated as a demi-god. Even school children were encouraged to sing, "Kwame Nkrumah, he will never die!." Nkrumah did die, of course, and many of the Africans who went for higher education to Moscow--where Nkrumah was celebrated--came back, ironically, with a distaste for communism. Meanwhile, a failing economy and corruption--and a bit of CIA help--precipitated a coup in 1966 and Nkrumah, who was more popular in the rest of Africa than at home, wound up in exile, ultimately dying in communist Romania. Now Ghana even has a free market think tank, the Imani Center in Accra. But the past is never too far away: Accra also boasts a major monument to Kwame Nkrumah.

Ghana has made tremendous, positive strides and President Obama's visit underscores that. For a country independent only since 1957, and with transparent multi-party elections for less than two decades, it has done much more than most of its neighbors to create democratic and market stability. For those reasons alone, it's nice to see good governance, market and other reforms rewarded.

July 9, 2009

Now a Democracy Joins Internet Blockers

Authoritarian regimes from China to Iran have made it their business to try to control what their peoples can see or do on the internet. It is usually about politics. Now Turkey joins the pack, even while its leader quips about how easy it is to thwart the government's censorship efforts.

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Claire Berlinski

In this useful article from Radio Free Europe, Claire Berlinski wonders how Turkey thinks it is going to get into the European Union when it employs such behavior.

Iran is Seething Again

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The media template has crises erupt, fasten our attention for, maybe, a week, then surrender to some new sensation--say, the death of Michael Jackson. But revolutions like the slow boiling one that appears to be going on in Iran don't yield to the media's requirements any more than they do to the squeamishness of Western leaders. They will persist after the cameras and reporters have left.

Michael Ledeen is always a stern, but reliable source on developments in Iran and should be getting more attention. His dedication is inspiring.

Had you heard before the account of the fly that buzzed Ahmadinejad during a live broadcast and obviously threw him off? The Twitter joke that Ledeen reports receiving--that the fly was about to be arrested and would soon appear on state television issuing a confession--expresses the spirit of the place and panache of the brave, mostly young, people who are on the rooftops chanting and silently conducting a strike on the streets.

Summer still has a long time to go in Iran. The people there are not giving up. Let's not give up on them.

July 7, 2009

North Koreans May be Attacking U.S. Cyber Sites

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What George W. Bush named "The Axis of Evil" included Iraq, North Korea and Iran. Iraq is relatively, if perhaps deceptively, quiet, but Iran is "hot" and North Korea seems bent on getting into our faces whether we want to see them there or not. This AP story by Lolita Baldor should push the federal government--as well as the private sector--to greater defensive action. Computer security is national security, and in that light it is worth noting that cyber attacks have increased almost three fold in three years.

This is the kind of story that, in retrospect, may be seen as a lot more significant than what is daily emphasized in most of our hedonistic, anesthetized media.

Both hardware and software defenses are being evaluated and, in some cases, mounted by the feds, as well as by OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and the private companies that purchase their products. But the general public is still in the dark about all this. There doesn't seem any over-riding interest in computer security options yet. But that may be about to change.

(UPDATE JULY 8: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/newspid=20601087&sid=aVEB6XhdZTFA)

Take It from Me, Mahmoud: Watch Those Russians

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Dear President Ahmadinejad:

Have you ever considered the possibility that the Russians might secretly be conspiring with the United States against your government? I know it sounds far-fetched, but, after all, far-fetched is practically your middle name. (As, for example, your denial of the Holocaust. That is about as far-fetched as anyone can get.)

Take it from me, Mahmoud, these days a Russo-American secret entente is just about the only explanation that makes sense when one reviews the strange, strained, nearly strangled relationship between the U.S. and Russia. That relationship is so odd at times that there must be more there than meets the eye. However clichéd, I can't avoid the image of the Matryoshka dolls; you know, the ones with an image of Medvedev on the outside, Putin "nested" underneath, then, underneath them both, Barack Obama. Beneath them all may be the Bibi Netanyahu doll. Have you ever thought of that?

It's possible, I grant you, that the truth is something else. The truth may be that since the Cold War the Americans and Russians have no natural reasons to be adversaries, but they still can't seem to get out of the habit of baiting each other. Fortunately, however, you are likely paranoid and have no truck with the merely apparent truth. Yes, on one level--the level of evident reality--the U.S. and Russia seem to be floundering. But, Mahmoud, that could just be a very clever act.

Barack Obama, having decided recently not to criticize your election and then criticizing it, this past week announced that he was going to Moscow to see President Medevev and was relieved not to have to deal with V. Putin. That would be a bit like Medvedev coming to America and expressing his pleasure at not having to deal with Obama's Congressional leaders, Pelosi and Reid. It had to be a calculated opinion, don't you agree, or else Mr. Obama would have "clarified" it later. The customary kind of Obama clarification would have been, "Actually, after my lengthy official meetings with President Medvedev, I look forward to having tea with Prime Minister Putin, while Michelle hopes to go shopping at the GUM Department Store with Mrs. P."

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First ladies Michelle Obama and Svetlana Medvedeva in Moscow

Are serious people (I am imagining you, Mahmoud) to believe such a line as Mr. Obama gave? Yet, did you notice that no one in the Kremlin protested it? Russians and Americans could well be throwing sand in your eyes, Mahmoud.

Ask yourself about the issue of the proposed U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe, Mr. President. Is it possibly just a designed distraction? Supposedly it is to protect Europe from Iran. After all, Poland and the Czech Republic are probably right on top on your military's target list, right? The Russians object...supposedly. But, Mahmoud, you weren't born under a date palm tree, as Omar Khayyam might have put it. Even you can figure out that any missile shield would take years to produce and meantime....well, the fate of your nuclear weapons capability is not exactly "years" away, is it? So what is all the fuss about?

Maybe the Russians are just annoyed because the people that sent them "Bush's legs" (chicken) to dine on when the Wall fell are now building a guard against possible future Russian military expansion into the "Near Abroad." But while the Russians want influence in those former satellites they are horrified at the prospect of having to pay for them, which is what occupiers have to do. So the main problem appears to be one of what is called public relations. The Americans are stepping on the Russians' pride and the Russians are not at all happy about it. At least, that is how it seems.

Meanwhile, we Americans say we badly want the shield, even though I don't recall the Congress ever debating the matter or it's gaining more than passing interest in the media.

Now, our new American president, the one who planned to demolish the foreign policy of his predecessor and instead mostly has cast it in bronze, is hinting on hard dealing with the Russians about the shield. Obama does not want to give up the shield for which he previously had no use, any more than he now wants Congress to have access to Presidential internal memos of the kind he used to demand that George W. Bush release. (Sorry for the domestic detour here, Mahmoud.)

Anyhow, if someone is gullible enough to believe that Barack Obama and his imperial retinue flew several plane loads of aides and press to Moscow to talk about prospective nuclear missile reductions, and to disagree again about the shield, as the accounts of the Medvedev-Obama talks indicate; well, those persons probably also could be persuaded that you just won a fair re-election in an unprecedented landslide. (By the way, in his days in Iraq, Saddam didn't settle for two-thirds of the vote; he counted 99.9 percent. Congratulations on your much more becoming modesty.)

To conclude, therefore, maybe it only seems that the relationship between the United States and Russia is a fairyland play of mist and mystery, where leading actors walk about in confusion, mistaking others' identities and purposes, making speeches to no one in particular. Maybe they only appear to be stuck in a midsummer's night's dream.

Naw, don't believe it, Mahmoud. The Americans don't have three worthwhile spies in your fair republic, while the Russians are all over the place "helping" you build your nuclear plants. How eager do you think the Ruskies really are to see your demented theocracy get The Bomb? No, Mahmoud, the clever way to see the combined fumbles of the old rival great powers is that deep down, they are combined in a conspiracy. Against you.

You believe a lot of other things. You might as well believe that.

Bruce Chapman, president of Discovery Institute, is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Organizations in Vienna.

July 6, 2009

Another Canadian-U.S. Success

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Portland's Union Station

Always make time to celebrate your victories; when it comes to mourning, your defeats will make time for themselves.

One victory to celebrate tonight is the announcement that the Canadian government has okayed a "second train" between Portland/Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. We at Discovery Institute (home to the Cascadia Center) have long promoted passenger rail nationally, and especially the re-connection of the U.S. and Canada on the West Coast. The "first train" came between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. came some years ago. Now the second is opening in time for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler/Blackcomb resort.

Passenger rail is not the solution to clogged freeways and the long delays at airports. But it is part of the solution. That is widely recognized in transportation circles, but it is a particularly dicey idea to forward when one is dealing with foreign governments. Amtrak, to its credit, has been positive all the way on the line up to Vancouver. In contrast, the Conservative government in Ottawa was slow to take on the issue--some bureaucrats wanted to charge Amtrak for Customs processing--but it did come around at last. Congratulations to them.

This is one more sign of the renewed cross-border friendship Cascadia Center has promoted tirelessly for nearly 17 years now. It's nice to have The Seattle Times make mention.

June 25, 2009

New Film on Iran is Tough and Timely

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The producers of The Stoning of Soraya M. could not be opening their film at a better time than now. The fictionalized telling of a true story from Iran's post-revolution is hard to watch at times and it leaves an audience feeling drained and frustrated. But when I watched a preview a couple of months ago it was clear that everyone present had been affected deeply by the experience. This is about the kind of "evil" that won Iran a position in George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" category. You understand again the kind of hypocritical theocrats that would bludgeon peaceful demonstrators in Tehran these past few weeks and loot their homes.

The fine acting by Shoreh Aghadahloo is a revelation. She is someone I have never seen before. The nominal co-star, Jim Caviezel (of Passion of the Chris fame), is also excellent, though his role is much smaller than the top billing would indicate.

You can see it nation-wide starting tomorrow. http://www.thestoning.com/

June 23, 2009

Non-Meddler Inspired Iran Demonstrators?

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First President Obama had little to say about the demonstrators in Iran, saying he didn't think America should "meddle". A number of liberal US pundits praised this posture. Then, the President apparently changed his mind and started using tougher language about the brutal regime of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In fact, "Administration" spokesmen are now suggesting that the President's Cairo speech may have inspired the demonstrators in the first place.

Moral: if you don't like President Obama's position on a foreign policy issue, wait a minute. It may change. Not only that, you'll find out it was always what it has changed to now.

June 20, 2009

Sistani's Role Strongly Hinted

This is from Huffington Post, implicitly confirming my earlier post (June 17) that speculated about the behind-the-scenes role in Iran of Shia Grand Ayatollah Sistani (who lives in Iraq). So far as I know, nobody else has raised this possibility:

6:00 PM ET -- Where is Rafsanjani? "According to an online reformist news source Rooyeh, Rafsanjani has been in Qom meeting some members of Council of Experts and a representative of Ayatollah Sistani.

According to the source that asked to remain anonymous, during this meeting they recounted memories of the days of the Revolution.

A reasonable purpose of these meetings, according to the source, is that Rafsanjani is looking for a majority to possibly call for Ahmadinejad's resignation.

As one reader points out, Sistani is "one of the most respected Grand Ayatollahs within Shia Islam in the world. He's Iranian (from Mashhad, same city as Khamenei), but spends most time in Najaf/Karbala in Iraq."


June 19, 2009

Iran in Revolution

As this is posted, it is high noon Saturday in Iran. Mousavi and his aides, and former President Rafsanjani who supports the protests, are being threatened personally, say bloggers and the tweets. This is a fateful day.

It no longer is a question of whether Iran is in a revolution, but whether the revolution will succeed. There is still a question, as in many revolutions, about the revolutionaries' ultimate goal. Until now, at least, there would have been great happiness among the protestors if Supreme Leader Ali Kahmenei had simply agreed to reform--another election, in this case. But the stakes are being raised. Kahmenei is signaling worsening repression. The thuggish Basij milita, in plainclothes with knives, clubs and guns, are being given increased freedom to attack the peaceful protestors and the homes of suspected supporters. Unknown scores are dead, hundreds, maybe thousands, are in prison. The foreign media are being evicted. The fierce response of a government against its own peaceful citizens is incitement for more far-reaching revolutionary ambitions.

To its lasting discredit, the Russian government of Medvedev and Putin has recognized the highly doubtful election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. http://www.sptimes.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=29285 China joins in. According to the South China Post (Hong Kong), mainland government authorities are ordering the media to downplay protest events in Iran. Wouldn't want people getting ideas.http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2c913216495213d5df646910cba0a0a0/?vgnextoid=1991d1a7a69f1210VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&vgnextfmt=teaser&ss=China&s=News

In the next stage, the huge crowds of protestors in Iran's cities--accessible to the world largely through cell phones and Twitter--will crumble under the assault of the state. Or the state will make concessions to gain time. Or the revolution will take a new direction and state violence will be answered with popular violence. It would take overwhelming numbers for the latter to succeed. That, and expanding divisions within the current ruling class.

Many observers are assuming that even if the protestors prevail and the government collapses--in one way or another--and Mousavi accedes to the presidency, the West will still still face an antagonistic regime bent on developing nuclear weapons. I'm not so sure. Revolutions famously take on a life of their own. After all this, why should Iranians put up with an authoritarian dictatorship, international isolation and a crippled economy for sake of a belligerent defense and foreign policy? The achievable alternative is a relatively liberal state with genuine elections (where a Supreme Leader and his Guardian Council don't get to vet candidates), international cooperation and economic growth.

June 17, 2009

Shia Clerics and Iran: Sistani's Role

The top Shia cleric in the world is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, 78, born in Iran, living in Najaf, Iraq since 1951. Ayatollah al-Sistani had a major influence in calming sectarian violence in Iraq after the American invasion, turning Shia voters away from the extremists, led by Iran-backed Ahmed Mukhtar al-Sadr. The senior cleric and scholar seldom leaves Najaf; indeed, he seldom leaves his house.

But in the battle over legitimacy in Iran, if Ayatollah Sistani says much negative about the repressive present government in Iran--the backers of Sadrites in Iraq, as well as of Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon--it could have serious consequences for Iran's government under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Grand Ayatollah doesn't even have to say his piece publicly. Many Iranian mullahs could switch their allegiance rapidly.

Iran and North Korea are Linked

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Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter (author, The Long War Ahead: And the Short War Upon Us) was on the Dennis Miller program today discussing the so-far inadequate response of President Obama to the sham election in Iran and the need for a new, internationally supervised election.

Time is important. The anti-Ahmadinejad demonstrations are widely supported, but not well organized. The government owns the power of force and the will to use it. If the White House imagines that failing to state a stronger view will somehow appease Ahmadinejab, they haven't been paying attention. As Wohlstetter says, our President apparently is being put to school the way Jimmy Carter was, but the lesson has not yet sunk in. Is this the crisis (as I suggested in this blog) that Joe Biden had in mind when, during the campaign, he predicted one within six months of the new Administration?

John Wohlstetter also says on the Miller show, there may well be connections between Iran and North Korea (remember "the Axis of Evil"?). And, meanwhile, Al Qaida is watching closely, as are Iran's clients, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Almost unnoticed, Mohammed El Baradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is stating about as plainly as possible that Iran seeks nuclear arms.

Some mullahs are breaking away from the theocratic core in Iran and its current driving force, the security services. Division grows. The legitimacy of the government is being undermined. The least we can do is show moral support for the cause of real democracy and reform.

June 16, 2009

Obama Says: Keep Twittering

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A Tehran University student's computer, purportedly broken during a militia raid.

The discussions in the White House right now must be fascinating and maybe heated--should we openly side with the Iranian demonstrators or hold to the neutrality pose? Just now the President's spokesman said he hopes Twitter will continue to delay needed maintenance downtime so that direct news can be reported from the Iranian people. That's a positive step. After all, Western reporters are being ordered to stay in their offices and not to report from the street. So brave reports from Iranians are all there are to get the truth out. (Two top Twitter sites #IranElection and #CNNfail--a running reproach to CNN's less than helpful coverage.)

Right now there are a spate of Twitter messages saying that there are more deaths today and raids of homes and offices; also that the Army has entered Tehran to confront the demonstrators. If so, this escalation raises the prospect of rank and file Iranian soldiers being called upon to attack their fellow citizens. It is a different prospect from the actions of the Basij ("Mobilization") militia that are a kind of kind of palace guard for the theocrats and have been beating demonstrators with batons over several days. In many revolutions, a critical moment comes when ordinary citizens in Army service are asked to fire on other citizens. They may do it once, even twice. But eventually, they may refuse their orders and then, whether planning it or not, may switch sides. If that happens, the revolution reaches a new, more explosive stage. Remember, too, the soldiers are young, and so are most demonstrators. They are all Iranians.

An alternative scenario is that the supposed reformer Moussavi goes on TV (which the Twitterers also say he is trying to do) and essentially cools down the protests with minimum demands, whereafter the regime regains control.

Regardless, as Amir Fakhravar, the former head of the Iran Student Confederation and a prisoner tortured repeatedly in the infamous Iranian prisons, said today, the people of Iran have not had a chance to express their will about the main contours of the government. The real powers in the theocracy merely present them with pre-approved candidates they can choose among. Fakhravar spoke eloquently at Discovery Institute two years ago; today he pointed out on FOX News that the Iranians are expressing themselves in the street as never before. The demonstrators are an appealing lot, not hateful, but peaceful, almost too pleading. And they are braver than the demonstrators of 30 years ago who were standing up to forces that already were crumbling.

They need to know our moral support.

June 15, 2009

The Twitterati in Iran

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Twitter in San Francisco must be uncommonly proud. Its service is defeating the Iranian censors. As this article indicates, Ahmadinejad government is playing "whack a mole", wielding centralized technology by theocrats against distributed technology in the hands of democrats.

(UPDATE: The most disturbing Twitter reports are of non-Farsi-speaking thugs attacking students and others in Teheran. Twitter reports believe they are Hizbollah and other imports. Many are on motorbikes. Michael Ledeen has fine analysis at Pajama Media. (Final note: It's nearly noon Tuesday in Iran. The country is literally on its own time--eleven and HALF hours later than Pacific Coast time, which is to say, eight and a half hours later than the East Coast.)

The Revolt in Iran Spreads

The tens of thousands of protestors are now hundreds of thousands. The outbursts in Teheran now turn out to be occurring in "every town", according to Iranians here in Seattle hearing from friends and relations. (Iranian Americans number about one million, a sizable and largely unrecognized group.) The TV in Iran apparently continues to downplay the demonstrations, if not ignoring them altogether, a sure sign of a dictatorship in panic. Trying to pretend that nothing is happening when the streets are full of people and gunshots are heard around the capital is another indication to the people that the government and its agents are out of touch and frightened.

I just heard from one immigrant here that a group of Revolutionary Guard leaders--from the 150,000 or so elite force supposedly most loyal to the mullahs--has been arrested in Teheran for suspected sympathy to the demonstrators.

In the Iranian news recently was a story about how much money--reportedly $700 million--was pent by Iran to bolster Hizbollah in Lebanon's elections (Hizbollah lost). That sort of news account may have added fuel to popular discontent, since Iranians understand that money that could be used to ease the local economic distress has gone instead to political adventurism abroad.

Bribery is a big problem in the Middle East and some of that $700 million may have gone down that particular rabbit hole. The mullahs inside Iran are corrupt themselves. That feeds the outcry, too.

Meanwhile, repression like that of the past few days--raiding the University dorms and putting student leaders in prison--can only work if the problem has not grown too large. When protestors are too numerous to arrest and the prisons too full, neither brutality nor partial capitulation will prevail.

Americans should be outspoken in support of the forces of freedom.

June 13, 2009

Administration, Congress Souring Relations with Canada, Mexico

If Canadians could have voted in the 2008 American elections, Barack Obama would have received a runaway landslide. So the slow realization that the new Administration and its allies in Congress are quite indifferent to the neighbors to the North is only slowly dawning on Canadians. It doesn't fit their expectations. They don't know what to do with the information.

The same goes for Mexico. You just don't hear a lot of protest about the trucking policy from Latino political groups, almost all of whom backed Obama. Punishing our Southern neighbor just doesn't fit their expectations, either. So they are mostly silent.

The adroit and insightful Deroy Murdock nails it. I'm sorry if the reality makes free trade advocate friends uncomfortable. But it turns out that the new crowd really does not completely respect NAFTA. Face it.

A Revolutionary Moment in Iran?

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Iran cannot sustain its authoritarian regime, that's the message from this week's elections. Street crowds of angry youth--and youth are a majority in Iran--are bold now. Even if they are crushed tomorrow, as the mullah promise, the anger is not going away. It will incite division and intrigue within the government. The military may grow restless.

"Vox populi, vox Deo" is not just an ultimate reality in the West. Opposition leader Hossein Mousavi himself is only a latter-day reformer, after all, riding the wave of revolt the way the mullahs rode it in 1979. Only now the revolt is against the theocrats, not a pro-Western government. This is an election that got away from the the repressive anti-democrats.

Two weeks ago it didn't seem possible that the theocrats could be put into such a panic. President Obama then was only too eager then to find common ground with them. Only toward the end did it become clear that the public mood was different. The claim of a landslide for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was too clever by half; it confirmed the suspicion of fraud.

Now the illegitimacy of the regime is on display. It has an eerie familiarity, doesn't it? It is the feeling of freedom let lose when the Communists fell in the old Soviet bloc.

(Sunday morning update.)

June 11, 2009

No Election Now in Canada (I KNOW! It's Almost a Joke Headline!)

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The Liberals have decided not to try to force an election this pleasant summertime in Canada. There were a couple of only mildly interesting provincial elections recently--in BC and Nova Scotia--and there is a business-as-usual mood in Ottawa, apparently. "When it is not necessary to do something it is necessary to do nothing," as Disraeli once said (I am paraphrasing, actually), and so Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff decided to read some reports and let the House of Commons snooze on.

Spring, following late frosts, was tardy in Canada this year, and now our neighbors are greedy for a little summer sunshine. They don't want an election. Who can blame them?

June 9, 2009

Obama's One Hard Idea on the Middle East is the One that is Hard on Israel

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by John R. Miller

President Obama's speech in Cairo has been praised, and rightly so, for its effort to reach out to the Muslim world. But amidst the idealistic exhortations to practice democracy, further women's rights, practice religious freedom and of course avoid violence and take responsibility, there continues to sit--almost incongruously--only one very specific prescription for action, and it is directed at only one country--Israel.

"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israel settlements" the President proclaimed to loud applause. Commentators have assumed that the President was asking Israel to not extend existing settlements in the disputed West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the following sentence does refer to "this construction". But the President in his applause line did not talk about merely discontinuing the settling process; he puts himself on record against the continuation of "settlements", which appears to mean the settlements that are already there.

This indeed is a prescription, all right, but if the words mean what they seem to mean--and we must assume every word in this speech was carefully vetted--the President's speech marks a new direction for the United States' policy regarding Israel. There is a big difference between telling Israel that it should stop allowing new settlers to take up residence on the West Bank and East Jerusalem and telling Israel to evict the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers already there. No U.S. President has ventured this way before. When President Clinton urged a comprehensive settlement on PLO leader Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Barak, he asked that additional settlements be stopped but asked that the bulk of existing Israeli settlements remain with Israel offering in exchange pieces of Israeli territory.

President Obama's departure from traditional U.S. policy plays well in the Arab world but it will not enhance peace in the Middle East nor is it in keeping with the "universal ideals" the President proclaimed. No Israeli government can follow the President's advice, no matter how much pressure Obama exerts. To evict 500,000 settlers would set off a war within Israel that would leave Israel looking less like a modern state and more like the Palestinian territory riven by conflicts between Hamas and Fatah. And as for the "universal ideals" that the President urged his listeners to follow, what "universal ideal" says that people should be evicted from living somewhere based on race, religion or national origin? True, such anti-Semitic policies were pushed by Czars in Russia and by Hitler in Nazi Germany, but no modern democratic government has or does so. President Obama would not suggest such a rule in the United States. Certainly Israel does not suggest that Arab settlements in what the U.S. recognizes as Israeli land should be discontinued. PLO laws today prescribe death to Arabs who sell land to Jews, a policy that presumably would continue in a Palestinian state where Israeli settlements had been removed. One trusts the President does not support this method of discontinuing Jewish settlements.

Every U.S. President fervently desires to appeal to the Muslim world, but the President should beware of embracing solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will neither end the conflict nor be consistent with either universal or American ideals.

John R. Miller
Former United States Ambassador at Large on Modern Slavery
Visiting Scholar, Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley
Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute

Was Labour Defeat a Victory for Fascism?

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The beating the Labour Party took in local and European Parliament elections this past weekend are described in some quarters as an ominous sign of a surge of fascism. Not only did the Conservatives gain, but so, too, did the British National Party, a far right outfit. Melanie Phillips isn't buying it.

June 8, 2009

Europe, Lebanon Move Right as U.S. Moves Left

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The issues in Britain are somewhat idiosyncratic, but there is no avoiding the reality that that nation's delegation to the European Parliament is moving right, as are local governments. It could be a signal of a new election and a Tory government (after 12 years of Labour). Conservatives and even the far right made gains in other European elections this week. And the pro-Western coalition in Lebanon seems set to continue in power, despite earlier predictions of advances for the Hezbollah/pro-Iranian parties.

Meanwhile, however, President Obama is moving U.S. policy leftward as he declares the recession an unwelcome, but long term guest. It is being touted almost as an excuse for further government takeover of the economy, though the takeover and big spending are actually contributing to the country's economic woes, not to their improvement. Creating new government jobs is not the solution to the loss of jobs in the private sector.

June 5, 2009

Another Canadian Election After All?

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It would seem to be a bad time for a new Canadian election and there is a question as to whether the opposition in Parliament (three parties whose ambitions clearly are not in sync) would be willing now to unite on a vote of no-confidence and bring down the minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper.

Canada is suffering from the American recession that is now world-wide. Its deficits are growing, but are paltry in comparison to ours, even given the difference in the size of the two countries. Overall, Canada's finances are pretty well managed. Still, if you are a Canadian looking out, rather than an outsider looking in, there is a natural tendency to blame the government in power for whatever is besetting the commonweal.

One might have thought, in these conditions, that the Liberals would bide their time and build up their resources--and their credit with the voters--before trying to precipitate a new election. Now, however, that common sense expectation may be in for a dramatic change.

