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I Keep Telling You People that the Human Rights Situation in Iran Is Awful

And here is more proof–assuming that more proof is actually needed:

Executions have surged in Iran and oppressive conditions for women have worsened, a United Nations investigator said on Monday, drawing attention to rights abuses just as Iran’s president is pushing for a diplomatic breakthrough with the West.

The investigator, Ahmed Shaheed, a former diplomat from the Maldives and now special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, made the comments on the eve of presenting his latest findings to members of the United Nations General Assembly.

Mr. Shaheed said he had been shocked by the execution on Saturday of Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, who was convicted of killing a man she had accused of raping her. The death sentence had prompted international outcry and efforts by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, to rescind it. Under the Iranian Constitution, the president has no power over the judiciary.

In a briefing with reporters Monday morning, Mr. Shaheed suggested that Mr. Rouhani had only “limited authority” to make the broad changes that he promised when elected in June 2013.

From July 2013 to June 2014, Mr. Shaheed’s report says, at least 852 people were executed, in what he called an alarming increase from rates that were already high.

Among those put to death were at least eight juvenile offenders and four minority Arabs whom Mr. Shaheed described as “cultural rights activists.”

The death penalty can be applied in Iran for adultery, recidivist alcohol use, drug possession and trafficking, as well as crimes in which a person “points a weapon at members of the public to kill, frighten and coerce them,” the report said. Mr. Shaheed said minorities are sometimes charged for “exercising their rights to peaceful expression and association.”

Any further comment in this post is superfluous. The excerpt speaks for itself.

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Smart Diplomacy

Recall that back in 2008, Barack Obama promised that if he became president, he would strengthen alliances and draw friends over to the side of the United States–unlike that George W. Bush fellow who supposedly angered and alienated allies left, right and center.

Remember that? Good. Now read this:

The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” this official said, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, by his nickname.

[. . .]

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

This entirely silly line of “argument” gets eviscerated here:

As a million people on Twitter are noting this afternoon, “the chickensh*t” served as a team leader in the IDF’s special forces unit, Sayeret Matkal. Team Hopenchange isn’t questioning his personal bravery, though, they’re questioning something they naturally consider more important — political bravery. Which is interesting because The One’s shown plenty of gutlessness on international affairs himself over the past few years. He abandoned Mubarak because he didn’t want to be on the wrong side of Arab populism, then abandoned Morsi once the winds of Arab populism changed. He backed off his “red line” in Syria once he realized the public wasn’t keen on bombing Assad, then accepted a transparently sham deal to disarm Damascus’s chemical weapons brokered by Vladimir Putin. He let Iraq fall to pieces, enabling the rise of ISIS, because keeping a residual force of U.S. troops there would have upset his base. Ten years from now, his legacy on Iran will almost certainly be that he missed the west’s last clear chance to stop the mullahs before they built a bomb, choosing to accept another transparently sham denuclearization deal instead because he feared a war more than he feared Shiite fanatics with nuclear weapons. How is this guy, or rather his surrogates, calling other leaders “chickensh*t”?

[. . .]

Let me understand this. Netanyahu considered attacking Iran, we pressured him not to do it, and now we’re mocking him as a “chickensh*t” for taking our advice? Logically, doesn’t that make The One “King Chickensh*t”? I’ve re-read that boldfaced part five times now and I still can’t quite process it. Not only are they sneering at Bibi for adopting the White House’s own policy, they’re flatly admitting — boasting even — that they made Iran’s nuclear program attack-proof. A bombing run might have worked three years ago but it won’t work now, thanks to … Uncle Sam’s delay tactics on behalf of Tehran. Iran might as well name its first ICBM the “Barack.” You’re welcome, A-holes.

So much for improving international alliances. So much for providing America with a cogent, intelligent, rational, realist foreign policy. Remind me why these guys got a second term, let alone a first one.

Some Things Never Change–Like the Awful Human Rights Situation in Iran

To wit:

Iran hanged a woman on Saturday who was convicted of murdering a man she alleged was trying to rape her, drawing swift international condemnation for a prosecution several countries described as flawed.

Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged at dawn for premeditated murder, the official IRNA news agency reported. It quoted a statement issued by the Tehran Prosecutor Office Saturday that rejected the claim of attempted rape and said that all evidence proved that Jabbari had plotted to kill Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former intelligence agent.

The United Nations as well as Amnesty International and other human rights groups had called on Iran’s judiciary to halt the execution, which was carried out after the country’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict. The victim’s family could have saved Jabbari’s life by accepting blood money but they refused to do so.

According to her 2009 sentencing, Jabbari, 27, stabbed Sarbandi in the back in 2007 after purchasing a knife two days earlier.

“The knife had been used on the back of the deceased, indicating the murder was not self-defense,” the agency quoted the court ruling as saying.

Britain, Germany, and a group of European parliamentarians, among others, condemned the execution, as did the United States.

“There were serious concerns with the fairness of the trial and the circumstances surrounding this case, including reports of confessions made under severe duress,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

“We join our voice with those who call on Iran to respect the fair trial guarantees afforded to its people under Iran’s own laws and its international obligations,” she added.

I have nothing to add. This whole story is appalling beyond words.

Bigotry + Delusion = The American Studies Association

Behold:

When the American Studies Association adopted its Israel boycott in February, it was “credited… for giving moment to the boycott campaign.” Now the ASA has significantly reversed its boycott of Israeli scholars – and is indeed trying to claim it never happened.

If the ASA’s original action was important for popularizing such boycotts (at least in the narrow quarters of area studies), its reversal is equally important for showing them to be beyond the pale. It will be extremely hard for other academic groups to now put a good face on adopting a boycott that the ASA has done so much to distance itself from. This is underscored by the ASA’s dodgy and frantic triangulation about its boycott policy. In the past week it has issued what the observers have described as inconsistent statements“uncomfortable clarifications,” and further “clarified clarifications.”

While having the revolutionary vanguard of the boycott movement disclaiming such efforts is welcome, their rewriting history to claim the boycott never happened is less so. When the boycott was being considered earlier this year, some members favored a broad boycott of all Israeli academics, while others were uncomfortable with that. Ultimately the group adopted a watered-down compromise that would exclude only some Israelis – those who are “expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors” of Israeli schools, but not “individual Israeli scholars.” This distinction is not terribly clear (more on this later).

What is clear is tat the ASA decided, in a widely-publicized move, to discriminate against some Israeli academics. Now, the ASA says it will not discriminate against any Israeli academics. The Conference is open to “everyone,” the group says, even, as the ASA’s executive director explained to me, “representatives of Israeli institutions.”

The worst part of the story is, of course, the fact that the boycott was launched in the first place. But almost as bad is the display of the ASA’s utter intellectual cowardice, now that the boycott has been criticized and now that it has failed. Pretending that the ASA never meant to boycott or discriminate is beyond absurd, and the organization shouldn’t be allowed to get away with rewriting history. In related news, maybe this attempt to whitewash the ASA’s efforts to discriminate indicates that being discriminatory and bigoted is a bad idea, one that should not be adopted by others. I realize that this is a revolutionary thought, but it has the virtue of being intellectually defensible.

For Everyone Who Doubts the Threat Hamas Poses to Israel . . .

Be sure to read this article about the tunnels dug by Hamas to allow terrorists to launch surprise attacks on Israelis and kill or kidnap scores of them. The following excerpt provides a good summary of the story, but do read the whole thing:

While Israel, a nuclear power, takes pride in having fielded one of the world’s most technologically advanced armies, its adversaries have charted a decidedly different course. For half a century, the Palestinian resistance has proved to be something of an incubator for the tools of unconventional warfare: hijacking, hostage-taking, suicide bombings—all highly visible terror tactics designed to attract the world’s media outlets. As a result, Israel has repeatedly been forced to adapt to its enemies’ lower-cost, higher-yield methods.

Underground networks are just the latest example. According to the Israeli Security Agency, better known by its Hebrew abbreviation, Shin Bet, Hamas began building tunnels under the Gaza Strip as early as 2000. For the most part, these were crude structures designed for one-off attacks against Israeli forces, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005. A year later, however, Hamas used just such a tunnel to sneak into Israel and kidnap a 19-year-old soldier named Gilad Shalit. “This was one of the most asymmetrical incidents in recent memory,” a senior Israeli intelligence official asserts. “One Israeli soldier was held for five and a half years and traded [in 2011] for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.” Another top official agreed, “This was a proof of concept for them. Tunnels work.”

The next time that someone tells you that Hamas poses no threat to Israel, or that the threat is exaggerated, or that Hamas does not so much as wish to cause catastrophic damage to Israel, cite this article to them. It may not actually change the minds of those who are committed to the belief that Israel is illegitimate and that efforts to destroy it should not keep us up at night, but it will at the very least force Israel-haters and those who are unconcerned with the country’s fate to contend with actual facts.