From an American standpoint, it is hard to see that it will matter much to us whether the Liberals or Conservatives are in power. Both parties are pro-American, but quite prepared to differ with us. The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of competent management and proponents of economic growth, but their recent record could be more inspiring. On one issue that we follow here--the development of passenger rail traffic over the border to help tourism, something that clearly is in Canada's interest, especially leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia--the Harper government inexplicably seems to be dragging its feet. We at Discovery Institute are always urging our own government to think more pro-actively about Canadian trade--Canada is our biggest trading partner, after all. But at the moment it is the Canadians who seem to need a bit of a prod.

I think that if I were Mr. Harper I would not want to crouch in a defensive posture, but instead come out with positive vision on the economy and actions to support it, then challenge the opposition to go along or be cited for obstruction. Either way he would win.

But then I am just a Yank--albeit a friendly one--observing the situation from a safe distance. Since Canadian pundits never hesitate to give America advice, I hope they won't mind if we return the compliment from time to time.

June 4, 2009

America's Strange Spokesman

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We now have in Barack Obama an American president who prides himself on criticizing his country's past, doing so while abroad and doing so in a way that gives undue satisfaction to our critics and undue pain to our friends. He omits points in our country's favor and exaggerates our failings.

The inconsistencies in the Cairo speech are astonishing. Here is Pete Wehner's account.

Here is another paradox to consider: we have a President of the United States who is eager to show his support for nuclear power development in Iran--a reliable foe of America--but cannot bring himself to support nuclear power in his own country, the United States of America.

What is going on?

June 3, 2009

Labour's Love's Lost

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It has been fun mocking the abuse of second-home stipends by British Members of Parliament, but the weight of the scandal is now becoming an impossible burden for the ruling Labour Party.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is facing the front of the attack, but to some extent he is heir to a culture of entitlement that has been developing for years--at least since the cheery era of "New Labour" under Tony Blair. The latter got out and handed off the festering problem to Brown, just as Prime Minister Chretien, in a somewhat similar situation, did to his sometime rival and Liberal successor as PM in Canada, Paul Martin. Mr. Martin suffered from the scandals of his party, and, alas for Mr. Brown, the same seems fated for him.

The capper for the current British scandal is the seriousness of Members' reported failures to pay taxes. A little petty spending greed is one thing (using taxpayer funds to pay for dog food or videos), but claiming a tax break for two houses that is meant for one house -- that's really annoying to the voters.

June 2, 2009

Iraq the Model is Back (President Obama, Please Read)

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From Baghdad Omar Fadhil writes in The Australian that the war was "worth it." Notice that he writes about the war in past-tense. Increasingly, it is clear that the path to building a more prosperous, as well as more democratic Iraq is now wide open.

Just the booming Iraqi stock market says worlds about the turnaround in the nation's stability.

One hopes the Fadhil brothers continue their fine blog and resume regular posts. One also hopes that President Obama will give credit to Iraqis--and to the American-led Coalition that liberated them--when he addresses the Arab world from Cairo.

An Iraqi Hero

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Heather Robinson profiles one of the true heroes of Iraq, a man of courage and high principle. The cost has been terrible--the murder of his two sons, Ayman and Gamal, and a security guard. But almost alone he overturned the old Saddam era ban on travel to Israel. His passion is freedom and representative government.

May 28, 2009

Ambassador Crocker's "Gutsy Commencement Address"

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A weighty commencement address is a rarity these days, mostly because the people who graduate and those who come to witness the event mainly are in a mood to celebrate, not to cogitate. Yet the grand tradition of commencement speeches is that they compel people to stand back and see where the civilization is heading. There was, for example, Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri in 1946 and Alexander Solzhenitzen's unexpected assault at Harvard in 1978 on America's callow, materialist culture ("A World Split Apart").

The widely admired career diplomat and recent Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has called Whitman College graduates to confront the world as it is, not as they'd like it to be. Here is a good review in Crosscut.

Whitman has a public policy asset in alumnus Crocker, who has semi-retired to nearby Spokane, WA. He may challenge their assumptions, which could explain the relatively muted response to his address. One hopes they appreciate him. Challenging the assumptions of contemporary academia is the duty of all responsible citizens these days.

May 22, 2009

Letter from Capitol Charms Dennis Miller

The smooth funny-man, social and political critic Dennis Miller toasted Discovery Senior Fellow John Wohlstetter's ideas coast-to-coast May 21, asking, "Johnny, where have you been all my life?"

Wohlstetter, author of The Long War Ahead (Discovery Institute Press) and the regular blog, Letter from the Capitol described the trap Speaker Nancy Pelosi finds herself in with CIA Director Leon Panetta and the trap the President finds himself in with former Vice President Cheney.

On Gitmo, Wohlstetter commented: "What Obama should do to spin this is he should go down to Gitmo himself (inspect it publicly) and then turn around and say, 'Any one in the world who say's Gitmo's a terrible place, open your own jails to the photographers."

Miller loved the idea (good for the country, good for national security and even for President Obama). "Look at you, Johnny! Christian (his producer), we have to get him back on as soon as possible."

Wohlstetter continues to build an audience and appeal on interview programs nationally.

May 21, 2009

Don't Want to be Undiplomatic, but Wake Up, Ottawa!

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British Columbia, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics

Thanks to pressure on the U.S. side of the border with Canada, Amtrak is ready to launch a second train per day to Vancouver, B.C. from Seattle. That represents a big commitment of time and money. It is especially topical now that Canada is getting ready to host the winter Olympics next year.

But the Canadian national government seems to be holding things up because it doesn't want to pay for the added costs of clearing passengers through customs. If there is no way to get the passengers to pay a nominal fee ($15 is about what is required to cover the bill), then surely the Canadian feds should step in and pay.

Why? Because trade and tourism are good business bets for Canada and the U.S. is always the biggest provider of same. If the U.S. government is willing to help boost this traffic, most of which will help the Canadians, surely our friends in Ottawa should be willing to assist. In the long run, there should be three, four, many trains up and down the West Coast--from Vancouver to Los Angeles or San Diego.

All these people clamoring for a "Green Future". How about committing to energy savings right now in this modest way?

Cascadia Center of Discovery has a good commentary here by Mike Wussow. Cascadia has a major conference on rail transportation coming up next week, by the way.

Culture Clash Seen in Russian Demonstration Against Ford

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In case you hadn't noticed, Russia's culture, whether the subject is politics or business, doesn't always mesh as nicely with the traditions of the West as one might suppose. The recent arrests of gay rights demonstrators in Moscow--they say they were denied any kind of demonstration permit--illustrate a continuing difference in traditions of free speech on public issues. Regardless of their stance on any given issue, such as gay rights, almost all Americans and Europeans support the right to peaceful protest. In the economic realm, the same is true. However, in the case of a demonstration in Russia against Ford Motor Co., there was no official objection to the protest demonstration, but one does wonder what really was being protested.

In the U.S., it is commonplace for companies under financial pressure to cut back employment or, in certain circumstances, to reduce the work week in order to conform to production reductions. If the company lacks orders for cars, it can't afford to build them, can it? But the work week cut still must seem novel to Russians who are more used to a general social contract that accepts low wages in return for security. In the old days of the U.S.S.R., companies just kept making products, often regardless of market acceptance. It was one reason socialism failed.

There is no lack of economic demonstrations, or strikes, for that matter, in the West; and that is not my interest in the Ford Russia situation. Rather, I am just contrasting the apparent expectations that exist in worker populations. Americans usually don't try to force a company to keep producing when it lacks sales.

Of course, we do have the very recent tradition of simply bailing out failing auto companies. Maybe Russia should adopt that cultural innovation. The trouble is, Ford isn't willing to take a bailout in the U.S. and probably wouldn't want the government's "help" in Russia, either. And, to its credit, the Kremlin doesn't seem to be inclined to fund such a bailout, either.

May 20, 2009

America, Prepare for Spread of Parliamentary Pig Virus

The sumptuary scandal in Britain that is pillorying Members of Parliament for abuse (and sometimes merely use) of the law that allows them to seek re-embursement for expenses on necessary second homes soon will be refashioned as an American story in news outlets near you. That's a prediction. You read it here first.

I suspect that there are American editors already salivating over the juicy sweetmeats uncovered by their London counterparts. Under a Freedom of Information law rashly imposed on Parliament by Parliament itself, an enterprising female sleuth was about to publish the sometimes embarrassing details of the MPs' expense charges. So a male individual with insider access to the records decided to be even more enterprising and peddle the information on Fleet Street. The London Times didn't come up with the price, but the Telegraph apparently did. (No one but the Speaker of the House seems to mind much about the rogue who profited from his privileged access to public documents.) The Telegraph is reporting day after day on the MPs who claimed questionable expenses and the rest of the press is right behind. They perform the journalistic equivalent of a strip-tease, dropping a sexy new item each day.

There is the case of the Honorable Douglas Hogg, a Lincolnshire squire who claimed expenses for clearing a moat (he's a Conservative MP, wouldn't you know?). There is Mr. Ben Chapman (no relation--though, come to think of it, we must be related somewhere back in the medieval murk, mustn't we?), a Labourite who over-claimed 15,000 pounds for a mortgage. One Tory apparently acquired funds to compensate him for steer manure for his garden (a Bourgeoise sort of temptation that the garden-mad English probably can forgive), while Margaret Moran, Labourite, charged for repairing dry rot at a seaside house that is far from her constituency and is owned by her husband. Mr. Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat millionaire, billed the taxpayers for "lavratory rolls" (toilet paper), "fluffy dusters" and "chocolate HobNobs".

Meanwhile, the Speaker, Michael Martin, was far too sanguine about it all, and, further, had the cheek to call for investigation of the leaker. So he has been forced to resign, the first Speaker to be defrocked in 300 years.

Much of the clamor is unfair. The country gentleman with the moat says he really didn't mean to charge for its clearing, but for some other expense that happened to be listed on the same invoice (the moat was in the eye of his accusers). And most MPs' expenses really were legal, their re-embursement merely an ill-advised, but understandable way to let parliamentarians recoup some of the cost of maintaining a house in their constituencies as well as in London. Still, the public is disgusted (or are disgusted, as the English say) or at least claims (claim) to be disgusted. I think the public is titilated, too. Hangings have always been popular in England.

But, a desire to knock off the toffs is at least as strong on this side of the Pond. Even though Members of Congress do not get paid for the homes back in their districts--and instead wisely take a bigger salary than their English cousins, $174,000 US versus about $95,000 equivalent for the Brits--they do get lots of potentially interesting little breaks in travel, per diems ands other re-embursements that can be examined and exposed. It usually is petty bounty for a slow news day, but now, in the aftermath of the English scandals, it will appear to questing reporters like El Dorado itself.

Watch for it. Will the American scandal re-make take one week or two to produce? In any case, prepare to be terribly shocked.

May 13, 2009

British Columbia Votes "Liberal" (That is, Conservative)

Gordon Campbell was re-elected Premier in British Columbia yesterday in a race that shows the strength of parliamentary politics. The actual distance between the losing New Democrat Party and the provincial Liberal Party was not great, but it was defining. Accordingly, the Liberals will continue to govern as the international recession drags on and B.C. prepares to host the Winter Olympics in 2010.

In Canadian terms, the Liberals are the more conservative of the big parties in B.C. and are not to be confused with the national Liberal Party. Campbell, as party leader, is an appealing figure, a good speaker and an adroit administrator. His third term victory should commend him to greater national leadership. (But I'm a Yank, what do I know?) He even managed to sound humble in what was a big victory. http://www.vancouversun.com/Business/election+Gordon+Campbell+wins+historic+third+term+premier/1589774/story.html

The election would seem to bode well for Northwest inter-regional relations. Campbell well reflects public sentiment in his province, as well as his own views, in supporting greater cooperation with the State of Washington on common transportation and trade concerns.

May 8, 2009

Tempest Boils in English Teapot

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Scandal! The London Telegraph is in full-throated cry against the expense-account extravagance of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his cabinet members and parliamentarians of all parties.

However, even the Telegraph has to admit that the problem doesn't just reside in the system of taxpayer funded "allowances" designed to cover the costs of Members' maintaining houses in London as well as in their constituencies. It is a burden for members of Parliament to maintain two homes--as it is, even more so, for Members of the U.S. Congress, covering, as they do a huge continent that seldom can be reached by less than a plane ride. If the Parliament itself decides to help cover such costs the press should not be surprised that odd-seeming expenses will show up--house cleaning services or potted plants. The unfortunate Jack Straw, Lord High Chancellor, must explain why he needed an allowance for "two toilet seats. What exactly caused such excess, the media demand to know; tell us more. Maybe they should send an inquiry to the Privy Council.

No, the real problem is that Members of Parliament make too little to live on in one of the costliest cities on Earth. The allowance fees are a sad way to get around that reality. Sixty three thousand pounds a year (about US$96,000) obviously cannot allow a two-household existence, especially if one of the houses is in London. An American Congressman makes far more ($174,000).

The cure is to raise the salaries and then cut out the allowance system for household expenses.

Of course, the deeper cure is to reduce the time Members spend in Parliament trying to micro-manage one of the largest, most complicated economies on the planet. The Parliament makes is own work, in other words, and, hence, creates the pressed conditions that make scandals--real and faux--nearly inevitable. The heavy burden of government programs in welfare-laden Britain is a major contributor to the high cost of living there. Parliament itself imposes all those programs.

Meanwhile, wouldn't the Lord High Chancellor prefer to pay the bill for toilet seats out of his own salary rather than submit a record to be scrutinized by the media?

May 5, 2009

Talibanistan and the Bomb

Troubles come in bunches, as you know (read about the 1930s), but that doesn't excuse political avoidance of true catastrophes in the making. Right now, we need a lot less worry about the flu and a lot more about the danger of nuclear proliferation and the immediate issues of Iran and Pakistan.

It is hard to believe that some in circles of influence want to disarm our nuclear force--the deterrent that compensates for a relative shortage of military manpower in the world--at a time when nuclear arms may be spreading. It is hard to believe that the Obama Administration is pressuring Israel to make a potentially ruinous deal with the Palestinians as a wishful way to appease Iran. And it is hard to think that we are so impotent to curb the Taliban in Pakistan.

Tony Blankley is bringing up the comfortable truth that America needs a stronger military now and cannot strategically afford the effective build-down envisaged by so many in the new Administration. I don't agree with the seeming implication at the end of his article that a draft may be needed. Not only is that wrong in principle, it would ignite a huge political backlash in society now. Regardless, his call for more manpower is exactly right.

Political will is the problem. One good sign--from the Rasmussen Poll--is that national security is growing again in the priorities of ordinary Americans. The 70 percent figure representing those who see the issue as very important is higher than at any time in the past year and a half.

April 29, 2009

Yet Another Flu Publicity Pandemic

"Johnny, can you use the word 'influenza' in a sentence?"

Johnny: "I had a little bird, his name was Enza; I opened the window and in flew Enza."
---Childrens joke, 1918 (Hat tip: my late Mom)

The Spanish Flu killed millions. There seems to be some question as to whether the "Swine Flu" has killed 150 or a relative handful. Many people around the world are coming down with the flu, but it is hard to see how the disease qualifies for the hysterical reactions in certain quarters. After all, flu strains of all kinds kill about 36,000 people a year in a normal year in the United States alone. So far, one person in the U.S. has died of the new flu strain.

Right now, the over-reaction will probably do tremendous and unnecessary economic damage. Some say it might better be called the Mexican Flu, since it has almost nothing to do with pigs. Swine get it, but they don't convey it to humans through pork products. Still, Egypt has ordered the destruction of all pigs. Various countries are announcing boycotts of pig products from Mexico, the U.S. or wherever.

Come to think, it probably should not be called Mexican Flu, either. A boycott of Mexico and Mexican products is about the worst thing to do to that struggling country right now. And the flu already has spread to the U.S. and Europe. Should we stop airplane flights to everywhere?

The disease is seldom fatal and is not airborne. It is carried by droplets--people coughing or sneezing in your face or on objects you touch before putting your fingers to your mouth. It's a form of the flu, folks, one of life's familiar risks, not the end of the world.

April 22, 2009

New Twist in the Mexican Immigration Tangle

Some Mexican immigrant advocates are arguing that illegals should boycott the 2010 Census unless a vast increase in naturalization (about 12 million) is approved first by Congress. http://primebuzz.kcstar.com/?q=node/18150 It is a development that could further complicate the taking of the 2010 Census.

The development constitutes a strange turn in politics, too, since it confounds the ethnic political calculations of those who want to use new citizens to boost Democratic party fortunes. More immediately, if many Hispanics who are here illegally aren't counted in the 2010 Census, Democrats, in effect, could lose clout in Congressional reapportionment and state redistricting. The calculation of the immigrant groups is that the Democrats in Congress, facing such a prospect, now will be forced to push hard for immigration changes. But in the midst of a major recession, that calculation could be a mistake.

Add this to the mix: Many in Mexico are a lot less eager to see increased numbers of naturalized U.S. citizens from the population of illegals now north of the border than they are to get Washington to adopt a program of temporary visas for agricultural and other short term workers.

From a Mexican perspective, that nation's interests lie in retaining its labor force in the long run while increasing family remittances in the short run. It is also pointed out that most Mexicans would rather not abandon their country of birth if they can find a way to make a living there--or in legal work in the U.S. Granting amnesty to the current illegal immigrants assures that as soon as the process is over the same problems will arise for a new generation of illegals--problems for U.S. border security and problems of personal security for the new waves of illegals. It is in the interests of the Mexicans as well as the Americans to get a real reform, not just a political fix.

The obstacles to policy accommodation are not in Mexico but in the American Congress. Businesses are much more ready to improve the lot of temporary workers than they were--classically--in Grapes of Wrath days (and that story was about workers who were Oklahomans, not Mexicans). But organized labor will resist the competition. So will some ethnic voter groups aligned with the Democrats.

Still, a U. S. Administration that wanted to help Mexico to stabilize and prosper and to find a permanent solution to the worker/immigration pressure on our borders would support an increase in temporary visas and work permits, just as it would visas for skilled workers. It also would legislate to assure modern standards of housing and medical protections for temporary workers. The increase in working visas could be combined with serious border security enforcement. But with a worker visa program included in immigration reform, such border problems would be reduced anyhow, and almost at once.

We should stop thinking of Mexico as a welfare case and start regarding the country as the strong trade partner it is already and the developed first world economic power it has the potential to become.

The Obama Administration apparently has abandoned the campaign promise to re-open NAFTA. Otherwise, however, it shows little inclination to move on this path. Meanwhile, Republicans are clear that they oppose massive naturalization efforts (amnesty), but seem unable to articulate a principled and positive foreign/domestic agenda that identifies with both the interests of our border integrity and Mexico's legitimate economic ambitions and the humanitarian interests of Mexican workers. Why can't politicians put these worthy goals together?

It could be, and should be, undertaken before the 2010 Census.

April 20, 2009

"Never Again"? Well, Maybe

There is a funhouse quality of absurdity to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his appearance at a UN Conference on Anti-Racism to denounce Israel. Besides Iran, the major sponsors include Cuba, Venezuela and Libya. How did they leave out Zimbabwe and North Korea?

The conference raises the question, if you were alive in, say, 1936 or '37 , and yet knew what you did today of the Nazis, what would you do? The thing is, we are alive now and yet find it hard to focus on a powerful latter-day Nazi, Ahmadinejad, who is getting a lot more play from the UN than Hitler ever got from the old League of Nations.

"Nazi" is a frequently and regrettably abused term. Fairly speaking, it should apply only to a vehement anti-Semite who not only wants to discriminate against Jews, but also wants to destroy them as a people--AND is prepared to use violent force to do so. Unfortunatley, Ahmadinejad meets the definitional criteria.

This is not a matter of poor taste at the United Nations. It is an urgent scandal.

Urgent because Iran is acquiring nuclear weapons.

April 13, 2009

Message to Mexico: Got Problems? Move Here!

Give President Obama an "A" for political daring in forcing the issue of "immigration reform"--by which is meant providing citizenship for 22 million illegal immigrants--and an "D-", so far, for helping our neighbor, Mexico.

The two causes are not necessarily in sync, and may actually work against each other. Mexico desperately needs help in combatting drug traffickers--and curbing sales in this country. It needs the United States to respect NAFTA by allowing approved Mexican trucks to ship here. It needs investment and other economic development assistance. It needs political reforms that will allow the private sector in Mexico to expand and boost long term economic growth. The goal in all of this is to help Mexico take care of its people. A prosperous, self-respecting Mexico is good for building a healthier relationship between our two countries.

So far, however, the Obama Administration has had a mixed record in respect to our Southern neighbor. Maybe when President Obama visits there in a few days that picture will improve.

However, Mr. Obama's prospective immigration bill does not seem to have much to do with helping Mexico and a lot to do with domestic U.S. politics. He obviously doesn't mind illegal immigration very much. He gives ample evidence for those who think his main aim in this field is adding new Democrats to the U.S. voting rolls.

Setting aside the politics, how is this new emphasis good for the United States right now? We are in a serious recession and a huge batch of immigrants to compete with current Americans for jobs is sure to spark bitter populist divisiveness. It was hard enough to argue for immigration when the economy was booming and when amnesty was set into the context of stronger border enforcement. The economy is worse now than a couple of years ago and the bill being proposed is sure to be less balanced than the one supported then by President Bush.

In addition, the current recession in Mexico is not just impelling poor people, but also the educated and skilled, to move North. That may be good for the U.S. economy in the long run, but not so good for Mexico. Such people are needed to help Mexico modernize. That nation cannot grow and prosper when the United States is the safety valve for poor economic policies and performance in the Mexican government and economy.

President Obama, of course, is busy moving the United States toward greater public sector development, so he probably doesn't have much sympathy for President Calderon of Mexico, who is trying to move his country toward freer markets.

These days, the new Administration's de facto message to Mexico seems to be: You have economic problems? Move here!

April 8, 2009

Foreign Policy House of Mirrors

Not since Woodrow Wilson was hailed by tumultuous crowds as he appeared at the Versailles peace conference has an American leader been given such a warm welcome in Europe as greeted Barrack Obama, and simultaneously achieved so little of practical benefit. The Jazz Age was also an age of celebrity and the parties and confetti and cheers for Wilson in 1919--as for Obama ninety years later-- were reported everywhere. They were stunning, thrilling and transient.

The way for an American head of state to translate public adulation into approval from the leaders of the Old World, of course, is to capitulate to their demands and to expect nothing in return. Obama played that role beautifully and the American public was led to believe it was a huge triumph. Slowly, the truth is sinking in, however.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/5121615/President-Barack-Obama-is-going-home-with-non-nein-and-no-ringing-in-his-ears.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/5120797/Analysis-What-has-Barack-Obamas-first-foreign-tour-really-achieved.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123906007566594937.html

March 31, 2009

Netanyahu to Obama: Iran Won't Wait

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Bibi Netanyahu is now in charge in Israel and the contrast of his style with that of the new U.S. president, Barack Obama, could hardly be more stark.

Unfortunately, as the 1930s showed, tyrants will not give the democracies time to improve their economies before challenging them. The Obama Administration imagines that Iran can be maneuvered into a serious peace agreement that includes giving up development of nuclear weapons. But everything in their past suggests that the Iranian mullahs' word means nothing. They will build nuclear weapons when you are antagonistic and they will build nuclear weapons when you are trying to appease them.

Take your pick. But after either approach, action becomes painfully necessary.

March 24, 2009

Where are the Friends of Mexico?

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When illegal immigration was the topic of the day, my email over-flowed with statements from supposed friends of Mexico demanding "reform". But now when the United States under President Obama has killed the use of Mexican trucks, driven by Mexicans, on U.S. roads, protests against such a patently anti-Mexican decision are noticeably absent.

Some people say that most Latino political groups in the U.S. are, in effect, arms of the Democratic Party that use the Latino label to cadge votes and little more. They will criticize Republicans, but not Democrats, no matter what. This issue--where the Mexican government is outraged by a clear violation of NAFTA, and in retaliation is damaging U.S. trade--would seem to be a test of that theory.

So far, the test is only validating the theory. The Obama Administration had to choose between Mexico (and NAFTA) and the Teamsters union, and it took the cheap political option. But if Latino political groups care, they aren't saying so.

Building a closer working relationship with Latin America should be a higher priority for the United States. But the Obama Administration failed to support the trade treaty with Colombia and now is rescinding the modest progress of the Bush Administration in allowing (safe) Mexican trucks to cross our borders.

Do we allow Canadian trucks? Of course.

Why not qualified Mexican trucks?

If the shoe were on the other foot and Bush, not Obama, had made this decision you would have a hard time avoiding the word "racism" all over the media and on the streets.

February 20, 2009

"The Great Game" Can be Dangerous

In the 19th Century the competition between the West and Russia for influence in Iran was dubbed "The Great Game." Such games can turn dangerous, however.

Iran in the 21st Century arms terrorists in Gaza and Lebanon. It has targeted Israel for destruction and, by many accounts, is building a nuclear bomb. It boasts of plans for guided missiles. Meanwhile, Iran has sought weaponry to protect its nuclear sites from Israeli preventative attacks.

Russia is helping Iran to build its nuclear plant, though it says it is not helping Iran to convert its facilities to bomb-making and to develop guided missile capacity. Meanwhile, Russia is blocking efforts at the U.N. to sanction Iran for its nuclear weapons ambitions. And Russia is continuing to arm Iran to thwart possible attacks.

We have been told that this is about nothing more than mere money. Russia has weapons to sell and needs markets.

We are told quietly that Russia really is monitoring Iran's situation and won't let it get out of hand.

Unfortunately, all such assertions are beginning to wear thin. Friends of the U.S-Russian relationship have to be sober in the face of these realities.

February 15, 2009

Understanding Recent US-Israel Relations

The remarkable Elliott Abrams, a key foreign affairs adviser in three Republican administrations, is interviewed at length by the also-remarkable Ruthy Blum Leibowitz of The Jerusalem Post.

Here in one long article is an easy and excellent way to brief yourself on the American relationship with Israel over the past decade. Knowing that the interviewer and interviewee are related (fully disclosed) only adds to the enjoyment.

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1233304768587&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day in Iraq

A few years ago it was unimaginable that lovers could hold hands in a Baghdad park. It was not allowed by the religious extremists. And it wasn't safe. Now that is changing.

The recent elections saw defeat of Islamist and pan-Arab parties, whether Shiite or Sunni. Pro-Iranians were devastated politically.

Culturally as well as politically and economically, it appears that most Iraqis long to join the developed world. How much will the Obama Administration exert itself to help them?

Can Venezuela Express Itself? Does it Matter?

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The only vote that counts.

The Hugo Chavez regime is a failure in terms of anyone's interests other than Chavez'--all classes and groups, and certainly the nation's standing in the world.

Sunday the voters are asked again to authorize an effective Chavez-for-life amendment to the constitution. This time it is unlikely that Jimmy Carter will be around to indicate that the voting was fair. The economy is in collapse and even redistributing what wealth is left will not long sustain vote-buying handouts to the poor. The only question now is how far the Chavez regime (like Mugabe's in Zimbabwe) will go to steal the election.

If the vote goes against Chavez and is fairly reported, turmoil will mount quickly. If it does not go against Chavez or is not reported fairly, the fate of Chavez will play out more slowly. But eventually the collapse of oil prices and skyrocketing inflation means the collapse of the government's finances and therefore Chavez' schemes.

February 11, 2009

Israel's Future, and Ours

What is coming in Israel after this week's exciting elections is a coalition, as usual. But, facing stressful and consequential days ahead, this coalition could turn out to be unusually conducive to vital domestic stability.

It is in this sensitive moment that Discovery Senior Fellow George Gilder is completing the edits for a new book, The Israel Test. This work will surprise many of his fans, but it makes sense in the progression of George's interests over four decades--from war to politics to families to "wealth and poverty" to entrepreneurism to technology and technology companies to (now) the Israel of the past dozen years that concatenates new free market policies, brilliant minds and the most fecund technology, acre for acre, in the world. For Gilder, the success of the United States is now linked as never before to the success of Israel. The links are more than sentiment, and more than political and military interests. The new links are shared technical knowledge, imagination, business acumen and, most of all, mental agility.

Benjamin Netanyahu helped usher in this new era when he was finance minister in the 90s. Now, as George first found on a Discovery-sponsored trip two years ago, the country is fairly bouncing with brash young businesses that have made tiny Israel an amazing tech powerhouse. In his distinctive fashion George weaves a story of the people who made this happen and their successors today. He interprets this account in the context of the history of the Jews in modern times and gives a frank report on the undeniable genius of the Jewish people.

Our Discovery colleague David Klinghoffer, who writes often on Jewish matters, read a draft this week and tells me he found it "brilliant, visionary, original, exciting, and beautiful... The fundamental insight about an 'Israel test' we all face is so intuitive and obviously true--yet not like anything I've heard before. Once he articulates it, I know exactly what he means and have to admit I've not always passed it myself.... It snaps so much into perspective, unarguably, I think."

Gilder is original. He's also funny and challenging.

Richard Vigilante Books is the publisher. The Israel Test is slated for publication this spring.

You heard about it here first.


February 6, 2009

Chavez' Oil Bubble is Bursting

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Now for some good news: The vultures are beginning to circle the Caracas palacio of Hugo "Little Castro" Chavez. The sitings are slow to be reported, but they do have a certain vividness to them.

If Chavez couldn't pay his bills last fall, how do you suppose he is holding things together now when oil is a half what it was in October?

The hopeful winds from Venezuela are not all that unique. The United States may be in bad shape economically, but that doesn't necessarily open up opportunities for our natural foes in the Hemisphere. This fine piece on "Latin America's Quiet Revolution" by Stephen Haber in The Wall Street Journal ran several days ago, but did not get enough attention.

January 9, 2009

Iraq as Bush Leaves Office

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President Bush in his final press conference

Less than two weeks before President Bush leaves office, the leading Iraqi blog, Iraq the Model--a light of fair and accurate reporting from inside Iraq ever since the fall of Saddam--describes the difference between the Iraq where a reporter's shoes were thrown at Bush and the Iraqi reality that is the actual Bush legacy. Who can deny the huge institutional progress? Only Sadrites and head in the sand Leftists in the West.

December 31, 2008

Somalia, a new Al Qaida Homeland in 2009?

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This has been a bad year for Somalia and a bad year for the Somalia front in the War on Terrorism. It is not a glorious account for the United States, the European Union or our supposed friends in the United Nations. A Voice of America report tells a good deal of the sad story.

But the background is even worse that what appears up frront. The Ethiopians sent troops to Somalia (partly at our request) in the expectation that we would back them up with financial support for the U.N. approved transitional government, as well at the Ethiopians themselves. If there has been support, it has been too little. Now the Ethiopians are going home, assuming that they can fight their way out of the country.

The long internecine political strife between President Yusuf and his prime ministers is partly tribal, but also partly the consequence of inadequate funds with which to pay bureaucrats and the military, let alone provide help for the general population. Don't be surprised if allies break up internally when stressed out. Mr. Yusuf's return to relatively calm Puntland is not a sign of peace ahead, but a sign of general political and military failure.

Somalia is in a critical location in the Middle East. It has oil. It is close to shipping lanes, as the pirates have shown us. It has attracted Bin Laden supporters. There are Somalis in the United States--Minneapolis, Seattle, Cleveland, etc.--raising money for BIn Laden (I am told) and Somali young men who have resided in the U. S. who have returned to Somalia to fight on the terrorists' side.

There has been very little, if any, MSM coverage of all this (except for the attacks of the pirates), even though Somalia has the markings of a prospective debacle for the United States and our allies in the months ahead. We are so preoccupied with the economy, the Israel/Palestine conflict, Iraq and Afghanistan that we seem unwilling to face the facts in Somalia. They are facts, nonetheless. They could determine a foreign policy catastrophe for the Obama Administration in 2009.

December 30, 2008

Watch Iran in 2009

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Iranian dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar speaks in 2006 at the Discovery Institute about deposing the mullahs in his native Iran.

Is it too soon to speak of revolution within Iran? Many U.S. opponents of the Iranian regime think the U.S. is doing next to nothing to support indigenous dissidents, but are appearances accurate?

Here is a story--not much noticed in the MSM--that suggests otherwise.

December 25, 2008

Aid the Iranian Dissidents

Iran is not the puritanical Islamist state you think; it's worse than that, corrupt and immoral. The mullahs are on the take and there is a growing scandal of coerced prostitution (sex slavery in the modern parlance). But the social ills are not adequately covered yet in the West. We avert our eyes.

Iran today is overwhelmingly "young" and students are mostly alienated from the government, and not only from President Ahmadinejad, but also from the mullah puppeteers above him.

Here are some remarkable photos by Mehdi Gasemi, taken of demonstrations on December 6 ("Student Day" in Iran). Funny, I don't see any "Death to America" posters.

Why is our government so uninterested in helping the dissidents? Are we we afraid of a regime that already is implacably opposed to us? Would we rather let Iran's rulers build a nuclear bomb and then bomb the sites, starting a major war?

Even in the Cold War, when the Soviets were sponsoring anti-American groups in this country, we did all we could to aid dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. Why is Iran different? Please don't tell me the dissidents don't want or need help from us. Who says so--and in what context?

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December 5, 2008

Mithal al Alusi Rescued by the Courts

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Al Alusi, consoled by American soldiers after his sons were killed in 2005

We have on various occasions demanded fair treatment of Mithal al Alusi, the brave Iraqi member of Parliament who has traveled twice to Israel to discuss terrorism issues. Doing so caused him the loss of friends, party membership (he had to create a new party) and official security protection. It may have cost him the lives of his two sons who were killed in a terrorist ambush that was aimed at him. It also has encumbered him twice with threats of prosecution in the courts. Had he been sent to an Iraqi prison he probably could not have survived long.

Happily, the latest assault on his official standing and freedom was taken to the supreme court--and Mr. Al Alusi has been completely vindicated. Moreover, without anyone much seeming to notice, Iraqis are now free to go to Israel or any other country. That is highly unusual in the Middle East and sets the stage for any number of future peaceful exchanges and other diplomatic initiatives. The politicians could not establish that right, but the constitution they adopted a couple of years ago did. In any case, that is what the Iraqi supreme court has ruled.

Tom Friedman uses the Al Alusi case as an illustration of the transformed Iraq that is being handed to the incoming Obama Administration. It is a good piece, although Friedman is so partisan that he cannot bear to give President Bush any credit for the changed situation. No thanks to Friedman or The New York Times that employs him, Iraq really may be a major victory for freedom in the seething Middle East.

A more dispassionate pundit would admit that Bush was instrumental in that victory.

Polls Support Harper, but Will that Last?

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Most Canadians, except in Quebec, seem to support Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to force Parliament into a cooling-off period just as the Conservatives' opponents were exhibiting a rare unified determination to vote for a new PM, Liberal Stephane Dion.

That probably also reflects the public's greater trust in the Conservatives on the economic issue. Indeed, polls show stronger support for the Tories on that issue than on the issue of prorogation (sending the House of Commons into forced recess).

Now there could well be a debilitating fight for the top leadership post among the Liberals, and their leader--and the Coalition's putative head--Dion doesn't even seem certain to prevail in it. Not only will he not become the new PM, he may not last as Liberal Leader. Dion was seen as the only horse to ride in a crisis, but now that the crisis is on hold for the next two months (when Parliament returns), the dolorous former professor's intra-party rivals seem likely to surface. It's hard to see how internecine Liberal jousting can help the Coalition, in any event.

Meanwhile, the relative popularity of Harper, as I wrote below, could easily start to evaporate if the PM does not respond strongly with an economic program the country can accept.

Harper lately has had the sense to offer to work on the program with the opposition while they are cooling their heels and sending out their Christmas cards. But he made a mistake by not adopting a more irenic approach earlier. Where did he get the idea that it was safe for a minority Government to propose taking away the public financing of the opposition parties? (Under his proposal his Conservatives would have lost the public cash, too, but they are better situated to get private funding.) If Harper & Co. had wanted to find a way to unite the usually fractious Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois, he could hardly have found a better device. They were plotting against him anyhow, but the attempt to raid their political piggy bank gave made them genuinely passionate.

December 4, 2008

Canadian Parliament is in Forced Winter Hibernation

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper--spiting his opponents in the Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois parties--today asked the Governor General, Michaelle Jean, to "prorogue" the Parliament, and she agreed. (Photo below.) The national legislative body therefore is now in suspension and the House of Common doors are locked, and not just until the New Year, as many expected, but until January 26.

If the word "prorogue" is strange to American ears (and unless you studied the public life of England in the Middle Ages, it probably is), don't worry; it is mostly a new idea for most Canadians, too. In fact, it is almost as novel a device (though legal) as the three Canadian opposition parties' scheme (also legal) to close down the Conservative Government that Harper heads and install one of their own. Prorogation, indeed, is Harper's stall tactic to prevent a nearly certain vote of "no confidence" in Parliament by the opposition parties next week. Harper's Conservatives have only 46% of the House seats, the three opposition parties 54%. If they unite, they get to govern.

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But now there will be a period of forced Parliamentary hibernation--and all sorts of political speculation. Which leaders and which parties are most likely to crack in the two cold, dark months ahead? Will the uneasy combine of Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois break up as specific difficult issues arise and the three party warlords start contradicting one another? Even before that, will an ambitious insurrection within the Liberal Party undertake the ouster of the current leader, Stephane Dion, the somewhat melancholy former academic whose campaign management floundered in October's national elections? If so, will that intra-party struggle weaken or strengthen the inter-party agreement?

Or will it be the Conservatives who fall apart as the economy continues to weaken and as demands grow for stimulus programs that only a sitting Parliament can authorize? If it is this course that events take then Harper probably will not merely be voted out on January 26 but trampled underfoot.

My unbidden opinion (see yesterday's blog below) was that Harper's best option was not prorogation, but resignation, handing the palace coup makers their supposed dream: power right now. My reasoning was that triumverates are seldom stable. Put Caesar, Pompey and Crassus jointly in charge and before you know it they will be fighting one another. On the other hand, before they achieve power, members of a triumverate have every reason to collaborate amicably and forge a tight union against the incumbent, in this case, Harper. Therefore, if you are Harper and you are being a bit Machiavellian, you might have given your varied opponents (one liberal centrist party, one socialist and one separatist) the very thing they think they wanted, and then watched and waited as they started to plot against one another.

Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives have taken a different tack, however. They are probably betting that the Coalition will melt apart over the holidays or at least in a January thaw. Meanwhile, he will present what he hopes is a popular set of new economic policies to the country.

Well, we'll see. We Americans--as is said in Kentucky--don't have a dog in this fight. But it is curious to watch, nonetheless.

December 3, 2008

Rogues and Prorogues in Canada

The Canadian media are filled with the exciting story of a possible, even likely, removal of the Conservative government after only six weeks' tenure since October's parliamentary election. Conservatives, with 46% of the seats in Parliament, still lack a majority and now the other parties--the Liberals (who have about a quarter of the seats, the New Democrats (NDP) and the Bloc Quebecois--have decided to close ranks to form a coalition. A new Government could well be made up of parties that were last fall's election losers. The participants publicly have agreed on Stephane Dion as the new Prime Minister, even though the Liberal leader is under criticism in his own party for the recent poorly executed Liberal campaign. Internal Liberal divisions open a chance, indeed, that Dion could be sworn is as the new PM and yet get ousted before the next election in a party leadership contest.

When Discovery Institute in Seattle held a review of the Canadian results on October 15, the day after the Parliamentary election, I asked two esteemed experts on Canadian politics why the Liberals and NDP didn't just combine forces on the left. The answer was swift and stern (stupid me!). There is just too much ideological difference between the relatively free market Liberals and the socialist NDP, and too much history, too, I was told.

Well, six weeks later there doesn't seem to be so much difference. Not at the moment, anyhow. In the coalition deal, Liberals will organize the Government and get most of the cabinet seats, while the NDP will get a mere six cabinet posts--but that is more than it has enjoyed in my memory--and the Bloc, whose long term policy is separatism, will vote to sustain the coalition agenda, but not take part in the new Government ("Government" approximates a U.S. "Administration" in parliamentary terminology). There are fateful photos of the three joyful party leaders after signing their joint agreement: The NDP's Jack Layton, the Liberal Stephane Dion (center) and the Bloc's Gilles Duceppe. (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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I have a feeling that that photo may come back to haunt the three. There really are differences among the parties--as well as within the Liberal Party. It is hard enough to keep the Talking Points and lines of authority clear within one party, let alone among three. Then there are the personality differences and rival power ambitions among long term rivals.

With that in mind, it would seem to this outsider that Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be smart to let the conspirators succeed for now. They have the votes to oust him anyhow and the most he can do (with approval of the Governor General, the seldom-more-than-nominal head of state) is "prorogue" Parliament for a few weeks--essentially, force a temporary adjournment so the Conservatives can think of something else to do and hope the Opposition Coalition plan will unravel over the Christmas holidays. That is probably a vain hope, however. Right now, the public is uneasy about changing the Government so soon after an election and in the middle of a bad recession. But even if the majority of the public are wary of the new coalition initially, Harper could find that his support in the public might recede as a stalemate wore on.

But the present strategy of the Conservatives seems to be to dig in, to do everything they can within the law to stop the plotters. So far they mostly seem to be sputtering in their surprise and indignation. Their first hapless charge is that the Liberals have made a coalition with "socialists and separatists." The charge is arguably true, and it is also true that the Bloc especially is not trusted in most of the country. But the trouble is that the coalition probably is going to be able to show that the Conservatives themselves were willing to play footsie with the Bloc in the past when it served their interests. And whatever the country is, it is not majority Conservative. The Tories got only 37.6% percent of the votes in parliamentary ridings (districts) in October, even though the electoral logistics worked out to convert that total to 46% of the seats in Parliament. If a contest were held between between the "Conservatives and Everybody Else," it hard to see the Conservatives winning.

There is another publicity tack the Tories are taking that seems ill-advised. Conservatives are trying to make it seem as if the coalition maneuver is nearly illegal, and certainly illicit--unethical, if you will. A coalition may be highly unusual and a bald power play, but it is not illegal or illicit. The coalition could have formed a Government right after the election if the three losing parties had so wanted. A party with 46% of the seats (the Conservatives) doesn't automatically have a property right to govern just because it is bigger than the next largest party.

On the other hand, if PM Harper were to go before the nation, express his dismay that the opposition parties will not let his steady leadership continue to assist Canada through a difficult economic period, and then (bowing to the express intention of the Liberals, NDP and Bloc), he were to ask the Governor General to invite Stephane Dion to form a new Government, here is what might happen: 1) After the champagne and back slapping was finished, gripes among the Liberals against Stephane Dion as Leader would re-surface. 2) With Conservatives still an imposing minority consistently voting against the Coalition, Inter-party Coalition strains inevitably would grow as various issues were raised. Inter-party coalition loyalty would be tested again and again, one controversial issue after another, and eventually would rupture. 3) Once the breakdown came, the Governor General would almost surely call an election, even though the public probably wouldn't feel ready for one. 4) If this all happened in a few months' time from now, Conservatives just happen to be better prepared to contest another election and would have a ready-made issue; namely, the demonstrated incompetence of all the opposition parties.

Of course, there is no predicting events. The Coalition could turn out to be a huge success and there might emerge a long-term stable Government from it. The Conservatives also could suddenly have their own leadership fight after the Coalition took over. (Some might ask, for instance, why Harper so antagonized the other parties after the election that they got over their own mutual antagonisms and formed their new alliance).

But, on balance, I wonder if centrifugal forces bidding to pull a coalition apart might not prevail in coming months against the centripetal forces that presently are pulling it together. Parties work well to enforce cohesion, while coalitions invite back stabbing divisions. Centuries of political experience in all countries show it.

So it seems to me that the Conservatives might be better off in both the next year and long term--and at the next election might even obtain the parliamentary majority that has eluded them so far--if in coming days they handed the opposition parties the very Government hot potato they claim to desire. The Coalition plotters could turn out in the end to have been "too smart by half." The Tories are going to lose control of the House of Commons within weeks anyhow (unless the Coalition comes unglued even sooner). Why not let necessity become an intentional choice?

Mind you, of course, I am just an American observer. What do I know?

**

Update:

Here is an online poll that does ask the question about the prospect of a Coalition Government. It is probably not scientific; still, it is interesting to see the near-even split.

News links:

These two links to CBC News - here and here - and to The Globe and Mail, provide some very useful background information to the story.

November 30, 2008

Islam and Terrorism--Again

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Our friend Mustafa Akyol again has a wise and irenic perspective on terrorism, this time in the aftermath of the killings in Mumbai (Bombay).

I wonder if it will register with the American left now--as a Democrat of their choice is about to enter the White House--that terrorism has to be met with force? That does not mean that one loses the ability to distinguish Islamist fanatics from ordinary Muslims (as Akyol makes clear) or to give up on diplomatic efforts, even with largely extremist elements in Iran. It does mean realism and a recognition that we are not the problem, the adversary is. You would have to be a fanatic yourself to blame America for the attacks in India.

November 11, 2008

Now for the Future of Iraq

Mohammed Fadhil of Iraq the Model has a useful post on Iraqi reactions to the American election. What is most useful about it is the open spirit with which Iraq's most famous bloggers approach the new Obama Administration. Mohammed and his brothers are grateful to President Bush for liberating their country and they liked Sen. McCain. Like most Iraqis, they are looking forward to the departure of the Americans, but they do not want to have that happen too soon. The relative peace that has raised hopes in recent months since the Surge succeeded is fragile and could collapse, precipitating an Iranian-influenced civil war.

So, we'll see. Certainly it is to America--not Bush, McCain or Obama per se--that Iraqis look for helpful leadership. It is America that will get the credit or the blame for coming events.

And, to borrow a malaprop from the new Obama Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, we can't just kick the future of Iraq down the can.

October 31, 2008

"Mark My Words": Is War With Iran Hiding Behind the Election?

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A recent missile test in Iran


At the top of the list of under-explored issues in the 2008 presidential campaign, place this one: war between Iran and Israel. It is the potential hot subject of the next presidential administration, but there is a strange silence about it. Tom Friedman of The New York Times would have us believe that the Iranian government is on the skids because of the falling price of oil and the mullah's managerial incompetence. But the Teheran theocrats have failed to conform to such wishful analyses in the past and there is little reason to think anything has changed.
 
A more likely prospect is increased belligerence in coming months from an Iranian regime that is looking for outside opportunities to shore up domestic support. Iran is building nuclear bombs and rockets to deliver them.
 
Consider this now in the context of the campaign. Media and politicians have been rather quick to pass over Senator Joe Biden's remarks to Seattle campaign donors recently, remarks that quite plainly predict a coming foreign policy crisis. The Democratic vice presidential nominee, who is privy to top secret national security intelligence, concluded his talk with the observation, "I probably shouldn't have said all this because it dawned on me that the press is here."

But he had just said earlier, "Mark my words." So, before the campaign ends, let's mark them.
 
It has long been rumored that Israel will not allow Iran to gain the weapons and delivery system to attack Israel. First, Israel will make a pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
 
In the event of an attack the United States surely will back Israel logistically and we might well join the fight directly.  After all, Iran repeatedly vows to eradicate Israel and bring down the U.S. It funds terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Sadrites in Iraq.

Once the American election is over and the domestic political scene in Israel calms down (after parliamentary elections in late winter) an attack will become timely. Israelis certainly are capable and have the will to make a preemptive strike, as they did in 1981 against the Osiraq nuclear reactor in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Strong statements of general backing for Israel suggest that both presidential nominees are prepared to give more specific support to an Israeli attack when it happens. Both may have made private commitments to that effect. But right now neither candidate wants to talk about the subject. McCain may not want to sound like a warmonger and Obama would be afraid of disillusioning his Left wing base--the peace folk who initially rallied to him because of his steadfast opposition to the American war in Iraq.

Israel's actual plans, and American possible actions in connection with them, are all highly classified, of course. Outside the Bush Administration, only the presidential candidates--and key members of Congress, such as Biden, who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations --would have been briefed. These people know what others can only suspect and wonder about.

Biden, with such knowledge, warned in Seattle,  "Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did Jack Kennedy. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."

Biden also said that he expects that the Obama Administration's handling of the unnamed crisis will be unpopular with many people. "Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right...Gird your loins," he told the donors, "Because this guy (Obama) has it. But he's gonna need your help. Because I promise you, you all are gonna be sitting here a year from now going, 'Oh, my God, why are they there in the polls? Why is the polling so down? Why is this thing so tough?

"There are gonna be a lot of you who want to go, 'Whoa, wait a minute, yo, whoa, whoa, I don't know about that decision.' Because if you think the decision is sound when they're made...they're not likely to be a popular as they are sound. Because if they're popular, they're probably not sound."

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tried to spin the Biden effusion as just a commonplace notation that a new leader must always expect to be tested by events. Obama, the brilliant rhetorician, dismissed it as a "rhetorical flourish."

Instead, it sounds like someone speaking a kind of code that he half-wants to be understood and half-wants not to be understood. It also sounds like the Joe Biden who likes to demonstrate his insider status and who notoriously lacks a filter. Slade Gorton of Washington State has described his former Senate colleague as "a politician who never lets a vagrant thought enter his head and remain unspoken."

Other possible scenarios that have been derived from Biden's words include an altercation with Russia, perhaps over U.S. sponsorship of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. Some people imagine an Al Qaeda attack that would cause Obama to invade Pakistan, as in the primaries he suggested he might do (never mind that Pakistan is an ally that fervently does not want our troops.) But, in the case of Eastern Europe, the scenario doesn't rise to the high drama implied by Biden's fulminations, and in the case of Pakistan, an invasion any time soon seems unlikely.

In contrast, prospects of an Israeli attack on Iran have been discussed for a long time and have achieved a level of expectation, not just conjecture. Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton last summer predicted an Israeli attack soon after the American elections are over. (I think that the Israelis would want a new U.S. president fully resident in the White House so that he would have to take responsibility.)
 
Despite years of diplomacy by many countries and international organizations, efforts to restrain the Iranians have failed. The International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations (IAEA) has been rebuffed repeatedly. The defiant Iranian theocracy has virtually asked for attack.
 
Still, such an attack, even if successful, is bound to have huge repercussions. An open declaration of war seems probable. Iran has said it will urge its terrorist surrogates to rise up in the Middle East and to assault the U.S. worldwide and on our own territory. Iran's own naval and para-military units have the capacity to threaten shipping lanes around the Straits of Hormuz through which most of the world's oil passes. Oil prices could rocket for a while.
 
Other nations in the region, history shows, will profess outrage at Israeli and U.S. actions, even though nearly all will be relieved that Iran's atomic threat has been removed. The United Nations will condemn Israel. The U.S. will become even more unpopular in the "Arab street," including among some of our allies (not all) in Iraq.

But if the issue of a possibly impending war with iran is absent in the presidential campaign, there is precedence for such avoidance. There seems to be a hole in American awareness at election time where foreign policy ought to be. That was true in 2000 when terrorism was barely mentioned, if at all--eleven months before the 9/11 assaults. Going back, Pearl Harbor arrived a bit more than a year after FDR won re-election to a third term, pledging to keep "our boys" out of war. And in 1916 Woodrow Wilson was re-elected with the slogan, "He Kept Us Out of War," only five months before America entered World War I. We may be at such a point again.

But will anyone even remember this "crisis" issue omission when and if Biden's prediction comes true and a war with Iran "tests" a newly elected Obama?


 
** Bruce Chapman, president of Discovery Institute, was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Organizations in Vienna under President Reagan.

Why The Demand to Appease Israel's Enemies?

By George Gilder (taken from his weekly subscriber newsletter):

It is the view of The New York Times' Tom Friedman that the Israelis, who hold less than half of one percent of mid eastern territory, should trade land for peace with the Palestinians:

After thirty years covering this area, cataloguing every olive tree in the
Middle East, Friedman no can longer see the imperious forest of basic
facts before him in the region. G.K. Chesterton got it right. As I
paraphrase: "If it were true that the man who is trained is the man to be
trusted--if the man who saw something every day saw more and more of its
significance--the argument for expertise would be unanswerable. But the man
who sees and studies and practices something every day does not understand
more and more of its significance, but less and less."

Reflecting this blindness of expertise is the utterly conventional and
obviously fantastic consensus view of Friedman and nearly all the other
authorities on the subject. The key problem in the mid-East, they conclude
in chorus, is that Israel has too much land. Their remedy is for Israel to
give up land for the creation of yet another fanatical Moslem nation-state
in various areas of Palestine amazingly even more cramped than Israel.
Created would be a prospective nation with no identity to sustain it
beyond the Palestinian sense of grievance and its hatred of Israelis.