Why Are We Aiding ISIL?

And make no mistake; we are. I understand and appreciate the desire to lend humanitarian aid to innocent civilians, but we have no evidence whatsoever that civilians are actually receiving the aid; rather, it appears that the aid is being diverted to meet ISIL’s needs and interests. Behold:

“The convoys have to be approved by ISIS and you have to pay them: the bribes are disguised and itemized as transportation costs,” says an aid coordinator who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition he not be identified in this article. The kickbacks are either paid by foreign or local non-governmental organizations tasked with distributing the aid, or by the Turkish or Syrian transportation companies contracted to deliver it.

And there are fears the aid itself isn’t carefully monitored enough, with some sold off on the black market or used by ISIS to win hearts and minds by feeding its fighters and its subjects. At a minimum the aid means ISIS doesn’t have to divert cash from its war budget to help feed the local population or the displaced persons, allowing it to focus its resources exclusively on fighters and war making, say critics of the aid.

The aid is being used to materially assist a group with which the United States is at war. It’s a hard decision to make, but the decision must be made to stop the flow of humanitarian assistance until ISIL’s hold on the territory where the aid is flowing is disrupted.

Are We Finally Going to Close Guantanamo?

Well . . . maybe, if certain noises from the Obama administration are to be believed. But Benjamin Wittes is rightly skeptical:

Let me be blunt about this: I will believe this the day it happens, and not a moment before.

If Obama were serious about using the power of his office to close Guantanamo, he would have done it already. He would have vetoed one of the bills that have carried the transfer restrictions. He would have signaled clearly in one of his earlier signing statements that he reserved the right to defy the relevant provisions—and done so. He would have used his considerable negotiating leverage in his dealings with Congress to work his will at a substantive level on the relevant legislation. He has not done these things, because closing Guantanamo—while a sincere priority, I am sure—has always been a secondary or tertiary priority. It’s a priority that has yielded to health care and to other national security needs and concerns. And so it will yield again to his higher-order priorities.

It is costless for the administration to float to reporters that it is “drafting options” for unilateral action in this area. It signals seriousness about reviving the matter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more such stories. I will be very surprised, however, to read the one that says the president has actually signed an order to proceed with Guantanamo closure without Congress on board. Yes, I know: political calculations may be different after the mid-terms; the costs to Obama of action will be less. But even after this last election, Obama will still need to get things done—ISIS fight appropriations, for example, or authorization. The question is whether Obama will want to gum up the works on everything over where he stores a small number of people, a matter on which nearly all Republicans and most Democrats will oppose him. He won’t. If he were willing to stick his neck out on this issue, he wouldn’t have spent the last six years protecting it from the axe.

Quite so. I suspect that Guantanamo will not actually be closed down by the time President Obama leaves office, which will, of course, mean that yet another campaign promise from 2008–repeated in 2012–will be broken. What must the president’s supporters think about that?

Congratulations to Malala Yousafzai

In Pashtun, “Yousafzai” has the same meaning as “Yousefzadeh,” so I am entirely willing to pretend that Malala Yousafzai is my cousin. In that vein, my family is immensely proud that she has won the Nobel Peace Prize, and in a much more serious vein, the prize is entirely deserved. Malala’s work in fighting to ensure that women and girls have access to educational institutions–despite the Taliban’s irrational and lunatic opposition to the education of women and girls–and the courage she displayed in recovering from a Taliban assassination attempt and resuming her work, are nothing short of extraordinary and inspirational. Giving her the Nobel has been just about the best thing that the Nobel committee has done in years. It is wonderful to see that Malala has gotten this award, and it is even more wonderful to consider that recognition from the Nobel committee will help inspire others to take up the cause she has taken up so bravely and so skillfully.

The Very Inconvenient Leon Panetta

This is just devastating:

After resigning as secretary of defense last year, Leon E. Panetta watched with growing dismay at what he perceived as a president losing his way. Instead of asserting American leadership on the world stage, Mr. Panetta concluded, President Obama was vacillating and overly cautious.

“He was concerned about the frustration and exhaustion of the country having fought two wars,” Mr. Panetta observed in an interview on Monday. The president, he said, nursed “the hope that perhaps others in the world could step up to the plate and take on these issues.” As a result, he added, “there was a kind of a mixed message that went out with regard to the role of the United States.”