It is hard to imagine two more preposterous ideas so widely and
prestigiously upheld by experts. Chesterton's law is fully vindicated by
Friedman's follies.

Also supporting this pastiche of absurdities is French writer-"activist"
Bernard-Henri Levy. Author of a book on the killers of Daniel Pearl of the
Wall Street Journal and articles and essays galore on Israel and
anti-Semitism, he amazingly slips into an objectively anti-Semitic mode
himself. Believing that Israel must trade land for "peace," and give the
Palestinians a state, Levy fails to explain why, of all the nations of the
world, the only one not permitted to command a defensible territory,
capture the staging areas of invaders, or exclude immigrants devoted to
their destruction are Israel's Jews.

By contrast to Israel, the Palestinians are surrounded on all sides by
spacious and compatible Arab countries of whom they theoretically could
become citizens. Why not the East Bank? That's Jordan, where 100 thousand
Palestinians voluntarily fled during the 1967 war? As David Pryce-Jones
witnessed at the time on the Allenby bridge, "Fear did not seem to be the
motivation. These people had not seen a single Israeli soldier....Something
in the culture more powerful than either self-interest or common sense was
at work."

A Moslem Arab state from time to time sustained by Israel and created in
part as a home for the Palestinians, Jordan held the West Bank until King
Hussain's treacherous 1967 invasion and shelling of Jerusalem. Jordan
retains a far more compelling obligation to these people than Israel does.
In the 1980s, Palestinians taking refuge in Jordan did attempt to
overthrow the Jordanian government. So the Jordan solution may take some
work, but it is surely more practical than the seawater solution favored
by the Palestinians.

Should the Palestinians shun Jordan, perhaps they would prefer the Soviet
Jihad state of Syria, which in its guise as "Greater Syria" stretches its
reptilian tentacles throughout the region, including nearby Lebanon.
Moreover, Egypt is contiguous with Gaza and could easily absorb the Gazan
Palestinians. It is outlandish to say that, because of some democratic
nicety interpreted tendentiously by the U.N., Israel must commit effective
suicide by giving citizenship and equal voting rights to 4.5 million
anti-Semite enemies who want to kill them.

Yet Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, in a helpful piece called "Is Israel
Finished?" reports that accepting this line of democratic thought are not
only leading Israeli writers such as the prizewinning Amos Oz and my own
favorite, the eloquent Edward Grossman, but also the then incumbent prime
minister Ehud Olmert himself. Grossman's waffles may be understandable
because of the loss of his son Uri during the Lebanon War in 2006. But
Olmert and his allies had no excuse. Nonetheless, this former mayor of
Jerusalem nominally dedicated himself to removing the some 400 thousand
Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem. Goldberg's article
justifies this surrender by suggesting that, together with the demographic
trend, the West Bank settlements are "a castastrophe." Echoing Jimmy
Carter's ingenuous view, Goldberg even raises fears that "Israel will
become a state like pre-Mandela South Africa, in which the minority ruled
the majority."

Clinching the argument, Goldberg writes: "If the Arabs of the West Bank
and Gaza were given the vote, then Israel, a country whose fundamental
purpose has been to serve as a refuge for persecuted Jews [where they
could live as a majority], would disappear, to be replaced by an
Arab-dominated 'binational' state."

This is a democratic ideology that accords no significance to the prospect
that an Arab run Israel would quickly expel all its Jews and cripple its
capitalist economy. Such rules of democracy would make democracy a suicide
pact.

Without a functioning and legally protected capitalist system, democracies
swiftly sink into ochlocracies, ruled by mobs. Without the independent
private sources of power imparted by free businesses, unbiased courts, and
other institutions of economic order, any democracy becomes a despotism
ruled by any tribe of thug politicians that manage to gain control. If
they have oil or foreign aid they may stay in power for decades. The
failure of leading Israeli intellectuals and politicians to comprehend
this reality is far more portentous than any supposed demographic trend.

In stark terms, Israel and Palestine raise the issue not only of the
prerequisites of viable democracy but also of the nature of capitalist
wealth. Are entrepreneurs, in Israel and around the world, chiefly givers
and benefactors, or are they predators and exploiters? Should policy focus
on fostering economic growth for all or on closing "gaps" between rich and
poor? Should it seek to enable an economic spearhead of excellence and
creativity or to dispossess the successful to subsidize the wretched of
the earth? Clutching their Fanon and their Koran, their Howard Zinn and
their Noam Chomsky, the ersatz voices of the "wretched of the earth"
punctuate their claims by a flaunted fist of hate, a clenched mind of
murder. Does Israel owe anything at all to such people?

To many observers--in the army of the left--it is obvious that Israeli
wealth causes Palestinian misery. How could it be otherwise? Jews have
long been paragons of capitalist wealth. Capitalist wealth, as
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon put it in regard to "property," is "theft." Karl
Marx was said to have shaped his opposition to property rights and his
Jewish self-hatred, by reading Proudhon, who in anti-Semitic virulence,
exceeded even Marx. In an 1883 diary, Proudhon declared that, "The Jew is
the enemy of mankind. This race must be sent to Asia or eliminated." This
fits well with Osama Bin Laden's view that warping the entire U.S. economy
and its global impact has been the effects of Jewish usury.

History, however, favors the view that poverty springs chiefly from envy
and hatred of excellence--from class war Marxism, anti-Semitism, and
cleptocratic madness. It stems from the belief that wealth inheres in
things and material resources that can be seized and redistributed, rather
than in human minds and creations that thrive only in peace and freedom.
In particular, the immiseration of the Middle East stems chiefly from the
covetous and crippling idea among Arabs that Israel's wealth is not only
the source of their humiliation but also the cause of their poverty.

Most of the world, even many citizens of Israel itself, want to muddle
these issues. The favored answer to all categorical pronouncements is:
"All of the above." Democracy, equality, multicultural kumbaya, Sharia
law, gay marriage, capitalism and freedom, the children of coddled West
want it all in a cornucopian cocktail party of inebriated contradictions,
from green austerity to entitled affluence. They mix nominal political
support for Israel with celebration of Palestinian voters who elect and
applaud anti-Semite terrorists. They match a devout belief in abortion
with fears of demographic disaster in Israel, and with continual bows of
political reverence toward an ever-diminishing complement of children.
They combine opposition to nuclear weapons and defense spending with
demands for American intervention everywhere the U.S. has no conceivable
national interest, from Burma to Tibet. They oppose nuclear proliferation
while urging US nuclear disarmament that hugely enhances the incentives
for secret nuclear programs. Without peremptory US nuclear superiority a
small complement of nukes can confer global dominance and make it
impossible for the US to defend Israel or anyone else.

The Israel test forces a remorseless realism. It disallows all the bumper
sticker contradictions of pacifistic bellicosity. Either the world,
principally the U.S., makes the sacrifices to support Israel or Israel,
one way or another, will be destroyed. There are no other realistic
choices. And if Israel is destroyed, capitalist Europe will likely die as
well, and America, as the epitome of productive and creative capitalism,
spurred by Jews, will be in jeopardy.

October 21, 2008

Europe Getting Skittish on Energy Goals

(From Patrick Bell in Vienna)

It appears the E.U. may now be applying the brakes on its
climate and energy plan that was negotiated late last year. Expressing
concerns about the economic costs it might impose, Poland, Italy, and several
other E.U. member states are rebelling. European fans of more controls fear
that if the plan isn't solidified by late December, when the Czech Republic
gets the E.U. presidency, the whole thing might come apart. (The Czech
government is largely divided on climate change.) The E.U. Commission also
wants to have a strong plan in place to use as leverage with the next American
president.

Several vulnerabilities, meanwhile, are coming into focus with the E.U.'s cap
& trade system. For instance, mandating two policy targets (20% reduction of
emissions by 2020, and 20% increase of renewable energy use by 2020) may sound
good in theory, but under the current design of the E.U. system, these targets
may be contradictory in practice. Countries like Austria are meeting their
reduction target (cap) by importing credits from abroad (trade). The trouble
is, under this scheme, Austria, for example, actually sends valuable
investment dollars abroad that otherwise could be used for domestic renewable
energy projects, while not actually achieving reductions in its emissions.

And of course, not all industry sectors are covered, so there are plenty of
objections about favoritism.

October 15, 2008

Discovery Panel Reviews Canada's Election

This from Bruce Ramsey of The Seattle Times (for tomorrow).

Canada Shows Polls' Weakness, Conservatives' Strength

62646069.jpg
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.

The previous post on Canada's polls questioned the wide spread in predictions, from a Conservative victory by nine points over their nearest rivals, the Liberals, down to a five point Conservative win. The actual Conservative spread in yesterday's election was 11.4 percent--and that in a contest where differences are exaggerated by the presence of five parties in contention. Moral: you can't count on polls, something worth noting especially in our own election right now.

There are a number of surprises in the Canadian outcome. First, the large Conservative numerical and percentage plurality did not enable the Tories to win a majority in Parliament. They gained 16 seats, while their top rivals, the Liberals, dropped 19, so it is a real plus for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Tories. First, Harper responded to criticism of his modest cuts in arts funding by making light fun of people who attend expensive arts fund raising "galas" and then complain about cuts in culture. In most places he probably got a chuckle with the allusion, alienating only a few artists who don't vote Conservative anyhow. But in Quebec "culture" is a surrogate for provincial identity and the separatist cause. The Bloc Quebecois made it seem that Harper was ridiculing French Canadian culture.

Then, when Liberal leader Stephane Dion three times fumbled a CTV question about what he would have done about the economy if he had been prime minister, the Tories made fun of his inability to answer a simple question. Dion was hurt nationally, but in Quebec he was defended as a Francophone speaker who was being ridiculed for not speaking and understanding English well enough. In both cases Harper was innocent of any malice toward Quebec or French speakers, but his opponents made enough use of his statements to blunt any gains the Tories had expected.

It is hard to see how the Conservatives could have made a majority this year anyhow. They might have found a couple more seats in B.C. and in Ontario, but even with a couple of gains in Quebec, they still would have been shy of a 155 seat majority. They were not successful in Atlantic Canada, especially in Newfoundland, where Harper is very unpopular for local reasons. In any case, it is hard for anyone now to get a majority in a system that seems to so many parties.

But if the Conservatives were a bit frustrated at their failure to gain a majority, the Liberals are broken and reportedly broke. Their "green" tax policies backfired and Dion, a former professor, was not persuasive on the stump. It has to be asked of the Liberals now what was asked of the conservatives 15 years ago: are they still a national party? The fastest growing region is the West, where the Liberals now are down to seven seats (the Tories have 70). Liberals can't seem to make any more progress than the Tories in Quebec and they are fading in Ontario.

It is not clear that the NDP is much of a national party, either. If the Conservatives have trouble winning in urban areas, the NDP is vacant in most of Quebec, the second largest province, and large swaths of suburbia and rural Canada.

The parties are all tired now and the nation plainly is tired of them. Tuesday's 58.5 percent turnout was the lowest on record. There doesn't have to be an election for four years, but it is very unlikely that there will be one for at least two. What Harper and his party now face is stabilizing the Canadian economy. Fortunately, it has been outperforming others in the West, which may be one reason that the Conservatives performed as well as they did in a time of financial worry.

The next political excitement in Canada will probably be an internal leadership fight in the Liberal Party, with Dion challenged by Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff. The latter was shown in this campaign as a smart, adroit speaker for the party.

A peek at a more distant future comes with the political arrival of the Liberal Justin Trudeau, son of the late, long-serving Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who transformed Canada into a much more liberal country two generations ago. Young Trudeau was elected in Montreal.

October 11, 2008

Oil Opportunity

Why do the media treat the drop in oil prices as a problem that "darkens" the news, when they similarly greeted the upswing of prices a year ago as foreboding?

The fall in oil prices is good for the economy short term and long term. Would we be happier if the price per barrel went back up to $150?

With the presidential campaign riveting national attention, both parties should commit to a twin strategy:

1) Substitute domestic oil for foreign sources to the fullest extent possible. That means, of course, we must drill drill off-shore without delay. It is still profitable to drill at the suddenly lower prices and doing so will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It would be folly to drop the subject now as we have in the past when prices fell. Oil exploration is not something you can start and stop according to the vagaries of politics.

2) Link the exploration policy with a concurrent policy of conservation, including hybrid cars, tax credits for heating insulation, a serious national passenger rail program and other realistic measures, including alternative fuels. Push hard on new, safe nuclear energy and stop the costly and environmentally counter-productive emphasis on ethanol (except for promising new technologies such as algae.)

Combining these strategies makes good sense economically, politically and militarily. There is no good reason why conservatives and liberals should not be able to join together on this. Can we please have some leadership from our "leaders"?

October 9, 2008

Two National Campaigns at Once

The Canadian federal campaign is full of so many follies among all parties that, ad seriatum, the advantage keeps changing. If you are following the U.S. campaign (as even the Canadians are doing) there is a kind of morbidly fascinating similarity in that respect. For political junkies I recommend a two-campaigns-at-once examination.

A couple of nights ago Prime Minister Stephen Harper--the "cool hand at the tiller," as he describes himself--was asked by Peter Mansbridge of the CBC what advice he would give Canadians disturbed about the stock market collapse. He smiled wryly and suggested that now was a good buying opportunity. Chuckle, chuckle.

The other party leaders immediately jumped on the gaffe. (What happened to, "When there is a panic, don't be the one to be panicked."?) No wonder the Conservatives have started descending in the polls. Their policies may be sound, but they seem to lack empathy for an electorate shivering in fear.

But the very next day, Liberal leader Stephane Dion was interviewed by the same Peters Mansbridge and asked if, in light of the economic times, he would delay the Liberal plan to impose a carbon tax as part of the party's response to global warming. Not at all! Dion was so excited that at certain points he lapsed into French, assuring Mansbridge that the proposed new tax was merely part of a green transformation of the Canadian economy that would wind up creating more jobs and opportunities. Unhappily for the peppy Mr. Dion, his party's other top leader, Michael Ignatieff, was saying in an interview that it would be wise to hold up for a while on a carbon tax right now.http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081009.welxndion1009/BNStory/Front

Then there is the Green Party candidate, Elizabeth May, who practically sabotaged her own party's candidates yesterday by urging "strategic voting" to defeat Harper. So far as I can tell, that means that one only votes Green if there is no chance of the Liberal candidate in your riding (district) getting elected. To put it still another way, you only vote Green if you wish to waste your vote! At best, this uncertain trumpet seems likely to confuse the Green electorate (not to mention the Green Party candidates!) and was opposed at once by David Chernushenko, the candidate who lost out to May in the most recent Green Party leadership contest.http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081009.wmaycomments1009/BNStory/politics/home?cid=al_gam_mostview

As one result of the Liberal and Green presentations, Conservative prospects may be brightening again. Tomorrow's Globe and Mail, the normally liberal-leaning national paper, is endorsing Harper. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081009.weelection2008/BNStory/politics/home?cid=al_gam_mostview


On the other hand, maybe the Dion-May entente will work somehow and the nine percent in the polls now favoring the Green ticket will switch en masse to the Liberals--thrilled by the expectation of the new carbon tax--and carry Mr. Dion's ticket to victory.

In the United States, meanwhile, Sen. Obama seems within striking distance of wrapping up the election. Polls showed a shift further in his direction after the most recent presidential debate. There were no gaffes by McCain, but none by Obama, either, and it was McCain who needed to give people clear reasons to vote against Obama and for himself. Instead, his boxing blows were glancing and almost worse than ineffectual. They appeared to be peevish.

So, advantage Obama, right? Yes, except that there is growing and deleterious information about Sen. Obama's past in Chicago that finally is coming to light. For months and maybe years it disappeared. The media failed to dig it up and in the primary campaign Hilary Clinton made only timid, McCain-like references to it. Either Obama offered himself in Chicago's South Side as a radical or he did not. At this time of economic turmoil, the truth, as opposed to the image, may matter.

The context is the economy and who can you trust in government to deal with it? Oddly, plenty of people seem to be in charge, but no one seems to be clear about what is going on. The grim sense arises that nobody really knows. Not in Canada and not in the U.S.

October 3, 2008

Canada's Strange and Marvelous Election--a Preview

If you are frazzled by the endless American election campaign, go to the Canadian press and television and look into the brief, spirited federal elections that began up North a little over a month ago and will end in eleven days. If for no other reason than that it is enjoyable to watch a campaign where one is intellectually, but not emotionally, invested, Canada's election campaign offers a fascinating escape for Americans. We might even learn a thing or two.

Start with adjusting one's ideological perspective. Some in Canada apparently regard the incumbent prime minister, Stephen Harper, as a frustrating and even dangerous right winger. But he surely would be viewed as a moderate Republican or Democrat in the United States. Nonetheless, until recently Harper's Conservative Party--an amalgam of the old Progressive Conservatives that were nearly wiped out 15 years ago and the western-based Alliance party--was on its way to gaining a majority in the parliamentary elections October 14.

This may be changing. In the past couple of weeks Canada began to catch the economic jitters that already are shaking the United States hard. The Toronto stock exchange followed Wall Street down. The Canadian dollar, the "Loonie", weakened a bit, though it is still close to the U.S. dollar (94 cents). Objectively, Canada is in better shape than most Western countries, but that doesn't stop people from worrying--and premptively planning blame as conditions deteriorate. Undoubtedly, the Conservatives wish the election could be held right away, while they are well ahead.

It is not that most people love Harper or even trust him, it is just that he seems competent, frugal, unflappable and honest. He is mild mannered and yet deceptively decisive. To some those traits are reassuring, to others they are infuriating and sinister. Leftists call him radical because, well, as a leader of the minority five years ago he backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He has since recanted and he even has agreed to put a two year limit on further Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan. He cut the hated GST (the value-added Goods and Services Tax). He throws money at the arts and various social ailments, though never enough to satisfy the various organized constituencies. He has begun to build up the military, but only to the extent that Canada no longer is embarrassed by its navy ships being declared unseaworthy, as was was the case a few years ago. Canada seems more assured and confident now.

A major reason Harper and the Conservatives aren't in even better shape is simply that Canada is not, in any sense but temperament, as conservative as America. It is a fluke of the Canadian multi-party system that Harper's plurality in the 2006 election, when the Liberal Party's long dominance was ended, resulted in a minority-run Conservative government. It is the continuing good luck of the Tories that the opposition parties, while all to the Tories' left, are numerous, small and don't play well together. That means that the Tories don't have to get a majority, they just have to keep their opponents divided and maintain a few points' lead on the nearest competition as the polling begins.

Accordingly, having broken through in Quebec in the 2006 federal elections and thereby becoming a true national party, the Conservatives have a shot at a "majority" led government in Parliament, albeit one elected by a decided minority of the electorate. Right now the CBC, Canada's public television station, has a poll showing the Tories with 36 percent of the vote, ten points ahead of the Liberals.

The formerly formidable Liberals, under Stephane Dion, are stuggling under a misguided decision to start wearing a campaign costume of green just as ideas like their carbon tax proposal are beginning to annoy voters who suspect anything with "tax" in it. Dion is an able French speaker who, however, can get tangled in a fast-paced English debate. The Liberals are a true national party, too, but a weak one following the scandals that helped defeat its former leaders. Crowds are sparse for Dion this fall.

The New Democrats, under Jack Layton, play to a limited labor and social libertarian base and are plumping for a cap and trade energy idea that is hard to explain. They have been embarrassed by candidates who seem to approve trafficking in marijuana or hold other exotic views that are a bit outside the Canadian mainstream. The NDP is a perennial also-ran on the national level, but this year, thanks to the campaign ardor of Layton and sagging enthusiasm among Liberals, the party may do do better than usual. The NDP stands at 19 or 20 percent in the polls.

The Bloc Quebecois, under Gilles Duceppe, never does well nationally, of course. Its whole game is in Quebec. Since the exciting days when it seemed on the verge of leading provincial voters in a transfer of sovereignty to a new and independent state, the separatist cause has waned and, with it, the fortunes of the Bloc. Now the Bloc is left with a laundry list of ethnic French cultural and welfare demands that probably don't excite young people, let alone business people and many academics. Liberals and Conservatives both eye the Quebec vote.

Finally, gregarious, ebullient Elizabeth May of the Green Party, scored big in this election campaign by forcing her way into the national televised debates. (The party has no votes in Parliament, despite a large, diffuse following.) Permitting the Green representative into the debates supposedly came over the objections of the Conservatives as well as the NDP, but it is hard to see how the Greens' growing prominence can but help the Tories in the long run. They will cut deals with Liberals in certain ridings (electoral districts) and May is clear that she supports a government headed by Dion. But might not the Greens also cut into Liberal numbers, and the NDP's, too? Could they cost the Liberals certain Quebec ridings? As of now, the Greens have nine percent support in the polls.

In the two televised debates held this week, Dion reportedly did well in the first one, conducted in French, while the dreary, kitchen table gabfest conducted in English last night, was probably a draw. It would have been a draw-and-quarter of Harper, since everyone wanted a piece of him, except that the overall impression was one of stupifying kibbitzing. Imagine five candidates trying to talk at once!

So, the Conservatives should be on their way to a substantial victory, right? Their ten point lead over the Liberals, and 15 points over the NDP, should translate into a majority in the new Parliament. In public, Tories have been modest, not claiming a majority government, but that is what many have expected.

Until now. Canadians are just as human as anyone else and part of human nature in politics--even in a country of modest size, sitting next to the gargantuan USA--is to imagine that the people in charge of one's government at the moment are responsible for any problems that exist. Canada has relatively low unemployment, low inflation, ample domestic energy (unlike the U.S.) and mortgage laws that did not permit the hideous credit crunch that has its American neighbor. Harper points all of this out, but even the media have joined the opposition politicians lately in hand wringing.

Instead of looking around the world and being grateful that they are as well off as they are it may well be that Canadians will vote to keep their Parliament splintered and their government hobbling on splints.

There is much to be said for a parliamentary system, a blessedly short national campaign being near the top of the list. But there is also something to be said for a two party system where someone is more likely to come out on top with a mandate.

**
NOTE: Discovery Institute will host a post-election review of the Canadian election results, and what we can learn from them, on October 15 at Discovery headquarters, 208 Columbia, in Seattle. I will be joined by Canadian studies professor Don Alper of Western Washington State University and former Canadian Counsel General Roger Simmons. It should be fun. Please join us for lunch. Check the Discovery "Events" column on our Home Page for details. Canadians especially welcome!

September 15, 2008

Free Mithal al Alusi, Iraqi Champion of Freedom and Reason

Iraq's Parliament has capitulated to pressure from Shia and Sunni extremists to punish the man who is one of freedom's bravest advocates in that country, parliamentarian Mithal al Alusi. After al Alusi attended an annual international conference on terrorism in Herzliya, Israel last week, and thereby offended the long-standing anti-Israel policy of Iraq, the Parliament banned him from foreign travel, ousted him from legislative activity and deprived him of the immunity from prosecution that parliamentarians enjoy.

Satellite.jpg
Alusi at the funeral of his two sons who
were killed in an assassination attempt in
Baghdad in 2005.
Photo: AP

Al Alusi is calling the actions unlawful and citing the likely behind-the-scenes role of Iran.

The demogogic assault on al Alusi, which puts him and his family at physical risk, should be rescinded promptly and Mr. al Alusi reinstated in his parliamentary office.

The present treatment of a genuine Iraqi patriot is particularly shameful in light of al Alusi's principled sacrifices. In 2004 he also attended the Herzliya conference and subsequently was ousted from his political party, the Iraqi National Congress, and deprived of his legislative protections upon arriving home. His security detail was removed, making him an immediate target of repeated terrorist attempts on his life.

Eventually al Alusi was able to form a new political group, the Democratic Party, and raise support for personal protection. His fresh election to Parliament was a major vindication of his views.

Nonetheless, he has paid a very high price. One of the many attacks on him and his family resulted in the death of his two grown sons, his only children. He and his wife have been raising their grandchildren on their own since then. This summer, however, terrorists succeeded in blowing up al Alusi's house. (This information has not yet seen print, to my knowledge, but was emailed to friends and contacts recently.)

The crime for which terrorists hate him and craven fellow-parliamentarians are prepared to destroy him is al Alusi's sensible view that Iraq should have peaceful and official relations with Israel. Last week he even suggested that Iraq should work with Israeli as well as American intelligence to fight al Qeda and Iran's agents among the Shia.

Al Alusi's reasonable political position on regional cooperation is not too far from that of the private views of the Kurdish minority and of other Sunni--and perhaps some Shia--secularists. It happens to make great sense if the Middle East is ever to make the transition to lasting peace.

But, meanwhile, what has happened to al Alusi is a blight on Iraq's standing as a democracy. The United States no longer calls the shots in Baghdad, but surely its officials in Iraq can try to protect this brave elected official and secure his release from the sanctions just levied unjustly against him. He could not get a fair trial in the current environment and, if convicted, he would be a likely murder victim in prison--where he has many terrorist enemies among both al Qaeda and pro-Iranian prisoners. His death would be a warning to others who have resolutely stood up to terrorists.

September 12, 2008

Canada Calls Election and Holds It, While U.S. Stumbles On

The political silliness up North was not much different this week from the silliness in the United States. The Conservative Party had to pull an internet ad that showed a bird dropping a load on the shoulder of the Liberal Party candidate for prime minister, while in America the Obama camp fielded statements of purported outrage from Republicans over the Democratic candidate's reference to putting "lipstick on a pig", a quip supposedly directed at that most-un-piglike vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin.

One can laugh because none of that kind of stuff matters. It is political wheel spinning.

What does matter is the bald reality that Canada only began its national campaign on September 7 and yet will hold the election on October 14. Canada's prompt and considered decision will come three full weeks before the United States' campaign stumbles to its completion, following two years of fund raising, fulsome rallies where crowds only come to life for the cameras and dissipated lifetimes of cable-heads shouting interruptions. Whether November 4, really is the elections terminus, of course, depends on having an outcome that is not close. Otherwise, as in 2000, the lawyers take over the next morning and you can add another month of nerve-jerking anxiety.

In America, we have made national campaign politics the chief activity of public life. Canadians, with their simple system of party voting, will know the results of their election soon after the polls close.

America's presidential selection process is muscle bound, demoralizing and wasteful. A billion dollars is being raised by the lead presidential campaigns, and that doesn't include the untold bucks invested by noxious special interest groups and para-partisan advocacy causes that have no accountability (thank you McCain/Feingold).

Campaigns bring out bad qualities in otherwise good public leaders, but while that means a rough couple of months in Canada or in most other civilized nations, we stew on the political stove indefinitely. Our leaders have a hard time showing anything other than their bad side.

A couple of liberal stars of Congress, Jim McDermott of Washington and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, have so lost their composure that they are calling for impeachment of President Bush, even as the current POTUS is lassoing up his last hurricane crisis and ridin' for the ranch. How long do they think a trial would take? Would Dubyah have to come back from retirement in Crawford to face re-retirement? McDermott and Kucinich remind me of the frustrated inquisitors in the Middle Ages who had dead men dug up so the corpses could be properly drawn and quatered.

But then there is Canada, where the myrid opponents of Prime Minister Stephen Harper have a hard time developing a sincerely nasty description of him. The anti-Harper case seems to reduce to his reputed dullness and lack of imagination. What a joy for Harper!

Seriously, "dull" in politics is usually a blessing. Dull incumbents tend to get returned to office. Dull means they can't find much worse to say about you.

But in the US of A, the button and banner printers probably are planning to follow their past two years of non-stop production with either "Impeach McCain" or "Impeach Obama" campaign materials, depending on the November 4 returns. It's a rush job. They need to be ready for sale by Christmas, at least a few weeks before the unfortunate winner is sworn in.

Both Republicans and Democrats promise "change" and "reform". Well, how about "change" and "reform" of the interminable presidential election process?

September 1, 2008

Russia Reality Check

The near-hurricane disaster "Gustav" and the choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as Sen. McCain's vice presidential nominee have pushed the situation in the Caucasus off the media monitor. Good. Now there is a chance to get on top of a potentially perilous situation.

Here is my take on the current situation, borrowed from Discovery's Russia Blog.

August 17, 2008

Classic "What Were They Thinking?"

The Washington Post has perhaps the best report so far on how the war in South Ossetia and Georgia got started. It is astonishing how this episode ignited a torrent of abuse and prejudice, second guessing and histrionics on both sides (you should read our email).

August 16, 2008

To Reduce Russia Stand-off, Reduce Western Oil Dependence

By Mike Wussow and Bruce Chapman

(Note: Some of the issues described in this post - particularly U.S. oil dependency and energy security - will be the focus of a major conference hosted jointly by Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center and Microsoft on September 4-5, 2008. Participants will include Anne Korin and James Woolsey, both of whom are also referenced in this post. Details are available here.)

The Russia-Georgia conflict brings uncomfortably to the surface the question of energy security. Like much of the rest of the world, America is addicted to oil, most of it now imported. We rely on petroleum to fuel just shy of 100 percent of our transportation. America imports from its neighbors, Canada and Mexico mainly, but almost as much from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. Russia supplies 762,000 barrels each day to the U.S. according to numbers released by the U.S. government in June.

Europe imports far more from Russia, of course. That has Europeans quaking in the aftermath of the war in Georgia and makes it difficult for NATO to speak with one voice.

It is hard to see how we will be able to work through the present crisis so long as the West seems irresolute about reducing its dependence on oil, especially oil from Russia. Even those of us who are optimistic that the long term interests of Russia and the West are reconcilable must face the fact that oil and gas pose a Western vulnerability in any negotiations.

Georgia has three major pipelines. Its two oil pipelines are capable of transporting millions of barrels of oil a day. by the country's current hostilities that it suspended some operations earlier this week. And although unsubstantiated still, as was noted on Russia Blog, an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal said Russian bombs hit one of the pipelines.

During the 110th Congress alone, more than 350 measures were introduced related to energy efficiency and renewable energy. President Bush has cleared the path for the U.S. to tap its own off shore resources to fill in the gaps while other options are perfected and made more available. But energy action has been stalled by the Congress and half-measures are all that are being considered now, anyhow.

Off shore drilling is needed as a national policy, not just a state option, and both parties need to get realistic about drilling in ANWR. New drilling will take time, but deciding to do so would send an immediate signal of American seriousness about our security. Environmentalists at home should recognize that we are going to use oil for years to come, no matter what, so the real question is whose oil we use.

But everyone also should be able to agree that the government and private sectors should be increasing energy conservation to lower to overall use of oil. Perhaps the war clouds in Eastern Europe can spur us to take the dramatic efficiency efforts that have been obviously needed for years.

Among the best long-range collective options is the electrification of transportation through the use of innovative vehicle technology, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. It's an idea that is at last taking hold in addicted America, but it is still an unimplemented idea. (Discovery Institute--www.discovery.org--has pushed the issue for years.)

According to the Set America Free Initiative , an alliance of security, environmental, labor and other groups promoting ways to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, "If by 2025, all cars on the road are hybrids and half are plug-in hybrids, U.S. oil imports would drop by 8 million barrels per day." In 2006, according to the Initiative, the U.S. imported $309.4 billion in oil. At the very least, supporting the development and use of vehicles that, with the flip of a switch, dramatically reduce dependence on oil for transportation is perhaps the single best option America and Europe have for throwing off the yoke of oil dependence. Some, such as former U.S. Director of Central Intelligence, R. James Woolsey, and Anne Korin, of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, say the key is for governments (the U.S. from in this case) to take steps that eventually diminish oil's status as a strategic commodity.

Although oil-dependent nations will the charge for change, this issue is by no means only about America, which consumes 21 million barrels a day. Global consumption of oil, especially in fast-growing China and India is only expected to rise. Global demand is at about 86 million barrels a day and rising. And this does (or should) matter to Russia too; although it currently has all the oil it needs for itself and for export, many reports say that its production has already peaked.

Energy may not seem to be at the heart of the clash in Eastern Europe, but lowering the significance of the oil pipelines there--and elsewhere--is very much a factor in any increase in the prospects for peace. It wouldn't hurt our security situation in the Middle East either, would it?

August 11, 2008

Discovery Institute and the War in Ossetia and Georgia

"Truth is the first casualty of war," as is always said about now,
because that statement is almost always right. And the second casualty
is surely civilized restraint. Wars are easy to start, hard to contain,
let alone end.

Right now, the surprising events in South Ossetia and Georgia
represent a clash of information and interpretations. This is getting sorted out,
but slowly. However, the events themselves are agonizingly speedy.

For a couple of years now Discovery Institute's Russia Blog has been almost unique in presenting otherwise ignored news about Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Often we provide access to news about business, culture and social developments
that are occurring in a region that the West--including the USA--has tended to neglect since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now we are faced with a war in Georgia that is as big a surprise to most people (diplomats, too, it appears) as it is an obvious catastrophe for the peoples involved and an historic setback for Russian/Western relations. The complications for other regions will soon develop.

The most we can hope for would seem to be an immediate cooling-off period. After that must come some sober investigation of how things got out of hand. Then how to find a way ahead.

Our first task at Russia Blog has been to try to get out facts and responsible opinions, letting readers sort them out. We do not want to promote some of the incendiary options being proposed and don't want to give them space. Our second task is to help air alternatives that stand some prospect of establishing peace. in this case, people who think the solutions are simple probably don't understand the situation.

July 22, 2008

Real Developments in Iraq--Again Unreported

The news from Iraq remains under-reported. Three days ago, terrorists succeeded in bombing the house of Mital Al-Alusi, the courageous member of parliament who, in 2004, nearly signed his own death-warrant by urging that Iraq recognize Israel. Many attacks have been made on him since and one of them killed his two sons and a driver. There is no word yet on what has happened in the latest attack to Mr. Al-Alusi's wife and grandchildren.

Meanwhile, the best reporting by Iraqis comes, as it often does, from Iraq the Model website. Here it describes the domestic politics in Iraq had a lot to do with the Iraqis' reactions to the visit of Barack Obama.

July 17, 2008

When Will Public Perceptions Catch Up with the Facts on Iraq?

A Rassmussen poll indicates that increasing numbers of Americans (now up to 40 percent) realize that conditions in Iraq are improving and victory is possible, but a plurality (44 percent) still believes that the United States is doomed to lose the war in that country.

However, public opinion often changes more slowly than objective conditions. People think there is a recession for months after one is declared over by economists. So eventually, the bulk of the public will realize, as even many in the MSM are beginning to note, that America is likely to prevail in Iraq. That doesn't mean all will be rosy or victory will be permanent. Success is always tenuous in the Middle East. But it does mean that U.S. casualties are most likely to continue to drop and that the U.S. will be able to diminish its troop presence. Somewhere along the continuum of news developments one might be able to say, we have won. And as the realization sinks again--countering years of almost overwhelming efforts to discredit the Bush Administration on every aspect of the Iraq War --it will make a huge difference to our foreign policy and our standing in the world, almost like the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Read this piece by Michael Totten in Commentary, citing, in turn, the remarkable Michael Yon. The latter, by the way, should be winning journalism awards for prescience and courage. Instead, he is largely ignored by the elites. Victory will be declared when they decide to declare it, I guess.

Meanwhile, what happens when U.S public opinion fully swings on this war?

July 16, 2008

Children On Death Row for Thought Crimes: Only in Iran

Shayan Arya is part of the remarkable Iranian community in this country that numbers over a million and is unmatched for its love of freedom and support for the democratic institutions of America, its adoptive country. The activism of Arya and his colleagues is an underappreciated asset in the U.S. struggle against the mad mullah regime in Tehran.

Here is a significant article by Arya and Nir Boms on the horrific state of human rights in Iran.

July 13, 2008

It Would be a Hilarious Spoof on Canada--Only it's not a Spoof

Canada jokes are funny the way WASP jokes are funny--the lack of self-awareness on the part of the joke target is what makes you laugh.

Currently, our Northern Neighbor is making news around the civilized world for its growing intolerance of diversity of views, including on matters regarded by some as fit subjects for satire. It is all done in the name of political correctness, of course. Apparently there is a new human right in Canada called "the right not to be offended," and it is being vigorously--almost relentlessly and ruthlessly--pursued by groups of official Human Rights Commissions that have been established at the national and provincial levels.

The witch hunts started on the subject of sexuality (of course) and then politics (a great subject on which a democracy should promote anti-free speech campaigns, right?). Now they are going after (hold your chuckles) the comedians. It's all good, I say, because finally the HRCs may have gone over-reached. Professional jokers are taken very seriously in Canada. After all, other than oil, gas and wood products, comedians are Canada's biggest export. Just ahead of beer.

Denyse O'Leary's Post-Darwinist news blog is a must-read for anyone trying to follow the battles over evolution and design, but now she has added coverage of the whole travesty of speech codes enforced by kangaroo courts, which is what the Human Rights commissions have become.

Read down a couple items in this link and you'll be richly rewarded.

Then, I have two cents of my own to add (currently worth about 1.9 cents Canadian): When governments set up grievance panels for any protected class, whether racial, gender or almost anything else, the people who want to be appointed almost always turn out to be passionate backers of one particular point of view. That is, they are ideologically disposed to see the complainant as always in the right. Who else would volunteer to serve on such a panel? Therefore, give these organizations real power, as has happened in Canada, apparently, and you are in for a battle if you want to preserve your constitutional rights.

Here in the land of God and Guns, at least, we have a Bill of Rights that courts usually feel obliged to protect against all well-meaning attempts to stifle the unpopular idea and to enforce the Common View. The Canadians (again, for my two cents) have written rights, too, but nonetheless are not as well protected.

But Canadians also do have great, square, normal common sense, and huge numbers of them already are rising up to protest the HRC's and the little opinion minders who run them. The HRCs lately are on the run for most of the most ridiculous cases they have brought. But it remains to be seen if popular opinion will come to see that the problem is not just bad judgement in one case or another, but the whole idea of having extra-legal enforcement panels that are allowed to act as prosecutor, judge and jury all rolled into one.

July 10, 2008

Wall Street Journal Describes Same EMP Scenario Wohlstetter Warns About

Discovery fellow John Wohlstetter opens his book, The Long War Ahead and the
Short War Upon Us
, with a catastrophe scenario in which the Iranians use
EMP -- electromagnetic pulse -- technology against the United States.
Disguised as a tanker, a ship releases a missile from international waters
off the Atlantic coast. It detonates approximately 300 miles above Kansas.

No one instantly dies, vaporized by the mini-sun, no one is ignited in
flames from the blast's thermal pulse, no buildings collapse due to the
blast's immense over-pressure shock wave. But the lights goes out and
computers crash by the millions, from Boston to Phoenix, from New York to
Washington, DC, to Los Angeles and San Francisco, from Miami to Seattle.
Seventy percent of America's electrical grid is fried by the powerful pulse
of electromagnetic energy that suddenly surges through the American electric
power grid. With a 360 degree radius of 1,470 miles from the detonation
point, the pulse disables America from coast to coast.


It would seem that the danger is being heard. An editorial in the Wall
Street Journal this morning
echoes many of Wohlstetter's concerns:

Iran may already have the capability to target the U.S. with a short-range
missile by launching it from a freighter off the East Coast. A few years ago
it was observed practicing the launch of Scuds from a barge in the Caspian
Sea.

This would be especially troubling if Tehran is developing EMP --
electromagnetic pulse -- technology. A nuclear weapon detonated a hundred
miles over U.S. territory would create an electromagnetic pulse that would
virtually shut down the U.S. economy by destroying electronic circuits on
the ground.

June 25, 2008

Florida's Sugar Deal Also Could Prove Sweet for Overseas Allies

The announcement by Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida that his state will pay $1.75 billion to buy out the 187,000 acres of sugar cane grown by U. S. Sugar Corp. around Lake Okeechobee is being welcomed--correctly--as great news for the cause of improving clean water flow south into the endangered 1.5 million acre Everglades National Park.

But isn't it also potentially good news for the some 40 friendly countries, including many in Latin America, that have had trouble breaking the U.S. sugar quota all these years? The biggest thing the United States could do to help the people in certain tropical lands of limited export potential would be to end the tariff-rate quotas that artificially prop up the sugar industry in the U.S. That industry is not a very big employer, but it has huge political clout. The new Florida deal is bound to reduce that clout.

Every farm bill that seeks to end agriculture quotas finds an agile lobby opposing increased sugar imports. Cane growers in Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas, and sugar beet growers in the Mountain West, are among the foes of relaxing quotas, but some of the most weighty political opposition has come from Florida.

There will still be 300,000 acres of sugar cane in production in Florida after U.S. Sugar phases out its production over seven years. But mighty U.S. Sugar has been the key to Florida's anti-free trade mood on this issue, just as Florida has been key to sugar protectionism in Congress.

The sugar issue makes the U.S. look like a hypocrite on free trade. As the sugar lobby weakens, the free trade lobby--including not only many allies in warm climates, but also the huge domestic confection, soft drink, cereal and baking industries--should grow relatively stronger. And free trade may become more feasible.

June 24, 2008

Don't Let Democracy Fail in Turkey

The reliable Mustafa Akyol reminds Americans that Turkey is facing a constitutional crisis because of misplaced secularism, or, as he calls it, "secular extremism." If courts depose the current, democratically elected government--with the military standing behind the courts--Turkey will be damaged in its international dealings, its economy, its democracy (certainly) and in other ways that can't even be calculated yet.

It is the kind of issue that Americans are ignoring during the long sleep of the 2008 election campaign.

June 19, 2008

Who Will Admit Errors in Iraq?

The Bush Administration is accused of never admitting mistakes, though the President did, in fact, acknowledge last year that the hope of prevailing In Iraq with relatively small forces was misplaced; and hence the "Surge". John McCain claims credit for being right all along on that point, and I don't see anyone disputing him.

How about the Left; will they admit errors on Iraq? Pete Wehner, now at Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington after years on the policy staff of the White House, has written an opinion piece that asks this question with concussive force. What he says about the columnist Tom Friedman is especially apt. The media that have done everything they could to besmirch President Bush may now start to change their representation of reality--because they must--without ever taking back their harsh previous judgements.

Pertinently, Sen. Obama now seems to be changing his most crucial views on the war, which is all to the good.

What is not acceptable is continuing to play "Blame Bush," while pretending that we are winning in Iraq through chance or someone else's efforts. That is the kind of thing the Left tried with Reagan and the end of the Cold War. History, fortunately, will be more dispassionate.

June 15, 2008

Positive Oil News from Iraq

You seldom hear anymore the canard that the Iraq war was "all about oil," not when we are paying more for oil than ever. Still, it has been a nearly unmentioned truth that Iraqi oil fields contain some of the biggest petroleum reserves in the world.

Now it seems that, quietly, the flow that was about two million barrels when the war started is about to nudge close to three million. If security holds, and the much-maligned oil companies are allowed to invest in improved infrastructure, Iraq oil production will go up month after month.

June 13, 2008

European Dis-Union

The Irish voted against the new EU treaty.

But is it dead? Some of the bureaucrats in Brussels think they will just go ahead. They will try to find ways to make wholesale reductions in national sovereignty of member states, including Ireland, without ever again applying for permission to the nominal sovereigns--the people. Thus do elites overplay their hand.

The peoples of such diverse nations as Greece, Ireland and Germany are well-suited to work together on economic cooperation, but there is no crying need for much more. On defense, a stronger NATO makes more sense.

The Irish vote is especially a liberation for Ireland's neighbor and former nemesis, the U.K. It is hard to believe that the English would ever knowingly give up the ancient rights and powers of Parliament and cede them to what in fact is the world's first true bureaucracy--government by government--in Brussels. Now perhaps the British public can look at the whole European identity more honestly.

The European Community was a great achievement. So is the European Union. But there are limits, and those may have been reached.

June 12, 2008

The Right Book for Flag Day

Marvin Olasky interviews Discovery Institute Senior Fellow John Wohlstetter, author of The Long War Ahead (Discovery Institute Press, 2008) in the June 14-21 issue of World magazine. The link is good for a few introductory paragraphs, then you have to pay--and it's worth it.

John is prophetic with his warning--in an interview that took place before the new Supreme Court ruling on Guantanomo--that "9/10 judges" "would give terror detainees more rights, despite their being unlawful combatants who do not comply with the laws of war, greater rights than we have given to lawful combatans in prior wars." In fact, as he observes, lawful combatants, if freed by a court, often would be less dangerous to public safety than a terrorist who is freed on some technical ground.

Find a comfortable chair out of the sun this Saturday, Flag Day, and read The Long War.

wohlstetter1.jpg

June 9, 2008

Drill for the Oil we Need

For years the political left has fought nearly any efforts to drill in new fields in America, at least where there was any controversy at all.

The fact is, there is lots of oil in America if the government will allow the drilling. Likewise, we need clear federal encouragement of new refineries.

Conservatives and liberals alike should support conservation and new energy sources, and they should do so vigorously, from nuclear to passive (architectural) and active solar. They should support new transportation technologies (see blog below) and plug-in hybrid autos. But we also need to do whatever we can to substitute our own oil for imported oil.

Trying to blame oil company executives for the rising world-wide oil prices insults the intelligence of the voters. Unreasonable liberal government has held up U.S. oil production for twenty years or more.

May 28, 2008

Mosul Victory (Not) in the News

Tell your neighbors: the increasingly united Iraqi government is moving from victory to victory over al Qaida and its allies. There will be elections again this December (four years after the successful ones of 2004) and most likely a new mandate. Sunnis no longer protest unfair sectarian treatment by the government and Shiites are cooperating, for the most part, in shutting down the Sadr militia (which, in turn, now lacks the excuse that it is only defending its people from the Sunnis).

The report from Iraq the Model is several days old (I missed it), but it makes several points you probably won't see in the MSM. Such as: the government's own ministers went to Mosul to help lead the campaign to clean out al Qaida. Such as: 1,100 suspects arrested--the number is big and so is the fact they were arrested, not ousted in fighting. (Al Qaida is having a hard time mounting a fight any more.) And again: the "infant Iraqi air force" could be relied upon to provide "valuable live imagery" for the ground forces. Did you even know that the Iraqi air force was being rebuilt? This is very significant.

May 21, 2008

America's First "Hello, World" Cruise

Theodore Roosevelt is one of the nation's most popular presidents for many reasons; among them his vigorous and intelligent personality, his charge up San Juan Hill, his political reforms, the conservation work, and, of course, the Teddy Bear. But as a shirt-tail descendant (my wife, Sarah, is one of TR's great grand-daughters), I agree with those who argue that Roosevelt's greatest accomplishment was making the USA a world power militarily at a time we also were gaining prominence as an economic power. TR, by the way, held the same opinion.

The Navy was Roosevelt's main instrument for affectuating the military transformation. And nothing made it so clear that he had succeeded as his dispatch of "The Great White Fleet" on a cruise around the world from December 1907 to February, 1909. TR sent 22 war ships to show the flag, but he painted them white to show good will.

The effect was positive and striking in port after port. And it also was a hugely successful domestic gesture to the America of 100 years ago, especially in the bumpteous young city of Seattle, flush with people and cash from the Klondike and Alaskan Gold Rushes. The Puget Sound community had risen from 30,000 population to 300,000 in one decade, and toward the end of it--late May, 1908--some 400,000 Seattlites and neighbors from throughout Western Washington turned out to welcome the Great White Fleet as it prepared to go to Asia. http://www.greatwhitefleet.info/Parade-Seattle_jpg_view.htm

This past Tuesday a rather smaller group of about 150--organized by the Navy League and the Seattle chapter of the Theodore Roosevelt Society, and sporting, among others, Mayor Greg Nickels and a TR impersonator from Illinois, Joe Weigand--gathered atop the Pier 66 International Conference Center on Elliott Bay to note the anniversary. Two contemporary Navy ships, the USS Preble and the USS Rushmore, and a very noisy hovercraft, passed in review. Assistant Secretary of the Navy B. J. Penn and Admirals O'Brien and Symon were on hand, along with an impressive array of other brass--and a brass band. Later, my wife and I enjoyed entertaining many of the visitors at our house (itself a relic of the Gold Rush days). Wednesday the Navy welcomed the public on board the Navy ships and tonight there is a lecture at the Museum of History and Industry that is opening an exhibit on the Great White Fleet.

We have a vastly different and bigger, more powerful Navy now. The roles are not that different, however from what TR envsiaged. Just as The Great White Fleet wound up performing disaster relief after an earthquake that occured while the ships were in Italy in 1909, so, too, the US Navy today is one of the most efficient ways available for providing humanitarian relief around the globe. A carrier is, among other things, a floating hospital, an airfield for flying out the wounded, a desalinization plant, several restaurants and a huge team of trained relief specialists.

Of course, it also is a considerable deterrent to would-be warlords and expanionist dictators. TR very much had all of that in mind. http://www.greatwhitefleet.info/index.html

May 7, 2008

A Pro-Israel Muslim Country

Here is another reason to go online for news features.

April 30, 2008

Terrorism as Whac-a-Mole? Not Quite

It seems that terrorism and the arcade game, Whac-a-Mole, have at least one thing in common: Bludgeon one and another pops up to take its place. At least that could be the conclusion after reading the U.S. State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism, released today.

According to the congressionally mandated annual report, attacks are down in Iraq. But as al-Qaida and its affiliates have reorganized in the last year in remote tribal areas in the Afghani and Pakistani countryside, there has also been a corresponding increase in terrorist activity in Afghanistan.

To misread Foggy Bottom's annual report would be to say, "Yes! I told you so: Putting troops and treasure toward the Global War on Terror is wasteful." But you'd be wrong. A more equitable rant would be that the U.S. decision to fight terrorists is indeed a long slog, one that may best be defined by three steps forward, two steps back.

And to say that the U.S. focus on al-Qaida is all consuming would also be inaccurate. As the report points out, El Comandante's island south of Miami is among the countries still included as a state sponsor of terrorism. Why? Can you say balmy, beachfront terrorist get away?

Cuba, which I admit conjures up more of a smirk than a shiver vis-à-vis danger at the doorstep, continues to offer haven to groups such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

For its part, the FARC most recently found its way back into the news cycle with the reported kidnapping of Cuban-American businessman, Juan Padron earlier this month. As ABC News reported, although the FARC and kidnapping have never been mutually exclusive words (some reports have their total current hostage count at 700), the most recent episode brought a new twist to their operations. It happened on Panamanian soil. Padron joins three U.S. government contractors who have been held since 2003.

If you have the time to read the State Department's report, it's worth the investment. If you have less time, spend 55 minutes watching the presentation of the report this morning from Foggy Bottom. (Dell Dailey, State's Counterterrorism Coordinator, navigates the highlights.)

Say what you will about the politically isolated Bush administration, but State's annual report is widely seen as a thoughtful, clinical assessment of the threats facing America and its allies. And between the lines, it reminds that fighting terrorism isn't just about subduing and removing the Hydra that al-Qaida has spawned. It's about making impotent terrorist groups worldwide (al-Qaida affiliated or not) that represent real threats -- strategic and economic -- to those of us who value peace, security and something called rule of law.

April 29, 2008

Dangerous Development in Iraq?

When Sen. McCain was last in Iraq he seemed to slip up when he mentioned that al Qaeda was getting help from Iran. Surely he meant al Sadr? After all, didn't he know that Iran was Shiite and al Qaeda Sunni?

The trouble was (and is), Iran helps almost anyone who is an enemy of the United States or Israel, witness Lebanon.

Now, my favorite Iraq blog, Iraq the Model, poses the very real possibility of a tactical alliance between al Sadr and al Qaeda, brokered by....yes....Iran.

April 16, 2008

Promise in Basra

Mohammed Fadhil reports in unique fashion (Iraq the Model is my favorite Middle Eastern blog for this reason) on what is really happening in Iraq. And that is, the majority of Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds are standing up to Muqtada al Sadr and his militia. The government is showing mettle, dismissing the troops that deserted under fire recently and thereby providing a splendid didactic moment for everyone else. This is not being adequately reported in the US (so what else is new?).

Al Qaeda and the Baathist insurgency are mostly spent. Overcome al Sadr and the Iranian imports, and Iraq is ready for consolidation of gains and the promise of real peace.

April 6, 2008

Don't Drop the Colombia Issue

The media and politicos are ready to move right past the vital issue of U.S. relations with Colombia now that the internal U.S. political issue is resolved. That shows a sad sense of national priorities.