Typically frank, occasionally feisty and finally free of the constraints of clearing opinions with the White House, Mr. Panetta is re-emerging with a blunt account of his time in the Obama administration. In a new memoir to be published on Tuesday, Mr. Panetta draws a largely respectful portrait of a president who made important progress and follows a “well-reasoned vision for the country” but too often “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”

More:

In an interview at his home with Capital Download, USA TODAY’s video newsmaker series, Panetta says Obama erred:

• By not pushing the Iraqi government harder to allow a residual U.S. force to remain when troops withdrew in 2011, a deal he says could have been negotiated with more effort. That “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed.” Islamic State also is known as ISIS and ISIL.

• By rejecting the advice of top aides — including Panetta and then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — to begin arming Syrian rebels in 2012. If the U.S. had done so, “I do think we would be in a better position to kind of know whether or not there is some moderate element in the rebel forces that are confronting (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.”

• By warning Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people, then failing to act when that “red line” was crossed in 2013. Before ordering airstrikes, Obama said he wanted to seek congressional authorization, which predictably didn’t happen.

The reversal cost the United States credibility then and is complicating efforts to enlist international allies now to join a coalition against the Islamic State, Panetta says. “There’s a little question mark to, is the United States going to stick this out? Is the United States going to be there when we need them?”

[. . .]

In the book’s final chapter, however, he writes that Obama’s “most conspicuous weakness” is “a frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause.” Too often, he “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.” On occasion, he “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”

Still more (via InstaPundit), which indicates that contrary to Obama administration statements–and those of likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton–there was no effort on the part of the administration to work with the Iraqi government in order to construct a Status of Forces agreement that would have allowed American troops to remain in Iraq. Of course, longtime readers of mine know this already, but it is nice to see that the point has been made anew. Would that more media outlets pick up on it. Here is some of Panetta’s actual commentary on the matter:

We had leverage. We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence. My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq’s stability was not only in Iraq’s interest but also in ours. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military.

Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy did her best to press that position, which reflected not just my views but also those of the military commanders in the region and the Joint Chiefs. But the President’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated. Flournoy argued our case, and those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.

… To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them. Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President’s active advocacy, al-Maliki was allowed to slip away. The deal never materialized….

Of course, it ought to go without saying that Panetta’s criticism should be part and parcel of the 2016 presidential campaign. When Hillary Clinton runs for president–and I think that we all know that Hillary Clinton will run for president–she will cite her foreign policy experience as a major reason for why she ought to be elected, and she will cite the supposed foreign policy successes of the Obama administration in order to try to convince voters that Clinton would make a great leader of the free world.

Panetta’s narrative interferes with those claims, which I guess is why partisans on the port side of the political divide are so busy trying to diminish the credibility of that narrative–going so far as to claim that Panetta’s willingness to publish a book while President Obama is still in office demonstrates a certain lack of loyalty. Funny; these same people weren’t making these same claims when Paul O’Neill and Scott McClellan published books attacking George W. Bush and his administration.

In Which Jimmy Carter Tries to Rewrite History

I know that I am late to this, but it is worth noting that the 39th president of the United States is busy trying to change how we remember the past. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. Jimmy Carter didn’t merely lose because he failed to get tough with Iran. He lost because the economic situation in the United States was nothing short of awful, and because he was considered responsible for the awful economic situation:

Inflation was still out of control, the economy was beset by another stage of torpor, and Ronald Reagan offered optimism in the face of the declining mood of the country. Moreover, during Carter and Reagan’s only debate in the 1980 presidential elections, Reagan closed by asking voters are they better off than they were four years ago; many agreed they were not.

Maybe Jimmy Carter thinks that we can’t Google and find all of this out; thus his attempt to change the narrative of the past. Nice try, I suppose, and I guess that if I had to bear the burden of Carter’s legacy, I would want to play games with history as well. But at the end of the day, whom does Carter think he is kidding?

The Human Rights Situation in Iran

It remains awful:

The heavy steel door swung closed behind me in the cell. I took off my blindfold and found myself trapped within four cold walls. The cell was small. High ceiling, old concrete. All green. An intense yellow light from a single bulb high above. Somehow I could hear the horror in the walls, the voices of previous prisoners whispering a painful welcome. I had no way of knowing whether they had survived. I had no way of knowing whether I would. So many questions were crowding my mind. I heard a man moaning. It was coming through a vent. I realized that he must have been tortured. Would I be tortured, too?