Mark Penn, top advisor to Sen. Clinton, as we know, was thrown overboard--the latest sacrifice of many in the major campaigns this year--because of this high crime: He met with Colombian officials who are supporting a free trade agreement with the United States.

Sen. Clinton supposedly opposes such an agreement, so Penn had to go.

Actually, we all suspect that Sen. Clinton, given her past positions, would like to support the agreement. Colombia is one of our strongest and most exposed allies in Latin America and a bulwark against the far left wing Hugo Chavez in next-door Venezuela. If we want to defeat narco-fascism, South America style, we need to be close friends with Colombia. They have suffered greatly to be our friends. Abuse friends like that and we won't have many others. Mrs. Clinton knows that. Barack Obama knows that.

But union leaders key to the nominating process don't care about it. Their self-interest is regrettable, but understandable. What is more regrettable, and not acceptable, is the reckless position of the two contending Democrats who are putting intra-party posturing ahead of national security. Also not very edifying is the supine media reaction so far. Is politics all that matters now? Is all the news just shadow-boxing?

The story should not be the impropriety of Penn (whatever his own business interests) in meeting with the Colombians, but why Senator Clinton and Senator Obama do NOT back this totally reasonable treaty that is very much in the security interests of the United States. Other than politics, what's their excuse?

April 1, 2008

Reality in Iraq

The mainstream media finally are beginning to cover the indisputable good news in Iraq, but most often the real story still comes through the blogs from inside Iraq. The best, Iraq the Model, is now appearing again after a long lapse (two of the principals have been in the United States studying), offering uniquely insightful perspective from Iraqis themselves.

And here is an intriguing blog by Michael Totten, an American who has immersed himself in the country. I suppose someone could try to minimize the significance of these stories and quotations, but the pictures seem undeniably persuasive. The decent humanity of the people
--and the journalist--shines through.

I don't begrudge war opponents their views. Actually, it's hard not to sympathize. But I'd like to see a bit more reciprocity, especially in light of the reality that the Iraqi democrats and their Coalition allies are winning.

March 31, 2008

Turkey Endangers its Future

It is hard to believe that the highest court in Turkey actually will consider outlawing the governing party in that country because it is accused of crossing over the nation's division between mosque and state. Yet that is going to happen, as noted in this article. Even taking up the subject will put strains on the country for months.

I have assumed--and still assume--that the court eventually will hold back, even though many of its appointed members come from the secularist opposition party. Long term, if the Court decides to disallow the existing Administration, there will be economic as well as political consequences.

The government's supposed "religious" offenses--merely ALLOWING female students and others to wear headscarfs to school, for example--will seem trivial to Westerners, including even the left wing parties in most European Union countries. In fact, the anti-religious zeal of some in Turkey is so extreme that it is almost a mirror-image of the pro-religious zeal in certain Arab and Central Asian countries (like Iran, next door). Someone should tell the Turkish high court that the opposite of one extreme is not another, but a moderate position. The cure for communism was not Nazism, after all, but liberal democracy. The cure for Islamic fanaticism is not secularist fanaticism, but a government that makes space for religious observances, including the protection of religious minorities.

Turkey has a long way to go, but it's a fine country, with good hearted people. It doesn't need to be pushed into a kind of secularist suicide by its high court.

March 16, 2008

Another "Reform" Run Amok--This Time in Turkey

Turkey provides another example of pernicious ideologues--radical secularists in this case--who cloak their political designs in the the protection of "reform". It is outrageous, Mustafa Akyol of The Turkish Daily News explains, that prosecutors should even imagine the actions they contemplate. "Undemocratic" just begins to describe it.


The Attempt For a Judiciary Coup D'état

Mustafa Akyol, Turkish Daily News  March 17, 2008


I have been telling you that these people are crazy. And now they proved it beyond any doubt.

You must have heard what I am speaking about. Turkey's chief prosecutor has just filed a case against the incumbent AKP (Justice and Development Party). He asks for the closure of the party and the banning of Prime Minister Erdoğan and his 70 top colleagues from politics. A political party which has just gained the votes of the 47 percent of the Turkish people is now under threat. Even President Abdullah Gül is on the list of the would-be banned politicians. Unbelievable but true!

For long we have feared military coup d'état's in Turkey. That type of assault on democracy happened four times and left behind an executed prime minister, hundreds of imprisoned politicians, and thousands of tortured intellectuals and activists. But although the Leviathan that organized those military coups is very orthodox in its authoritarian ideology, it is not totally mindless. It, as Donald Rumsfeld once said in a different context, "has a brain -- is continuously changing and adapting tactics."


The Empire Goes Mad

The 21st century tactic is to stage coups via not the military but the judiciary. As I noted in my piece dated Jan. 24 and titled "The Empire Strikes Back (Via Juristocracy)," now the bureaucratic empire in Ankara attacks the representatives of the people with legal decisions, not armed battalions.

If you talk to them, they will proudly tell you that they are saving Turkey from Islamic fundamentalism. You have to be a secular fundamentalist -- or hopelessly uninformed -- to believe that. The AKP has proved to be a party committed to the democratization and liberalization of Turkey, a process which, naturally, includes the broadening of religious freedom. But that democratization and liberalization is the very thing that the empire fears from.

If you look at the "evidence" that the chief prosecutor presented to the Constitutional Court to blame the AKP, you will see how fake all this "Islamic fundamentalism" rhetoric is. The anti-secular "crimes" of AKP include:

- Making a constitutional amendment in order to allow university students to wear the headscarf. (Maddeningly enough, this bill was accepted in Parliament with the votes of not just the AKP's deputies but also those of the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP], and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society party.)

- Supplying free bus services for the student of the religious "imam-hatip" schools, which are nothing but state-sponsored modern high schools that teach some Islamic classes in addition to the standard secular education.

- Naming a park in Ankara after the deceased leader of a Sufi order.

- Not allowing the public display of a bikini advertisement.

- Employing headscarved doctors in public hospitals.

- Allowing one of the local administrators to issue a paper which has the criminal sentence, "May God have mercy on the souls of our colleagues who have passed away." (The simple fact that he dared to mention God ["Allah" in Arabic and Turkish] in an official setting was considered as a crime.)

Yes, this is absolutely crazy. It is like defining the Republican Party in the United States as an "anti-secular threat" and asking for its closure based on facts such as that it has pro-life (anti-abortion) tendencies and that President Bush publicly said that his favorite philosopher is Jesus Christ.

The heart of the matter is that Turkey's self-styled secularism is a fiercely anti-religious ideology akin to that of Marxist-Leninist tyrannies. And the AKP has been trying to turn Turkey into a democracy. That's the party's real "crime."


A Shipwrecked Turkey?

Now what?.. We will see... The chief prosecutor's file will be evaluated by the Constitutional Court, which is notoriously dominated by the ultra-secularists appointed by the previous president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Recently the same court cancelled a law which allowed foreign companies to buy real estate in Turkey. (Yes, the empire is against not just religion but also capitalism.) In that real estate decision, the ratio of the judges was 6 to 5, which was enough to cancel a law. But to close a party you need 7 votes (3/5th of the 11 members). And if 6 is the number of illiberal judges sitting there, that might not be enough to make an extremely illiberal decision such as closing down the AKP.

But what if the AKP really gets executed? To be sure, a party with a similar program will be formed soon and it will win the next elections. Meanwhile, though, the economy will be ruined, the EU process will be wrecked, and the hopes and dreams of millions of Turkish citizens will be crushed. That's really the worst thing about tyrannies: You ultimately win your struggle against them. But, in the meantime, they give you hell.

http://www.thewhitepath.com/archives/2008/03/the_attempt_for_a_judiciary_coup_detat.php

March 4, 2008

On Trade, "Change" Slogan Turns out to Mean, "March Backward"

Democrats are worrying about the four primaries today, especially Ohio's and Texas'. Nationwide, meanwhile, both remaining Democratic presidential campaigns are looking wobbly on foreign policy.

Recall last week's debate from Ohio. Hillary Clinton denounced the Russian government, but then couldn't remember the name of the country's prospective new president, Dimitri Medvedev. Barack Obama sounded confused when describing how, if elected, he'll take troops out of Iraq for good, unless there is trouble with Al Qaeda in Iraq (but, my, who could imagine such a possibility?), in which case troops might be sent back. He repeatedly called Pakistan "Pockistan". He is trying to sound smart, but sounds affected instead. Does he pronounce France "Frahnce"?

Mere errors of style, perhaps, but if George W. Bush made them, imagine the finger pointing.

Of more serious concern are errors of substance. On the foreign policy issue that the Democrats have discussed most thoroughly of late--the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA)--the vague mantra of "Change" turns out to include a very specific threat to abrogate an international treaty unless our trade partners make new concessions.

When it comes to overseas dictators, Sen. Obama, in particular, says that he would meet with America's foes without preconditions. But when it comes to our friendly neighbors, Canada and Mexico, Sen. Obama (and Sen. Clinton, for that matter)--without any meetings, and while still candidates--are threatening to break a vital diplomatic agreement unilaterally. Even though they obviously would like to stay out of our political campaigns, officials in Canada, our number one trade partner, and in Mexico, our second largest trade partner, have been forced to protest.

Since the debate it turns out that both Obama and the Canadians were embarrassed about a call reportedly made by an official Obama campaign adviser to tell the Canadian government not to take the candidates' NAFTA bashing too seriously.

Forget the question about what the adviser really said. Let the public record speak. And on the record both the Canadians and the Mexicans felt after the well-publicized Ohio debate that they had to remonstrate, pointing out that the U.S has benefited greatly from NAFTA.

Passed by the Clinton Administration in 1994, NAFTA has been an engine of healthy economic development throughout the continent. It helped spur an almost unprecedented boom in Canada, permitting a 38 percent increase in imports from the U.S. in the treaty's first ten years.

Mexico has been able to stabilize its economy and reduce political volatility, which helps our country, too. Were it not for economic growth south of the border in recent years our problem of illegal immigration would have been even worse. Does anyone think the problem would get better if we dumped NAFTA?

Politically speaking, if trashing our trade agreement with Mexico and, implicitly, the treaties we have been negotiating with the rest of Latin America, is the Democrats' way to court Hispanic votes in this country, it is a strange one. You can bet that Sen. McCain will continue to make clear how damaging and disrespectful this approach is.

Once Americans of all ethnic backgrounds wake up and realize what ditching NAFTA would do to trade-dependent regions of the United States (and that's most of the country now), it is hard to think that the checks that have been flowing into Democratic campaigns from big business this season, especially in high tech, shipping and agriculture, are going to continue. Workers in companies that in the past 15 years have expanded hiring thanks to exports also are going to wonder if the slogan "Change" could lead in the wrong direction.

Indeed, one is waiting for the trade alliances that were so active in the early 1990s to reassemble to fight this new protectionism.

Or will it turn out that the threats against America's trade agreements are just campaign rhetoric, as many observers believe? Once they slew the Republican elephant and were back in the White House, the Democrats surely would know better than to slay the golden goose of foreign trade, too. Surely they know that while some jobs were lost under NAFTA, America has gained far more jobs, improved our competitiveness and helped restrain inflation.

If so, the "Change" slogan is simply cynical. And that is another issue.


February 9, 2008

Archbishop's Fantasy Land

A call from almost anybody to accept Islamic "Sharia" law in Britain is the sort of thing that is sure to annoy ordinary citizens in that country. Sharia law is regarded as too harsh and inhumane to be employed even in much of the Muslim world today and few Muslims living in the West would want it employed in countries to which they or their parents have moved. In the UK sharia law would threaten Western civilization's carefully safeguarded tradition of individual rights and ordered liberty. The British people's contribution to that tradition may be regarded as their island's greatest accomplishment. In truth, it is the product of Judeo-Christian theology, interacting with Greek philosophy, tutored by the hard hard political and religious experience of centuries.

So, when the head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams--of all people--suggested acceptance of Sharia law in some instances in Britain, open anger erupted. This was not a call from some nobody. Most shamed were Williams' fellow churchmen. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23436203-details/Sharia%20law%20row:%20Archbishop%20is%20in%20shock%20as%20he%20faces%20demands%20to%20quit/article.do?expand=true#StartComments

The incident is a calamity for a state church that is already reeling. The Anglican Communion, Christianity's second largest body, is in especially bad repute in the "global South" because of its latitudinarian attitudes on sexuality. But if there is anything the African Christians care about even more than integrity of family life, it is their nearly constant battle against the infringements of an aggressive and intolerant brand of Islam that wants, above all, to implement Sharia law. Over half the Anglicans in the world now reside in Africa, a place, unlike Britain and North America, where missionary work is growing, not shrinking. If the African Anglicans were to adopt Archbishop Williams' advice in their own countries, they probably would have to give up and convert to Islam.

So it is that a soft-headed religious proposal has become a political issue of front rank. If it is treated as something less, it will only be because the Church of England no longer is taken seriously in its home land. And that is a sad commentary, indeed. The decennial Lambeth Conference of Anglicans worldwide takes place this summer at Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop. It might be a good idea if a new Archbishop of Canterbury were on hand to preside.

February 1, 2008

Wall Street Journal Picks Up WMD Blog

Today, The Wall Street Journal picked up on my blog about Saddam Hussein's continuing WMD ambitions, which came to light in a 60 Minutes interview of his FBI interrogator, George Piro. I appreciate the Journal's decision to cover the story, and am thankful that it has now reached a much broader audience.

The Journal article can be read here (subscription required).

January 28, 2008

Truth About Iraq WMD Uncovered,Then Covered Up Again

George-Piro.jpg
FBI Agent George Piro

CBS' Sixty Minutes devoted most of its Sunday program to one revealing story, an account of the remarkably productive seven month long interrogation of Saddam Hussein by FBI agent George Piro, an Arabic speaking American of Lebanese descent. According to the way the story was handled on the air and in the CBS online account of it, as well as the way the international press picked it up, the big news was that Saddam got rid of his WMD in the 1990s, but refused to prove it--even when threatened by U.S. attack. The reasons, he said, were that he feared revealing Iraq's weakness to its real enemy, Iran, and that he needed the perception of WMD to maintain his prestige at home. He also believed that the worst that President George W. Bush would do to him was to drop some bombs, the way President Clinton had done in 1998.

But that story, interesting as it might be, is not altogether new. Moreover, it does not compare to the golden news nugget lodged deep within the Sixty Minutes segment; namely, that Saddam expressly told Piro that he had planned to restart the WMD program in all phases--"chemical, biological and nuclear"--within a year after the lifting of U.N. sanctions. The 9/11 attacks and the reactions to them set back his plan, but didn't eliminate it.

This stated intention of Saddam constitutes fresh justification for the American-led invasion in 2003. Had the United States accepted the view that Iraq lacked WMD and no longer posed a threat, it would have been only a matter of time before new WMD efforts by Iraq were undertaken. And, once the West had stood down in 2003, the second round of WMD development would have been far harder to stop. By now--in 2008--Saddam could well have had the WMD he wanted all along. Iran, meanwhile, would have been given urgent incentive to move forward more quickly on its own WMD program. The Bush Administration knew all this, but now we have a report of Saddam himself confirming it.

There is little reason in this case to doubt either the veracity of Piro or the candor of Saddam. Certainly in its Sixty Minutes program, CBS and reporter Scott Pelley, demonstrate complete faith in Piro and the FBI reports. The FBI, says the CBS story, rates the Piro interrogation as one of the top achievements of the Bureau's past 100 years of existence. If, then, the Piro interrogation can be trusted, Saddam's plain statement that he had planned to construct WMD again also must be credited. In fact, it is credited in the Sixty Minutes program. However, it also is completely played down there, both in the program itself and in the CBS news account derived from it. The press stories that covered the program followed CBS' lead and lede. Most press stories that I found online omitted altogether Saddam's statements that he had always planned to restart his WMD program.

How could CBS News step on its own big story, and produce a minor story instead? Perhaps the answer is that for over five years now CBS and most Western media have followed the liberal party line has discounted President Bush's concerns about WMD, judging them either a deceit or a delusion. The American president was either malign ("Bush Lied, People DIed") or a dunce. As a third option, charitable interpreters on the left (and some on the right) have described Bush as sadly misinformed by his intelligence services and led to make the tragic mistake of invading Iraq. It took a long time, with day after day of news twists, but variations on these views finally suffused public opinion and persuaded a majority of Americans against the wisdom of the Iraq War. Who can doubt that those views are largely responsible for Bush's relatively low public approval ratings and his difficulty mobilizing public and Congressional support for prosecuting the war?

To showcase its program properly, Sixty Minutes would have led with something like this: "Revelations from a six month long FBI interrogation of Saddam Hussein conducted before his trial indicate that while the Iraqi dictator lacked weapons of mass destruction at the time of the American and Coalition attack in 2003, he fully intended to restart his WMD projects as soon as U.N. sanctions against Iraq were lifted. After months of elaborate interrogation by an Arabic speaking FBI agent, Saddam candidly acknowledged his plans. It would seem now that the US may well have had ample reason to attack Iraq, after all, though not for the exact reasons emphasized at the time."

Instead of that kind of news story, Scott Pelley leads Piro--an appealing, intelligent FBI agent of the kind that brings great credit to the bureau--on a somewhat rambling review of the extensive mental and emotional seduction of Saddam. Piro is presented as the FBI agent operationally in charge of Saddam's interrogation, but he clearly was part of a large team. The saga told on TV ruminates on such matters as Saddam's distrust of Osama bin Laden, the problems the FBI has finding Arabic speakers, and the terrible poetry Saddam wrote in prison and the way Piro flattered him about it. Then it turns finally to the gassing of the Kurds in 1998, a genocidal act for which Saddam told Piro he took personal responsibility and pronounced "necessary".

Only then does CBS have Pelley drop in this little handgrenade: "In fact, says Piro, Saddam intended to use weapons of mass destruction again someday.

"'Saddam had the engineers. The folks he needed to reconstruct his program were still there,'" FBI agent Piro reports.

"'That was his intention?'" asks Pelley.

"'Yes.'

"'What weapons of mass destruction did he intend to pursue again once he had the opportunity?'

Answers Piro, "'He wanted pursue all of W.M.D. (sic)'

"'He wanted to reconstitute all of his W.M.D program--chemical, biological, even nuclear?'

"'Yes.'

And that is all there is of that!

As a matter of news judgment, I submit that if Saddam had told Piro that he really had no plans to start a new WMD program after the old one was dismantled, that would have been played up big by CBS and the mainstream media. But the fact that he said the opposite has been all but buried. The whole Piro interrogation of Saddam cries out for much more extensive coverage and maybe a Congressional hearing. Eventually, the whole story would make a fine documentary showing how the Iraq War, bad as it has been, probably spared Iraq and the world a much worse fate.

Meanwhile, even the conservative media seem to be missing the significance of this story. Most are simply ignoring the Piro interrogations altogether. The conservative online news service, NewsMax.com, does write about the CBS program, but mainly to take credit for having had it before CBS, citing an article from a new book by Ronald Kessler (The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack, Crown Forum books). NewsMax relegates Saddam's stated intention to reconstruct his WMD program to a minor theme in its story, the major theme of which is the fascinating interrogation project itself.

Am I alone in recalling the weight put on the WMD issue when we invaded Iraq? I remember, in fact, thinking that the WMD threat should not have been forced to carry so much of the argument, since it was only one of several reasons to remove Saddam (e.g., his continued threats to his neighbors, his provocative attempted assassination of former President George H. W. Bush, his financial support of terrorism against Israel, his succor for assorted terrorists-on-the-lam, and especially his many violations of the Gulf War truce terms). Most of these reasons, alone, would have constituted a justifiable casus belli. But, largely for diplomatic reasons at the United Nations, the threat of WMD was emphasized. Later, after the investigation, that threat seemed to be discredited and with in, in many eyes, the whole justification for the war.

I'll bet the FBI and its agent George Piro have very good knowledge and memories on the subject. So, undoubtedly, does George W. Bush.

January 13, 2008

Failing to Make the U.S. Case Abroad

Wohlstetter%20Cover-sm.jpgI am in the camp that defends President George W. Bush, as recent posts attest, and especially on the War on Terrorists. I also refuse to accept that jihadism is not, in one description or another, the major concern of the public. Some polls divide the top issue between "Iraq" and "the War on Terror," as if you honestly could separate the two. Put them together, and it's the number one issue in the minds of voters. (John Wohlstetter's book, The Long War Ahead: And the Short War Upon Us, is appearing this month from Discovery Institute Press, with book parties in our offices in Washington, D.C. and Seattle. See the Discovery home page "Events" column for details.)

But America's anti-terrorist program is getting far too little scrutiny. The military is doing fine now. The diplomats are making progress. But the public relations campaign has been second rate from the very beginning, when we couldn't even get our our radio and TV stations up in Baghdad for months after Saddam was defeated. I wish I could salute it now, but I can't.

We have a great story to tell. There are many Muslims who share our concerns about the totalitarian threat of Al Qaeda and the irresponsible policies of Iran. But we do a poor job of helping those voices to be heard.

So hat's off to Gary Anderson, a sometime defense contractor and university lecturer, and The Washington Post for this useful article today. The White House should be taking it to heart

January 11, 2008

President Bush's Mideast Hopes, and Reality

You can turn to Al Jazeera to give you the Arab reactions to President Bush's Middle East peace initiative: http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/88D0079D-658D-40F3-AB3B-BD0555F526A1.htm In essence, papers in countries that like us (Kuwait), are supportive of the president's attempts to find a peace solution before he leaves office, while others that are mixed in their attitudes generally (Egypt) are mixed about this trip, too, and the hostile ones are hostile (Palestine). It is the latter, Palestine, that matter most.

If, as the Palestinians quoted by Al Jazeera declare, there can be no peace without Israel recognizing "the right of return" to properties that the Palestinians' parents and grandparents left sixty years ago, there is not going to be any peace. Israel is not going to commit suicide.

Nonetheless, nearly every American president eventually seems to fall into the trap of thinking that somehow he can broker the great, elusive Israeli-Palestinian deal. Actually, the deal is there and waiting. All it takes is for the Palestinians to agree to it. Its benefits includes huge amounts of foreign aid and investment (from us, primarily) and huge opportunities for mutual trade and business partnerships (with Israel, mainly), and probably some big financial and security incentives from nearby Arab states that want to move on from the barren struggles of the past. The real sticking point is ending violent attacks on Israel. The PA has to sign a real peace treaty and enforce it--on its side, where the violations are wont to occur.

Right now the atmosphere for an Israeli-Palestinian peace should be promising on the international level. The rich Saudis and Gulf Arabs are worried about Iran and have no love for Iran's surrogates in the Levant, notably Hezzbolah and Hamas. Meanwhile, Iraq is turning into a U.S. success and the new Iraqi government is simply not interested in resuming Iraq's previous active opposition to Israel.

If the Fatah government of the Palestine Authority and the Palestinian people can see their way to a mutually acceptable peace settlement with Israel, Hamas can be discredited and its grasp on Gaza loosened. There will be an obvious comparison to be made when Gazans see how their grim lives under perpetual entifadah compare with the blessings that quickly will accompany any genuine peace between the PA and Israel.

But the "right of return" demand is just code for "never!" If the PA and its constituency can't get past that demand now, and rather clearly, you can shut down the talks tomorrow.

I have been to the West Bank, as well as to Israel, several times in the my life, most recently last summer. My first experience was crossing the "Green Line" in 1965 and walking through the "Mandelbaum Gate" that separated Jerusalem before the '67 War. In the 80s I visited schools and community centers and technical training programs in Ramalah and Gaza. As a result, I really long to see Palestinians lead lives of dignity, freedom and prosperity.

But sacrificing Israel, ironically, would do nothing to achieve such a future. Perverse as it may seem to some, the Palestinians need peace with Israel even more than Israel needs peace with the Palestinians. Under the right political conditions, the Palestinians can be enormously successful, as communities of Palestinians have shown in Jordan and elsewhere. Palestinians have their cultural hang-ups but they have more human capital than almost any other Arabs. Collaborating with the dynamic Israelis, rather than combating them, they could excel in every way.

President Bush is a fine international leader--though he is widely maligned--and his diplomacy in the Middle East is consistently underrated. History will be kinder to him than his contemporaries, as often is the case. But in his final year in office he should not allow himself to be pushed into pushing Israel. That would just set up the next failure.

A bright future is ready for the Palestinians. But only they can decide if they are ready for it.

December 27, 2007

Assassination Brings Back the Terrorism Issue

The terrible assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan already has created crisis and widespread violence. It is too soon to know how stable that country can remain under the pressures now developing.

What is clear is that the issue of terrorism is going back to the top of the presidential race in the United States. Candidates stopped talking about it much in recent months; voters seemed bored. Anyone who follows the news knows that things are going better in Iraq, but it seemed until now that people had grown tired of the whole terrorism problem.

But, to paraphrase Trotsky, the terrorism problem apparently is not tired of them. Assassinations have to be on many minds as candidates whiz around the country in only semi-secure conditions. Moreover, the headlines in Pakistan will remind the electorate that we have been spared another Al Qaeda attack but we cannot be sure for the future.

You can figure out who will benefit politically. It has to be mature candidates with anti-terrorism credentials.

December 6, 2007

"The So-Called 'War on Terror'"

NPR News refers to the War on Terror as the "so-called War on Terror." Do you think that might represent just a bit of hidden news editorializing? Are they now "the So-Called National Public Radio"?

Meanwhile, the New Amsterdam Times (or the "So-called New York Times," if you prefer) persits in describing Al Qaida in Iraq ad "Al Qaida in Mesopotamia." As long as they were going to try to spin the reality of Al Qaida as some kind of antiquity, why don't they go all the way back and call it "Al Qaida of the Ur of the Chaledeans''?

A whole new volume on Orwellian newsspeak needs writing about modern Western media.

December 4, 2007

Breathtaking: the Real Reaction to the Report on Iran

You would gather from much of the media today that the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program somehow shows either 1) a Bush failure to understand what is going on in Iran, or 2) Bush's desire to mislead the public heretofore about the seriousness of Iran's nuclear plans.

All of this is bizarre. It is getting to the point that you can't trust a news account unless you do your own reading and research.

The NIE was sent to Bush to provide him information. (It is contrary, by the way, to earlier NIE reports.) Then the Administration released it. The only thing remarkable about this process is that someone in the spook world with an axe to grind didn't leak the report ahead of time.

Anyhow, the White House late today published a list of reactions from other countries and multi-lateral organizations that is far more representative of reality. Here they are:

"What They're Saying..."

International Response To The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) On Iran


Spokesperson For British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: The report "confirms we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons (and) shows that the sanctions program and international pressure were having an effect in that they seem to have abandoned the weaponisation element." "It also shows the intent is there and the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remains a very serious issue." (Zahra Hosseinian, "France And UK Urge Pressure On Iran Despite U.S. Report," Reuters, 12/4/07; "Bush Says Iran A 'Danger' Despite Intelligence Report," Agence France-Presse, 12/4/07)

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: "The NIE report confirmed 'the double approach chosen by the international community of incentives and measures from the United Nations Security Council was right,' German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement released Monday, Nov. 3." ("EU To Keep Up Pressure On Iran After US Report," Deutsche Welle [Germany], 12/4/07)

French Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Pascale Andreani: "It appears that Iran is not respecting its international obligations. ... We must keep up the pressure on Iran ... we will continue to work on the introduction of restrictive measures in the framework of the United Nations." (Zahra Hosseinian, "Bush, Allies Urge Pressure On Iran Despite U.S. Report," Reuters, 12/4/07)

Russian President Vladimir Putin: "Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday told Iran's top nuclear negotiator that the country's nuclear program should be transparent and remain under control of the International Atomic Energy Agency. 'We welcome the extension of your cooperation with the IAEA. We expect that your programs in the nuclear sphere will be open, transparent and be conducted under control of the authoritative international organization,' Putin said at the start of a meeting with Saeed Jalili at the presidential residence on Moscow's outskirts." (Vladimir Isachenkov, "Putin Tells Iran To Keep Nuclear Program Under IAEA Control," The Associated Press, 12/4/07)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "It is vital to pursue efforts to prevent Iran from developing a capability like this and we will continue doing so along with our friends the United States." (Zahra Hosseinian, "Bush Allies Urge Pressure On Iran Despite U.S. Report," Reuters, 12/4/07)

Spokesperson For EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, Cristina Gallach: "Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, said the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report 'proves that transparency about (Iran's) nuclear activities and its intentions are fundamental.'" ("EU To Keep Up Pressure On Iran After US Report," Deutsche Welle [Germany], 12/4/07)

November 21, 2007

When Does the New Iraq Reality Sink In?

The Financial Times is the latest paper to report faster than anticipated improvement of conditions in Iraq. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ca653412-97b4-11dc-9e08-0000779fd2ac.html Therefore, the question is, when will this reality begin to gain acknowledgement by the American public and finally stifle the attempts in Congress to shut off funding and force a speedy withdrawal of troops?

The Left is engaged in a kind of ritual dance, it would seem. Its performers don't really expect a retreat soon, nor if they were in power would they execute a pullout themselves. Why would anyone? When you are getting close to victory, you should quit? But they clearly think that their current harrassing actions are supported in some sense by the public.

It takes a while for change to register. The public will figure it out eventually and that should boost Bush's popularity (now at 38% approval, according to the Rassmussen poll http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/political_updates/president_bush_job_approval and, in turn, make Iraq's future more secure.

Meanwhile, the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will be in many hearts and prayers this Thanksgiving Day, as they should be every day.

My other thoughts on Thanksgiving are expected to run on the editorial pages of tomorrow's Seattle Times. I must add my gratitude for all those who have supported or encouraged the many fine scholars and writers who make up Discovery Institute and our varied program--and for the outstanding Discovery team itself!

November 10, 2007

Bogus Threat from Foreign Investment

So, "Newly Rich Nations Want a Piece of Us," The Washington Post reports, and The Seattle Times features in today's issue. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2004005678_oilinvest11.html

Why should these papers wring their hands over such a development? Both supposedly understand global finance and neither is an economic nativist. Why are they trying to stir up such totally inappropriate angst in this country?

David Cho and Thomas Heath tell us about funds from oil-rich countries and China "buying stakes in key industries in the U.S...including banks, ports, stock exchasnges and energy companies." Well, yes, and that's good, isn't it? Nationalists elsewhere are always decrying U.S. companies' purchases of property and companies in their countries and that doesn't seem to upset Americans. In fact, the best thing those countries can have is investment from us. So, why should it upset us when the shoe is on the other foot?

Back in the 80s when Japan was riding high we were supposed to be alarmed that the Japanese were purchasing such American landmarks as Rockefeller Center. Well, did it make any difference? The answer is, none. Last time I was in New York, Rockefeller Center was still there and looking good.

When foreigners buy property and companies here they actually are expressing confidence in our future, and they also are helping assure it. The money they pay goes to Americans, doesn't it? The business they help to generate employees Americans, doesn't it? The international links that are forged benefit us as much as the foreigners, don't they?

Then why the scare stories?

November 4, 2007

Someone Figures Out Why Iraq Violence is Down

The mystery the AP couldn't solve (below, November 1) is readily solved by The Times of London here.

October 30, 2007

Body Counts in Perespective

Here is a perspective you will not hear in news coverage, so far, from Iraq. When numbers of American soldiers who have died in Iraq are announced, the figures do not note how many American soldiers are dying in America, or Korea, or Germany, or anywhere else they are stationed. A certain number of deaths happen even in peacetime, whether from disease, accidents or violence from other soldiers.

Why does this perspective matter? Because a sizable share of military deaths in Iraq are now represented by non-combat incidents and those numbers tend to minimize what already is being accomplished in Iraq under the Surge. It takes nothing away from the risks run by soldiers on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, nor should it blunt the respect and gratitude we bear for those who die in combat, to make this observation. It simply lends perspective to the reality of the war.

In fact, October has been a very low month for American deaths in Iraq and a high one for killings and arrests of terrorists there. Even the 37 or so deaths reported so far in October include non-combat deaths. In some cases the "Iraq" killing even happened in another country; Bahrain, as in the case James Taranto picks up in his Wall Street Journal Best of the Web column. Combat death in Iraq in October came to something like 27.

Far from subduing an insurgency that is supported by the Iraqi people, the Surge has increased the confidence of the Iraqi population that the U.S. can protect them if they report Al Qaeda and other terrorist activity. The reports on this trend are stunning. Among other things, the horrific atrocities against civilians committed by the terrorists, and seldom covered by the American media--who never fail to cover a Congressional hearing on possible use of water boarding of terror leaders--clearly have alienated the population from all the brands of terrorists.

The slow realization and acceptance of these realities are behind the changed climate of political opinion in America, of course. Pro-war sentiment has not revived, but the "withdrawal" camp is dwindling.

You will never get to zero deaths in Iraq, even if the country is entirely pacified and democratic. There will always be some level of violence, not to mention accidents and fatal disease. That is true even in the United States homeland. Victory is not going to be an absence of U.S. deaths in Iraq, but the peaceful transfer of military leadership responsibility to the Iraqis. And that will be a very big victory, indeed.

October 29, 2007

Tiny Rays of Hope in Somalia

News of grisly fighting by insurgents in Somalia in recent days has just been followed by news that the Prime Minister, Ali Mohammed Gedi, has resigned. He had been feuding with President Yusef and now will be replaced.

Sources close to the situation say that private Wahhabi money from Saudi Arabia has been funding revived insurgent Al Qaeda sympathizers within a faction of the Hawiye ("Ha-we-ya") tribe. Prime Minister Gedi is a Hawiye, but could not adequately combat the terrorists. (Shades of Iraq!)

A bigger political problem, say Yusef supporters, is that Gedi was corrupt. U.S. and European Union aid to the interim government is carefully administered and relatively accountable, but official Saudi Arabian money to support the government heretofore was delivered in cash, perhaps literally in suitcases. According to these sources, some $36 million of that money is missing.

The good news is that the Saudis (the official Saudis, that is) and the governments of other Gulf states, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have decided now to put at least a billion U.S. dollars into Somalia to help the Yusef regime. Above all, they do not want another Al Qaeda safe haven formed in their region. And this time the outside funds (we hope) will be properly administered.

If this report is true, it is a good break for Somalia. America is too preoccupied in Iraq and Afghanistan to handle the extra troops and funds needed for Somalia. The Gulf states can and should fill the void.

October 26, 2007

Put the Focus Back on Security

The Long War Ahead - CoverAm I the only one sensing that American public attention is wandering away from homeland security? There has been so much focus on Iraq, and now Iran, and, overall, an unseemly subtext that what really matters is how such developments may affect the 2008 presidential election--America's longest running political soap opera--that the highest priority, our domestic physical security, is slipping out of view. It will snap right back, of course, if and when we are attacked.

No, I am not alone. In this article for the Washington, D.C. Examiner, Logan Gage from our Washington office, calls attention to neglected recent testimony by Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence. And another Discovery agent in Washington D.C., John Wohlstetter, mild-mannered technology expert and DI senior fellow, is nearing publication of his Discovery Institute Press book, The Long War Ahead: and The Short War Upon Us. Look for it next month.

October 21, 2007

How to Interpret Polls on Iraq

Campaign polls are least reliable the farther one is from an election, because most people (as in the current presidential race) are not really paying attention yet.

Polls also are unreliable in the transition from one reality in the news to a new one. The improving U.S. performance in Iraq is not yet reflected in polls, such as this one from Gallup, because of the lag time between changes in complex situations. When the changes are adequately reported and then, even more, when a new reality filters fully into the public mind, poll results begin to reflect the change. The development of a new poll consensus on Iraq will emerge, but only after time--assuming, of course, that prospects in Iraq do continue to get brighter for the Coalition and anti-terrorist Iraqis.

Part of the difficulty is that polls are very good at providing answers to specific questions, but not so good at measuring intensity of feeling or--to the point here--whether an opinion is fixed or fluid. Before an opinion given to a pollster shifts, it first softens, and that softening is often hard for survey takers to catch.

In economics, likewise, public opinioin measured in polls suggest that in a period where the economy first starts to deteriorate, people appear to be slow to realize it. And, they seem slow to shift their understanding again the next time the economy improves. You see it especially on employment figures and inflation, matters where an opinion poll majority can sometimes conflict with hard data.

People usually take their time in changing their assessments.

October 16, 2007

Sad Tale of Under-employed Gravediggers

Think of the headlines about business upturns that say, "Unemployment drops; inflation feared". The trope is that there is no sunny day that doesn't have a cloud somewhere if you look for it.

So we have the sad news of the gravediggers in Najaf, Iraq who are concerned that not enough people are using their services now that the Surge is working. Oh, there are a few terrorists' families, it seems. But it hardly takes up the slack.

October 8, 2007

The Missing News from the War on Terrorists

There are many helpful sites on the Internet that can provide real news on the war against Islamofascist terrorism, including the war in Iraq, but I want to recommend this one now, The Long War Journal:http://www.longwarjournal.org/ It, in turn, will lead you to various sites that offer current reports from the many fronts of what is, yes, "The Long War".

Did you know about the successful meeting of 300 tribal leaders just held in Iraq? An earlier meeting that was disrupted by the terrorists managed to make the news, but mainly because of the attack, not because of the positive organizational commitments being made by the tribes.

Did you know about the capture of Iranian trained militia, especially in the detail given at this site?

Or the foreign fighters killed in the past two days in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Sadly, there often are few ways to find out this kind of thing from the mainstream media. They are too busy trying to convict the private contractors of Blackwater. That is because they hope that Blackwater might write what many in the media regard as the only valid script for Iraq: U.S. failure. There are many fine reporters covering facets of the war against terrorists, but the daily headlines seems to have concentrated on problems with the U.S., especially anything that could be worked up as a scandal. We are seen as the center of attention. The focus is rather chauvinistic, in its perverse way.

In contrast, can you rely on the accuracy of The Long War Journal? I don't don't know its provenance, but I do note that its accounts cite officials in government (ours and others) and the military as sources. Its scope is truly global.

So, friends, is the war. And this historic global war is not mainly about us--certainly not in Thailand or Indonesia or even Somalia. It is not about us when the terrorists' cells are uncovered in Europe. It is about fanatical Islamists out to undermine Muslim countries first, and then the West.

Secular versus Secularist

We once again are indebted to Mustafa Akyol for insights on modern Islam. His article from Monday's Turkish Daily Newsmakes a useful distinction between a "secular state" and a "secularist state". It is a distinction relevant to Muslim countries; but could it also have some utility in America?

October 4, 2007

Islamist Jewish Conspiracy?

You have to laugh (almost) at the pathetic efforts of some Islamists to impute a Jewish conspiracy to an elected government in power anywhere. But it is particularly odd when the government is a supposedly "religious right" Muslim government, as is the case in Turkey.

And who is leveling the anti-Semitic smear? Folk connected to Turkey's secularist movement!
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/04/AR2007100401357.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

Once again the estimable Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol of the Turkish Daily News pins the tail on the jackass. Congratulations also to the Washington Post for savoring the irony on their pages.

Who's Who is seldom easy to figure out in the Muslim world, but there are a few invaluable guides. Mustafa Akyol is one. Here he drives home a key judgment: don't trust "secularists" to save civilization from violence and prejudice.

September 16, 2007

Informed Speculation: Israel's Amazing Raid on Syria

Momentous news is often hid in the "no comment" file. And no comment (or hardly any comment) was what Israel was making after its recent and mysterious air and commando raid inside Syria. The Syrians weren't talking much either. No one was. Why not?

Today's Sunday (London) Times has a fascinating explanation of what may have been going on here. It is about the real game that is being played in the world, in contrast, for example, to what appears on most television news programs. It is about some remarkable military derring-do, some international conspiracies and ultimately about the possibilities of nuclear war.

Crucially involved, you'll notice, is the question of Iran. And the question of North Korea. Not small topics.

September 13, 2007

End the War by Winning It

Spin as you will, the long term prospects in Iraq are positive, assuming the United States stays with the war. Today, U.S. and Iraqi forces killed three al Qaeda operates and captured 80 others in the Diyala region--some of them in leadership positions--and captured another 12 in Salah al Din.

These are big numbers. Imagine if al Qaeda had captured a third that many Americans! What a fuss there would be.

The war really has turned around, though the crucial change is not what is happening in Iraq (important though it is), but in American public opinion. It finally has dawned on elites as well as ordinary people 1) that we cannot just leave; and 2) that we can win.

The President is about to put that into perspective in his broadcast address.

August 28, 2007

Signs of Improved Safety in Iraq

I will celebrate the day I learn that it is safe for foreigners (e.g.,
Americans) to walk the shopping streets of Baghdad. That was not possible
when I visited in September, 2004 and it is not possible now, even though a
highly guarded Sen. John McCain conspicuously bought a carpet at a Baghdad
bazaar a couple of months ago. But the good senator was heavily guarded.

At my hotel three years ago, almost marooned, I had meetings with a few
Iraqis who could come to see me in safety. I had a particularly memorable
dinner with Ali Fadhil, one of the original founders of the now-famous,
award-winning (and still authoritative) blog, Iraq the
Model
. His brothers have made the blog the kind of thing
that is quoted by the mainstream media because of its authenticity and
immediacy.

Ali, a doctor, writes that he is coming to America this fall to do
post-graduate work in psychology at SUNY in New York. I plan to reciprocate
his visit in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Ali's brothers continue to produce their excellent insights
into all things Iraqi. Below I have reprinted the story of how the road
through the once-deadly Anbar province is now passable and safe, at least
for Iraqis. This is a huge step forward and you can tell from Omar Fadhil's
report how delighted he is.

I look forward to the day when people like me are able to shop on Haifa
Street and not have to worry about being kidnapped for ransom, or killed!
When it is that safe, I want to go back. Dinner in the garden of Iraqi
friends has been promised. At the end of a day of desert heat, a cool
evening and a home-made Middle Eastern meal will be a joy.

But only when it can be enjoyed in peace. May that day come soon.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Crossing Anbar

We've been getting some reports about the improvement in security in Anbar
in the last few months but little was said about the highway that runs
across the province.

The several hundred kilometer western section of the international highway
is technically Iraq's second "port" in a way as it connects Iraq with Syria
and Jordan and was for years the only window to the world when all airports
and the southern ports in Basra were closed to traffic in the 1990s.

For most of the time between 2004 and 2007 taking this road was considered
suicidal behavior as the chance someone would be robbed or killed was too
high.

But with the tribal awakening in Anbar that cleared large parts of the
province from al-Qaeda the highway is expected to be safer, but how much
safer?

My family returned yesterday from a vacation in Syria and they have used
this road twice in six weeks. I had tried hard to convince them not to do
that and take a flight instead but now after hearing their story I'm
convinced that my fear was not justified; the road is safeÅ 

This is good not only for Iraq's economy and traveling but also for the
American troops who can use this road as an alternative supply route in case
the British troops withdraw and leave the strategic southern highway between
Kuwait and Baghdad unguarded.

Back to the story; there are two travel plans for passenger SUV's and buses
from Damascus to Baghdad; one includes leaving Damascus between 10 pm and
midnight, reaching the Syrian border control before dawn, entering the Iraqi
border control at 8 am and arriving in Baghdad around sunset. A total of
approximately 20 hours with 6 to 7 hours lost in waiting and passport
control.

The second plan includes leaving Damascus at noon and here convoys carrying
the passengers continue to move all the way until a short distance northwest
of Ramadi. At this point the time would be between midnight and 2 am and
since that's within curfew hours in Baghdad, the drivers park their vehicles
and everyone gets to sleep 3 or 4 hours and wait for the sun to rise and
then the journey would continue.

Now the first plan sounds predictable, safe and well planned given the
distance and necessary stops. But look at the second one carefully and try
to picture the scene; dozens of passenger SUV's (GMC trucks mostly) and
buses parking in he middle of nowhere in a zone that was until recently the
heart of al-Qaeda's Islamic state! Obviously the drivers and families feel
safe enough that they know they won't be robbed and slaughtered by
cold-blooded terrorists. Even more interesting, this parking and resting
zone was not designated nor protected by the Iraqi or American forces but
simply an arrangement the drivers managed on their own perhaps with
cooperation from the local tribes.

I still laugh every time I think of this incredible change and I honestly
wouldn't have believed it if the story teller wasn't my father.

This sign of positive progress brings to my mind a sad irony. Back in 2004
when taking the Anbar highway was out of question for me, the Sunni dentist,
I made the trip back and fourth between Baghdad and Basra countless times
without any fear. Now, I'm ready to try the trip through the west, but going south through the
militia infested land is something I'd never dare do at this stage.

Aside from security my father told me one more thing that shook the common
idea about the numbers of Iraqi refugees fleeing to Syria. Apparently the
direction of movement is influenced by the season to a certain degree.

When my family's turn to pass through the passports control on the Iraqi
side came, the vehicles that were still behind them on the Syrian side
outnumbered the ones coming from the Iraqi side.
And that's not the only indication to the seasonal aspect of Iraqis'
migration.

Six weeks ago when my family hired a driver to take them to Damascus the
fare was $110 for each passenger since finding a car to take you out of
Baghdad was difficult while the return trip from Damascus would cost only
$25 per passenger because drivers were ready to accept any amount of money
rather than to return to Baghdad empty handed. Guess what, the opposite is now true!

It's supply and demand 101, this change in cost reflects a change in demand
on the two ends of the route suggesting that a good percentage of Iraqis who
flooded Syria in the beginning of the summer season were just trying to
escape the summer heat and enjoy a simple vacation, like my family did.
It doesn't mean a refugees issue doesn't exist, but it does mean that Iraqis
could sometimes be just normal tourists...

August 27, 2007

Issue Muslim Fatwas Against Al Qaida and Other Terrorists

It has long seemed to me that if Muslims are as motivated by religious devotion as we hear, and are as responsive to clear directives from their clerics as we hear, then responsible Sunni and Shia clerics might be expected to come down hard and publicly on terrorists. After all, suicide is supposed to be counter to the Quran, and killing innocent civilians--especially other Muslims--in wartime or any other time is strictly forbidden. But both these tactics are every day tools of the Al Qaida terrorists and even the Shia militia. Most clerics simply leave the topic alone, however.

Once upon a time, before the First World War, the Caliph in Constantinople--under protection of the Ottomans--maintained explicit policies of tolerance that preserved religious peace and even allowed large Christian and Jewish communities to flourish in the Middle East. Religious terrorism was suppressed as strongly as possible. It was one of the unintended consequences of the fall of the Ottomans that such central religious authority disappeared, and with it the policies it supported eroded.

An oped article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal by former Reagan national security adviser Robert McFarlane indicates that I am not alone in wondering about the strange absence of anti-terrorism fatwas until now. The good news McFarlane reports is that major progress in getting both Sunnis and Shia to issue such directives is underway.

It isn't easy, of course. Shia imams are afraid that if they outright ban violence by Shia, the Sunnis will take advantage of the situation, and vice versa. They also fear as individuals that if they oppose the terrorists, they themselves--and their mosques--will be targeted. However, they all may recognize the folly of the present situation now and perhaps the U.S. and Iraqi governments are figuring out adequate means to protect clerics who are willing to issue tough religious bans (fatwas).

Let's hope so. Let's hope, further, that the Saudis will bring the Wahabbis into the process. There is nothing that can accomplish the same with the Iranians at this point, but if Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf joins in the issuance of anti-terrorist fatwas, it will undercut the Iranians, for there is no Shia figure of comparable authority to Sistani in Iran.

Of course, the nasty truth about the "Muslim" violence in the Middle East (especially including Hezbollah and Hamas) is that they are politically-propelled in essence. They merely exploit religion. But at least if the religious leaders finally take concerted action against the terrorists, and condemn them, the promises about "72 virgins" and all that
will be harder to sell to the poor fools the terrorists recruit for suicide missions. Shame, not glory, should be the fate of families and friends of terrorist killers.

One final thought: The McFarlane story, if correct, has far more news significance than it has received so far--a below-the-fold oped in a Saturday edition of the Journal. Where are all the regular reporters on this important development?

August 14, 2007

War of Definitions

On July 27, I commented on the liberal mindset that views terrorism as a law enforcement matter. Last Wednesday, a prime example of this reasoning appeared in a New York Times op-ed titled, "Why Terrorists Aren't Soldiers". In the op-ed, Wesley Clark and his co-author, Kal Raustiala, say, "terrorism should be fought first with information exchange and law enforcement and then with more effective domestic security measures." Rather than designate terrorists as "unlawful combatants," Clark says they should be treated as "criminals."

Clark's initial observations make sense: The conventions of war, at least in the West, do indeed make a distinction between civilians and combatants. But he then makes a strange logical non sequitur. "That line is being blurred in the struggle against transnational terrorists," he says, before placing blame for the blurring at the feet of the Bush Administration. The problem with the argument? The blame doesn't lie with President Bush, but instead with those who actually have blurred the lines--the terrorists.

Terrorists, be they Irish Republican Army, Basque Separatists or Al Qaeda, exist by virtue of their indivisibility from the civilian populace in which they operate. By their very nature, they operate on asymmetrical terms: avoiding conventional warfare tactics in favor of guerrilla-style operations that allow them to strike before blending easily back into the population. Terrorists know that they'd lose a conventional war. So they instead disguise themselves among the population, shirk any semblance of conventional combatant forces such as uniforms, and blend in with the civilians who give them cover.

Clark (correctly, I might add) then points out that terrorists differ from soldiers, or at least our soldiers, in that they intentionally target civilians. But he then makes another unwarranted logical move, arguing that because of this distinction, they should be treated as "criminals," not soldiers. Again, this just doesn't follow.

Al Qaeda may not be a nation in the traditional sense, and so our custom of declaring war may not seem to fit. But this is to ignore what Sun Tzu, ancient Chinese strategist and author of the Art of War, said was the one certainty of war: Wars are always changing, they are always about mutual adaptation. Even though the declaration of war traditionally applied only to nations, it's time for us to change that. It should now also apply to a newer, more amorphous enemy. Certain features of Al Qaeda, for example, lend to treating them as military combatants rather than as the mafia or triads.

First is their obvious use of violence as a means of attaining their end. Now, this alone won't guarantee that they should be treated as soldiers. Indeed, the mob, and even petty bank robbers, use violence. But one can recognize a qualitative difference in holding a person up at gunpoint during a bank robbery and crashing a plane into the World Trade Center. One is for a mere material end, the other has a political end in mind. Second, Al Qaeda operatives have all the trappings of the military. For example, it trains its operatives in military-like camps and equips them for missions, albeit of a more clandestine commando nature. Third, is the question of scope. The mafia or triads may build an empire with global reach but rarely try to shape the religion and structure of the civil society in which they operate. In contrast to Al Qaeda, these bona fide criminal organizations tend to be minimalists wanting to shape the laws only to the extent that they interfere with their business. Al Qaeda's goal-- the reinstitution of the Sharia law under a global caliphate--isn't nearly so modest. Law enforcement isn't designed to thwart visions of global conquest, something that you'd hope a former candidate for U.S. president might understand.

By treating terrorists as combatants, Clark argues, "we accord them a mark of respect and dignify their acts." This is absurd. Merely because you choose to oppose your enemy with martial means doesn't mean you accord them or their actions legitimacy, much less dignify them. To say so would mean that we accorded dignity to Nazi Germany when we opposed them with military power; if anything, the opposite seems true.

Although he never bothers to spell it out, Clark also says, "[t]he formula for defeating terrorism is well known and time-proven." Clark may hesitate to expand on this in part because past successful fights against terrorists, like the British fight against the Malaysian insurgency, have been accomplished through a combination of military might, civil affairs and special operations.

Perhaps the most vacuous of Clark's claims is that labeling terrorists as combatants would make us impotent to prosecute them. He frames it as a paradox:

"While the deliberate killing of civilians is never permitted in war, it is legal to target a military installation or asset. Thus the attack by Al Qaeda on the destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000 would be allowed, as well as attacks on command and control centers like the Pentagon."
He then says criminal is the most appropriate label, but this, once again, just doesn't follow.

Just because the enemy may strike a military target doesn't mean there wouldn't be repercussions for that. Indeed, the strikes on Pearl Harbor were strikes on military targets. But that didn't stop the U.S. from targeting Pearl Harbor's Japanese strategist, Admiral Yamamoto, and then shooting down his plane. Furthermore, all of this is to forget that we have employed a military tribunal system in previous wars that is explicitly designed to deal with enemy soldiers who fight by illegitimate means. Let us not kid ourselves: Just because the Nuremberg trials were set-up under the aegis of the Allies by the London Charter in no way changes the ad hoc nature of the historic proceedings. Even without international imprimatur military tribunals should be used to prosecute terrorists who act unlawfully, much like the military tribunals were used to prosecute German saboteurs in Ex parte Quirin.