I was, and am, a philosopher, an academic. Life had not been easy for Iranian intellectuals, artists, journalists, and human-rights activists since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2005. As a thinker on the margin of Iranian society, I was not safe, and so, rather than stay in Iran, I had accepted a job offer in Delhi, India. I had come back to Tehran for a visit. On the morning of April 27, 2006, I was at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport to catch a flight to Brussels, where I was to attend a conference. I had checked in my luggage and gone through security when I was approached by four men. One of them called me by my first name. “Ramin,” he said, “could you follow us?”

“I’ll miss my plane,” I said.

“We just want to ask you a few questions.”

People around us were watching, but nobody moved. I realized that I had no choice but to go with them.

What follows is a horrifying account, one that lends credence to my longstanding belief that the regime in Iran is not worthy of the people it purports to lead.

Don’t Know Much about Recent History

The New York Times was forced to issue the following correction recently:

An article on Sept. 11 about President Obama’s speech to the nation describing his plans for a military campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, gave an incorrect comparison between efforts by the president to seek allies’ support for his plans and President George W. Bush’s efforts on such backing for the Iraq war. The approach Mr. Obama is taking is similar to the one Mr. Bush took; it is not the case that, “Unlike Mr. Bush in the Iraq war, Mr. Obama has sought to surround the United States with partners.”

Of course, anyone with a decent memory regarding the events of the past decade or so would have been able to save the Times from committing any kind of error in the first place. Google could have also set the Times straight, but I guess that the folks running the Gray Lady decided that it would be more fun to be amusingly wrong than it would to be boringly right.

Incidentally, I agree entirely with Dylan Byers’s e-mail correspondent.

Quote of the Day

I stand by what I wrote today: the videos of [ISIL] beheadings need to be independently confirmed before they are part of the historical record. They may well be completely accurate but there are not yet independent confirmations that they are accurate. On a larger picture note: had an evening with a group of well-informed international attorneys and prosecutors. A Pakistani lawyer who is a fourth-generation scion of a major Pakistani political family explained what I keep hearing from many parts of the plugged in educated elite of the Middle East: ISIS, he said, is grassroots Wahabism – the extreme and brutal “version” of Islam (many moderates say it bears no likeness to Islam.) But these grassroots, uneducated, extremist people are funded heavily by a) Saudi Arabia b) Israel (!) and c) America. Why? I asked. He replied: Saudi Arabia which has 14,000 princes and princesses — vast wealth — wants to replicate its extremist version of Islam around the world for ideological reasons and have endless resources to do so. B) Israel has long had a policy of ‘divide and conquer” Muslim states and wants an alliance with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to go up against Assad and Iran (this is the third solid source we are hearing this ‘new alliance” from.) He said that Israel has heavily infiltrated the Egyptian army and security services by bribery, which is one reason Egypt did nothing for Gaza but close its borders.And C) America has several powerful factions: Big Oil, war interests, right wing christians, AIPAC, the Armenians (!) who are trying to organize like AIPAC, and Arabists, who are the only groups who care about what happens in the Middle East. And they all mint money and prestige by having a brutal Muslim threat on the horizon.

He made the fascinating point that Israel benefits from funding ISIS too because the more brutal Islam looks, the better for Israel internationally. So the REAL struggle right now is…between extremist (wahabbi, Saudi-funded, etc) factions and moderate Muslims such as those responsible for the Arab spring. That is the news behind the news…so YEAH I want to source those videos properly.

Naomi Wolf. As one Facebook friend commented on my page, Wolf is now claiming that “[t]he Jews are behind ISIS. I can’t believe she went there, but she did.” As Charles C.W. Cooke points out, Wolf’s recent rantings include the following statements:

Driven by a desire to crack down on the people it serves — and to justify its actions abroad — the United States military is inventing crimes against humanity and attributing them to the Islamic State.

In Australia, a grateful government has jumped on these fabrications, and is employing them to justify a “draconian loss of freedoms.”

Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, America’s interest in the international Ebola outbreak has little to do with concerns about a lethal pandemic and more to do with the country’s establishing a convenient pretext for the imposition of martial law.

And, finally, the true results of September’s Scottish independence referendum were suppressed by that country’s electoral commission.