Clark then raises a non-descript concern about our commitment to liberty and quotes the Supreme Court about "a deeply rooted and ancient opposition in this country to the extension of military control over civilians." I too share this concern, if it is founded, but in no way does fighting Al Qaeda with the military abroad endanger our commitment to the Posse Comitatus Act, which simply says that you shouldn't use the military against the citizens of this country.

Clark then raises what is perhaps his only valid concern in the entire article, the indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens. On this much, Clark and I agree: Were we to find someone who is both a U.S. citizen and an alleged terrorist, like Ali al-Marri, I'd agree they should be prosecuted under our current judicial system for treason much like members of the Duquesne Spy Ring during World War II.

Finally, Clark closes by saying:

"Cases like this illustrate that in the years since 9/11, the Bush administration's approach to terrorism has created more problems than it has solved. We need to recognize that terrorists while dangerous, are more like modern-day pirates than warriors."
Whether the Bush administration's approach to fighting terrorism has created more problems than it has solved is debatable. It's certainly something that is hard to empirically verify, so a pat assertion seems dubious. But it's General Clark's closing contention, that we treat Al Qaeda like "modern-day pirates," that is ironic for it proves the opposite of what he asserts. We fight modern day pirates with Navy who is charged with securing our shipping lanes, not the FBI, and so in the end, Clark unwittingly makes the case for using the military to fight Al Qaeda.

Should Civilians "Sacrifice" More for Iraq Success?

It is hard to hear normally smart, even shrewd, Americans complain that the U.S. burden of the Iraq War is being carried too much by the armed forces and that civilian Americans are not being asked to sacrifice enough. It sounds so stirring, so morally upright; that is, until you think about it.

The two main ways people suggest that civilians sacrifice more are 1) higher taxes, and 2) reinstitution of the draft.

In the first case, we can afford to wage the war in Iraq without endangering our economy largely because the Bush tax cuts of 2002-3 have so successfully stimulated economic growth. Higher taxes might mean more "sacrifice," all right, but at this point they also probably would reduce economic growth and therefore reduce federal tax REVENUES.

If, as even many Democrats recognize now, we have to be in Iraq for a number of years, we need economic health. We can only manage a long war if it is a small war, and one that takes a relatively modest share of GNP each year. Big wars can't last long without exhausting the participants relatively quickly.

Bringing back the draft is another counterproductive idea. I understand why liberals would like to bring back the draft. It would give the government access to whole generations at a time and that would help build an even stronger expectation that it is government that properly gives direction to life. For that very reason, it mystifies me why any conservative would support a return to conscription.

Bring back the draft and the compulsion that goes with it, and you will totally debase the quality of our armed forces and lower the prestige of service. You further will open the military to the kind of discipline problems, including heavy drug use, that plagued the military in Vietnam. We read occasionally about some criminal in the military in Iraq (rapists, reckless killers, etc.), but the truth is that we have the best disciplined military force that has seen service in many generations. They have the pride of voluntarism and professional training.

Bring back the draft and you also will incite a new protest movement on campuses, and who needs that?

Therefore, what civilians need to do is to back the military and show appreciation for them. Since most of us are not called to much personal sacrifice, we should show the greatest solicitation for those volunteers who are shouldering most of the burden.

This is not World War II, where an all-out, society-wide effort was needed. The contest is not the same. Just consider the numbers of war-related deaths--many in World War II, relatively few now. Then we were able to overwhelm the foe in a conventional war. In this war against politicized Islamist terrorists, we must outwit, outperform and OUTLAST the foe. It is less about sacrifice and more about skill and resolve.

If you personally don't feel you are doing enough, I suggest that you contribute to the USO or any number of other causes that directly help servicemen and women.

August 13, 2007

Time to Examine US Role on Public Diplomacy

If there is much to cheer about in changing military fortunes in Iraq, that cannot necessarily be said of our "public diplomacy" efforts--the term given for good propaganda. The U.S. Created Al Hurra television to compete with Al Jazeera and to make up for the mushiness of Voice of America. The new U.S. funded station is based in Virginia but reports and broadcasts to the Middle East in Arabic.

The sad thing seems to be that the new effort has succumbed to the same kind of bland programming that people trained in Hollywood and Madison Avenue wrongly suppose matters in Iraq or elsewhere in Arabic lands. The same problem apparently obtains in U.S. programs aimed at Iran.

Of course, you will get higher ratings for pop culture than for hard news and opinion about the political and military realities of the region, but so, what? Arabs know all about our pop culture--too much, probably. They are tempted to it even as they are repulsed by it. Indeed, a sad condition of America's image overseas is that we represent the novel and sensational in both a good and bad way. Modernity (as expressed in the West's edgy entertainment) has visceral appeal even as it leaves a bitter aftertaste in traditional cultures. It may get viewers. What it does not get is understanding and allies for America.

I have heard quiet comments about this problem from friends in and out of the Bush Administration. Some point to particular appointees who are naïve or who are easily rolled by the bureaucrats. What I have not seen are very many careful analyses of what we are doing and not doing in this field. I cannot report on it myself, so I am just leaving out the names I have heard. I'm not a reporter.

But what about the people who ARE reporters?

The liberal media doesn't report on the effectiveness of U.S. public diplomacy because they don't see any significance to it or else don't especially want the U.S. to look better, in any case. But what is holding up the conservative media?

Al Qaida knows full well that American public opinion is a second battleground for it. But so is opinion in the Middle East. If Iraqis and others learn what really is going on they are more likely to help the Americans. But if what they mainly get on TV are attacks on the U.S. by foreign radicals and hip hop from Americans, what are they supposed to
think?

A failure to take public diplomacy very seriously is a huge wartime disservice to our fighting men and women because it damages the cause of victory. The President himself has too much riding on the Iraq war to let this aspect of his strategy be affected by personal loyalties, or, worse, inattention.

August 8, 2007

Big News From Iraq Often Only Appears Small

The stories I watch most closely from Iraq now are the ones that tend to get buried in the newspapers, or ignored altogether.

The New York Times reports online today that U. S. troops killed 32 Iraqis in attacks in the Sadr City area of Baghdad.

As you examine it, the American military reports that all or nearly all those killed were Shia terrorists, so this story Is not not bad news about deaths in Iraq, per se, but good news about terrorists terminated in combat. Other than having such terrorists surrender, I don't know how the news could be better. These are the folks we believe are getting material aid from Iran.

(To be fair, I don't know how prominently the N. Y. Times will run this story in the print edition.)

Meanwhile, Stratfor's subscription-only intelligence briefing reports that the Saudis are preparing to reopen their embassy in Baghdad. This is will help restore confidence in Iraq's future and provide closer means of cooperation in shutting down Al Qaida operatives from Saudi Arabia that have been coming in through Syria.

The U.S., we also learn, is talking with Syria and other of Iraq's neighbors, as well as the Saudis and Iranians. The Iraqis are doing so, too, of course. Of significance, again according to Stratfor, are Iraqi agreements with Turkey to cooperate in curbing the activities of the PKK Kurdish terrorists that roam over the international border and attack Turkish soldiers, police and even civilians. They are not supported by the Iraqis (or the other Kurds), but their mere existence within the Kurdish region of Iraq has stirred the passions of the Turkish military, among others. The Erdogan government in Turkey, backed by the U.S., is eager to stop the PKK provocations.

All of these diplomatic developments are positive accompaniments for the apparently improving military situation.

August 6, 2007

Iraq: Stay in it and Win it

The article ("No Surrender") that ran in Sunday's Opinion Section of the Seattle Times will be no surprise to those who read this blog. It speaks for itself.

July 30, 2007

Tide Turns in Iraq; Even NY Times Notices

I advised a friend over lunch last week that his "weariness" with the war in Iraq is unwarranted. If the United States stays with it, we will win. The problem is the way in which our domestic morale has been undermined by incomplete reporting. I saw it in relation to the elections of 2004 when I visited Baghdad. The Iraqis were upbeat about voting, the media cynical, not bothering, apparently, to find out from the people whether they cared about voting. Millions did, of course.

The media did warn about a "civil war" between the Sunnis and the Shia, and that was a valid concern. But the analysis of causes was not adequate. Behind the strife were two forces trying to force conflict: Al Qaeda (and former Baathists) and Al Sadr's Shia militia. Each provoked the others.

Now one sees that the average Iraqi is quite fed up with both extremes and recognizes that the United States does not want to hang around as an occupier--that the greater danger, in fact, is that we will leave too soon--and that Iraq cannot trust the Muslim extremists.

Now we are finally beginning to get some media reports that dare to diverge from the negative line laid down so long. John Burns, NY Times bureau chief in Baghdad, has long been giving an opinion that contrasts sharply with the snide sarcasm and defeatism of his employer's editorials. Now comes an op-ed (and congratulations to the Times for running it) by two think tank observers from the liberal Brookings Institution.

Someone once pointed out to me a sad condition of conservatism; namely, that writers at the National Review didn't used to believe something unless they saw it in the NY Times, even though they disliked the Times. (I hope that day is past, but sometimes I wonder.) But perhaps in a similar vein, liberals also won't believe good news about long term prospects in Iraq until they see it in the Times. Is that possibly happening now?

July 27, 2007

Terrorism as Law Enforcement

Editor's Note: This piece is written by Keith Pennock, a member of the Discovery Institute staff.

Two underplayed news items today point to a disturbing trend by the Left to hamper the War on Terror. The first item, picked up in Australia's "Age", noted that "At least 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have been killed or recaptured on after taking up arms against allied forces following their release."

Conventional wisdom on the Left is that Guantanamo is full of innocent men. Rep. Jim Moran's letter to President Bush said as much. The "Age" story, sparked by the recent death of former Gitmo detainee and Al Qaeda commander Abdullah Mehsud in Pakistan would seem to belie that contention.

The second item worth noting is Review & Outlook from today's Wall Street Journal, dealing with the strife between the President and the members of the Democratically controlled Congress regarding the use of warrant-less wire tapping and the FISA courts.

By way of background, the FISA courts, were set up as a part of the Foreign Intelligence Services Act of 1978 that segregated foreign surveillance under the aegis of the CIA from domestic surveillance under the aegis of the FBI. FISA severely limited the amount of intelligence that could be shared between these two branches and it also set up a system of judges that would approve or deny things like wire-tapping and the sharing of information. The act derived from the Sen. Frank Church hearings during the Watergate scandal, but it application went far beyond its original scope and hamstrung our intelligence capabilities.

If there is any one act singularly responsible for our intelligence services' failure to "connect the dots" to 9/11 the FISA Act is it. Why? Because the act created an arbitrary and artificial division between foreign and domestic surveillance that terrorists are all too happy to exploit and that our lumbering legal system is not lithe enough to address. Under the current system, should a terrorist cross from foreign jurisdiction to American soil, the CIA must execute a handoff in surveillance to its domestic counterpart, the FBI. The problem is, such hand-offs in the past have resulted in the loss of suspects. A handoff can only be made if a FISA judge approves it, and such judges are rarely ready at the end of a phone when terrorists cross jurisdictions.

What's more, the arbitrary nature of this division is making itself felt more acutely in this telecom age. As the WSJ piece notes, many calls between terrorists abroad are routed through the US, and though ostensibly they are foreign-to-foreign calls and therefore under the aegis of the CIA, the mere fact that they pass through a US switchboard makes them "domestic" calls, and therefore subject to FISA protracted approval. What should be a U.S. technology advantage in the war on terror--that many international calls come through U.S. switches--is now a liability. Once again, the lumbering nature of our legal system was never meant to keep up with a threat that moves at the speed of light through fiber-optic cables.

It's time we did away with this arbitrary division. Following 9/11 President Bush and the Congress created the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which is meant to connect the dots in the kinds of cases I have described. But too often, it fails to act promptly enough.

The troubling trend among the Liberal Left is their reticence to move to redress these issues. I won't impugn their patriotism, but I will impugn their attitude that terrorism is mainly a law enforcement matter. The disposition to see the captives of Gitmo as innocents, though most of them were caught on foreign battlefields engaged in combat with US forces, and to try to deal with them within our domestic courts, is a part of this mindset. But, so too is the refusal to address the changing nature of the terrorists use of technology against us. Both need to change.

We are paying for the mistakes in respect to Gitmo. But we could pay a much bigger price if our overly cautious handling of international phone traffic leads to a major intelligence failure--and if that, in turn, leads to another major attack on the U.S. homeland.

July 26, 2007

Excellent Confirmation on Turkey and One Possible Future for Islam

I hope you noticed Mustafa Akyol's excellent article in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. Note that the AKP even won a majority in Kurdish areas, outpolling the Kurdish nationalist parties.

People thinking about the future of Islam and its relations with the West should study the case of contemporary Turkey. What Mustafa Akyol of the Turkish Daily News describes as "liberal Islam" versus "illiberal secularism" is an insight that is pivotal. At least one obvious alternative is "anti-liberal Islamic extremism." Secularism does little to combat the extremists, while "liberal Islam" offers a bridge between the Muslim world and the West.

July 24, 2007

Why Iraq is not Vietnam (We Hope)

Max Boot takes on former Secretary of State Kissinger for his comparison of the supposed diplomatic solution in Vietnam with a similar opportunity in Iraq and the Baker-Hamilton Commission recommendations for negotiations with Syria and Iran. (Read his Los Angeles times piece here.) Boot is absolutely right and the grisly truth about what really happened in Vietnam is worth repeating for those who have forgotten the chronology.

The idea that you can negotiate your way out of the Iraq conflict is worse than dubious. You succeed in Iraq--and anywhere in the Middle East--by winning militarily. Negotiation is what you do when you have lost.

In the the past couple of days I think I have detected a slight shift in public opinion as Americans have reacted adversely to Sen. Harry Reid's all-night Senate teach-in on Iraq. It called attention to the underlying issues all right, and as such it backfired. Sen. McCain's fine floor speech helped sharpen the contrast between Sen. Reid's political posturing and a statesmanlike approach. The Tuesday NY Times reports a poll showing opinion moving back a bit toward support of our original invasion on Iraq.

What is most clear is that the war opponents don't have a post-withdrawal plan. Saying that, yes, there may be a terrible genocide if we leave, but that we should leave anyhow (the Obama position) is just not persuasive. In fact, it is so breathtaking that it may be causing people to re-think. There is a difference between wanting to get out as soon as possible (even war supporters want to leave just as soon as a credible transfer to the the Iraqi government can be justified) and a willingness to risk the whole region slipping into chaos--and into our enemies' hands.

July 22, 2007

Turkey Election Benefits U.S. Relations

The sizable victory for the AKP in Turkey's elections Sunday (read the New York Times coverage here) is confirmation that the country will continue its distinctive
policies of economic liberalism and growth, a generally pro-U.S. and
pro-E.U. Foreign policy and resistance to the military's desire to launch an
attack on Kurdish rebels operating out of Iraq.

In foreign policy, none of the parties in Turkey is indifferent to the
terrorist attacks that Kurdish PKK rebels from Northern Iraq have made
against Turkish military and police. The question is how to repel them. A
rash invasion of Iraq would endanger relations with the U.S. and the E.U.
and would destroy the growing economic trade between Turkey and Iraq and
embroil Turkey in its own insurgency war. Of course, it also would be a
terrible development for the United States, forcing us to choose between our
allies the Turks and our allies, the Kurds. The PKK is a relatively minor
player in the Kurdish provinces of Iraq, and a rival of the main Kurdish
parties, but a Turkish attack on the region presumably would mobilize all
Kurds, not just the PKK.

The irony is that the supposedly Islamist party in Turkey, the AKP, is
the more cautious one about the border problems while the secularists are
the more bellicose.

If anyone wants a lesson in how politics in Muslim countries is not
always what it seems, Turkey therefore is an object lesson.

Consider the issue of "veiling" of women. Few Muslim women in that
country are in full veiling (which in some countries is called purdah, or a
chador or abayah), But most women, even professed secularists, dress more
conservatively than Westerners do. Putting on a scarf would seem to be no
big deal, especially since no one is proposing that it be required. However,
it really irritates the secularist elites. They contend that it will start a
slippery slope toward theocracy.

Yet--another irony--the AKP party that is now in government and is the
main political supporter of a tolerance policy on headscarves, actually has
been a leader in women's rights, abolishing the laws that gave men leniency
for wife abuse and for honor killings. The party also has had better
relations with Christians than do the secularists. The Armenian Orthodox
Patriarch all but endorsed the AKP ticket this year.

Westerners are largely unaware of how many unfortunate consequences
attended the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, including the
strange way that Iraq was partitioned. The Turk's abolition of the Caliphate
that -- located in Istanbul for centuries under the protection of the
Ottomans -- had the unintended consequence of depriving the Muslim world of
what normally was very moderate spiritual leadership. When it disappeared,
various kinds of free lance depravity were developed in certain former
Ottoman provinces. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, for example, engaged in a
tragic dalliance with the Nazis in World War II . And then there is the
current campaign of Osama bin Laden to re-establish his own form of
Caliphate--in Baghdad.

We need the Turks to help us in the Muslim world, especially in the
Middle East. We may have differences with the AKP from time to time, but we
generally benefit from their position and should be grateful for their
friendship.

July 10, 2007

Another Reason to Hang Tough in Iraq

Last month I was in Turkey and learned how seriously the Turks regard the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) terrorist threat in that country's Kurdish region. Attacks on Turks by the PKK--and suspicions that they are coming from the adjacent Kurdish region of Northern Iraq--are major news stories in Turkey, while they are only beginning to be noticed in the United States. The PKK insurgents may or may not be allied with al Qaeda, but they definitely are ruthless terrorists. They also are NOT supported by the political groups that currently predominate in Kurdish sections of Iraq, according to Iraqi officials. But some Turks suspect otherwise, and , in any event, have every reason to be alarmed about the terrorism to which their country has been subjected.

Periodically the Turkish military expresses a desire to pursue the PKK into Iraq. War exercises are held near the border and it would not be hard at all to see an incursion take place. A number of Americans--from Secretary of State Rice to former Secretary of State Kissinger--have urged restraint on Turkey, but tensions remain high.

A new story has some Kurds announcing that the Turks have massed 140,000 troops on the Iraq border. (See e.g. this ABCNews.com story.) The U.S. seems to regard that as propaganda. Nonetheless, no one should treat the danger lightly. Ilan Berman, vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, has a useful idea for using technology to intercept PKK terrorists on the Turkish/Iraqi border, and he suggests that we make it available to the Turks as a way to show our commitment to help them in all reasonable ways. (See "Kurdistan Showdown" in today's Wall Street Journal.)

The current government of Turkey, though nominally "Islamic", actually is the more pro-Western of the two major political parties and the least interested in invading Iraq. The Turkish military, however, is aligned with more secularist groups and more open to the idea of a war to crush the PKK, even though such a conflict likely would pull into it the Kurds who presently are not supportive of the PKK. It also would do terrible damage to Iraq as a whole.

The fact that the pro-secularism Turkish military presently is restrained by the nominally Islamic elected government will seem counter-intuitive to many Western observers, though most in close contact with Turkey have recognized the reality. The "religious" element in the Turkish parliament actually, on balance, is relatively more favorable toward tolerance for Christians and other religious minorities. (See my blog on that subject here.) It seems likely that elections in coming months will only confirm the present political arrangement in Turkey.

However, if Democrats, and media and some Republicans have their way and the United States decides to pull out of Iraq after September, the already pronounced likelihood of a substantial rise in regional conflict will be increased in the semi-independent section of Iraq that, with some notable exceptions, has been the safest part of the country. In other words, you may expect to see the Iraq war go international, with our allies the Kurds, thrust into a war with our allies, the Turks. It is hard to imagine worse folly.

Please ask your local "peace" activist who favors American withdrawal from Iraq this year what he or she will advocate when our allies in the Middle East wind up fighting each other--and each demands our help.

July 8, 2007

Al Qaeda in Iran

The Financial Times is the latest source of information that Iran may be assisting al Qaeda in Iraq. In this case it is by turning a blind eye to al Qaeda activities on Iranian soil and--despite their sectarian antagonism--are giving the Sunni terrorists a safe haven before they return to Iraq.

I am going to start something of a drumbeat about the Iraq War now, pointing out the myriad ways it is inextricably part of the world war on terror. Al Qaeda operatives certainly understand the reality and, beleaguered though they are in Iraq, count on American fickleness and impatience to help them snatch a victory out of the jaws of defeat. The media and the Democrats in Congress--and now some Republicans--seem determined to assist them.

The lead news lately is that support for the war effort is waning in the U.S., while buried in the news are reports that the Surge is working in Iraq.

The grim fact we have to face is that we are up against both Iraq and Iran (and Iran's surrogates). The President has known this from the start, but the media and a large share of the public are still in denial. They think if we just bring home the troops, or tuck them away somewhere on the border of the fighting, the terrorist challenge to us will dissipate.

Somehow.

June 29, 2007

Iran Should Print Ration Stamps with Ahmadinejad's Picture

The mullah-ridden government of Iran, after promising relief for the poor, has been running down the nation's economy so badly in the past two years that the poor--and the students and now the middle class--may be close to revolt. Gas rationing--in a supposedly oil-rich land--is the latest element in the accumulating economic crisis, and this one is sparking active as well as vocal anger on the street. (see International Herald Tribune story below.)

Rationing of oil is probably more unpopular than a simple price increase would have been. This terrible economic idea recalls the proposals for rationing in the USA during the OPEC-induced gas shortages of 1973. I remember thinking at the time that the opponents to the idea should have insisted on "honoring" the politicians who proposed rationing by having ration stamps printed with their pictures on it. That way every driver
sitting and stewing in long gas lines could be reminded right in front of his eyes who brought them this swell policy innovation.

In Iran, "Ahmadinejad stamps" should be printed now. Since the government won't do it, and even is trying to prohibit any media criticism of the new policy, perhaps as an alternative the angry citizenry should print up big posters "thanking" Ahmadinejad and his mullah backers for this new rationing scheme. After all, just as communists in Russia were able to create a shortage of bread in the continent's richest grain producing
region, so now Islamic radicals in power are showing how to create an oil shortage in Iran! That takes talent and should be properly saluted! "Thank You, Dear Leader, For Allowing Us to Enjoy Rationing!"

Meanwhile, I suspect that there are many sober-minded Iranians who are thinking to themselves, "My goodness, if our brave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had not been breaking the country's budget, as well as our international treaties, by building nuclear weapons and supporting terrorists all over the Middle East, maybe he could have built the refineries we need--and now lack--to refine our own oil so we wouldn't have to import it!"

Continue reading "Iran Should Print Ration Stamps with Ahmadinejad's Picture" »

June 7, 2007

It's Not Your Grandfather's Russia

Cross-Posted at RussiaBlog.org

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"White Russians" in ice glasses on an ice table in an ice-bar in St. Petersburg
(photo essay at the end of the post)

I was in Russia in 1965 and just returned. "I like to visit every 40 years or so," I told folks in Moscow. The place has changed, I explained deadpan to some young Russians of my acquaintance. Where an Intourist restaurant of yore served bad food with a sour attitude and left you free thereafter to wander vacant streets after dinner, utterly bored, intimidated and depressed, Moscow today fairly shouts its attractions, some of which are embarrassing, and all of which are costly. The formerly deserted, fourteen lane-wide streets are now so full of traffic at midnight that one has to dodge frustrated drivers who decide to pass on the "sidewalk lane." Police in their sad little Ladas are the ones who seem intimidated now.

Everyone seems to stay out late and arrive late to work in the morning. Heavy traffic is both a real excuse for it and just an excuse. These early summer dates, when the night is still light at midnight, remain hot until late, so it takes a long time for the typical apartment to cool down and make sleep possible.

Bruce-Chapman-traffic-Moscow.jpg
Bruce Chapman frustrated at a traffic jam on the embankment of the Moscow-River

I come back to the States with a few tips for tourists and visiting businessmen.

Continue reading "It's Not Your Grandfather's Russia" »

June 1, 2007

You Heard It Here First

Cross-posted at RussiaBlog.org

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Bruce Chapman in Bloomberg's Moscow studio on May 15, 2007

MOSCOW - Two weeks ago, during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's meetings at the Kremlin, Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman was interviewed by Bloomberg's television news bureau in Russia for his reactions to the talks.

Chapman said that there are no substantive reasons for the two nations to be so negative towards each other and therefore Russia and the U.S. should "lower the temperature" of their rhetoric. Alone among commentators, Chapman also predicted that presidents Putin and Bush would meet face to face in the near future.

Former Ambassador Chapman apparently has influence in high places: the resulting communiqué from the Rice-Putin (and Foreign Minister Lavrov) talks emphasized the need to lower the rhetoric, and two weeks later a Putin-Bush summit due to take place in Kennebunkport, Maine was announced for early July.

May 29, 2007

Bloomberg News Blooms in Russia

DSC01697-small.jpgABC, CBS, and NBC apparently have closed their bureaus in Moscow, or greatly reduced them. CNN has shrunk to one reporter, and Western print media also have reduced staff lately. The big exception among the international media is Bloomberg News. Speaking recently to fellow expats on Bloomberg's elegant terrace overlooking the Kremlin two blocks away, James Brooke, Enterprise Reporter, said that the Moscow bureau has doubled in the past year to 22 reporters and editors. There is a new Bloomberg bureau in St. Petersburg and another coming in Kazakhstan. There is even a stringer now for Georgia-Armenia and there may be another soon for Azerbaijan. Bloomberg also boasts Russian speakers and writers, a small but up-to-date TV studio in Moscow and excellent connections in London.

The Moscow bureau alone is Bloomberg's fourth largest overseas unit (among 50)--after London, Frankfurt, and Paris. "We are investing in the personnel to make Bloomberg the premier source of business news for Russia," Brooke states.

Continue reading "Bloomberg News Blooms in Russia" »

May 1, 2007

Turkey's Surprise Role in Afghanistan

Here is Al Jazeera, of all news sources, covering the fence-mending meeting of President Karzai of Afghanistan and President Musharaf of Pakistan that just held under the auspices of Turkey.

It was an important meeting, and perhaps not the last the heads of Pakistan and Afghanistan may hold in Turke