And of course, it is worth reminding people–as Cooke does–that Naomi Wolf has been a lunatic for quite a while:

Back in 2008, before Obama had been inaugurated, Wolf was touring the country warning anybody who would listen that the republic had fallen and that the citizenry should be preparing a resistance movement. “Americans are facing a coup, as of this morning, October 1st,” Wolf told Seattle’s KEXP, before promising listeners that she would soon be posting to her website a comprehensive set of instructions outlining “how to arrest the president.” “I’ve been saying for months,” Wolf insisted, “that leading up to the election you’re going to start seeing instability, hyped threats, hyped emergencies, hyped crises in order to create an atmosphere of urgency in order to justify a crackdown.” “I feel,” she explained, “like this is my one chance to alert America.” She wasn’t joking. Adopting a hysterical tone that would have prompted even Alex Jones into a period of self-reflection, Wolf warned that “we have almost no time” to push back against the “emergency.” And then she hawked her book to the audience.

The performance was a tour de force. Funnily enough, though, Wolf did notdiscuss what had become of her previous exhortations. She never does. Instead, she just keeps on going: warning of a coup here; predicting martial law there; and, all the while, heralding a glorious resistance movement that never quite needs to be arranged. There are, Wolf argued in the Guardian in 2007, ten inevitable steps that serve as the prerequisites to fascism. Fair enough. And yet precisely how these are playing out in America seems to depend upon her mood. Sometimes, she argues that these steps have already been taken: If voters were only “willing to look,” she proposed in 2007, they would see that “each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.” At other times, they are just around the corner: In the last days before the 2008 election, she claimed to have noticed that the United States was coming to resemble other “closing societies” in which “the leader or the president will send military — especially during an election — to beat or harass or arrest voters and opposition leaders.” And, on occasion, she has even argued for both propositions at the same time, contending simultaneously in September of 2008 that the election was going to be canceled and that, if John McCain beat Barack Obama, Americans would be swiftly subjugated under a tyranny run by Republican mastermind Karl Rove and the “designated muse of the coming American police state,” Sarah Palin. Such, I suppose, are the burdens that our modern-day Nostradami bear.

All of this leads one to wonder anew why anyone takes Naomi Wolf seriously.

In Which I Worry about what Might Happen in Hong Kong

Recall this post. Recall in particular this little bleak statement of mine:

I’d like to think that this conflict will end peacefully, and with a diminution of the power of the Chinese government. I fear that it will end horribly, with the government asserting its authority in Tienanmenesque fashion.

Ahem:

Beijing has a harshly worded message for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Not only is Beijing unwilling to reconsider the August decision to allow only Communist Party-approved candidates to run for Hong Kong’s highest office, but Hong Kongers who continue to participate in the protests should expect dire consequences, an editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper warned today.

Some activists and analysts, including a former Tiananmen student leader, say the piece bears a marked similarity to a notorious editorial that ran the People’s Daily more than 25 years ago. That piece was later blamed for leading to the brutal crackdown on demonstrations, which killed hundreds or thousands, depending on estimates.

Today’s People’s Daily editorial (link in Chinese, our English translation here) says the Beijing stance on Hong Kong’s elections are “unshakable” and legally valid. It goes on to argue that the pro-democracy “Occupy Central” protests are illegal and are hurting Hong Kong. “If it continues, the consequences will be unimaginable,” the editorial warns.

Well . . . All of this is quite worrisome indeed. I don’t suppose that we might have some leverage with which to persuade the Chinese that cracking down on the protests in Hong Kong would be a radically bad idea, do we? And if so, will the Obama administration use that leverage at all?

Of Israel, the United States and Double Standards

As David Bernstein points out, the United States government is fond of insisting that Israel work extra-special super-duper hard to prevent innocent civilians from dying in Gaza (never mind that by stationing weapons near Palestinian civilians and turning them into human shields, Hamas actually bears responsibility for the deaths of civilians in Gaza). The problem, however, is that the United States fails to apply the same standard of care to its own airstrikes in Syria.

This, of course, is hypocrisy–pure and simple. And it is astonishing that the Obama administration has been allowed to get away with being hypocritical on this issue. I was led to understand that the allegedly all-powerful Israel lobby was supposed to prevent this kind of blatant double standard from being implemented. But we are where we are, which, if anything, indicates that those interested in having actual facts undergird the debate over the Israel-Hamas conflict, and Middle East policy in general, should welcome a more powerful Israel lobby than the one which we have now.

An Intelligence Failure of Alarming Proportions

How bad were we at assessing the threat posed by ISIL? This bad:

By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria, according to senior intelligence and military officials. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq.

But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”

The White House denies that, but the threat certainly has its attention now as American warplanes pound the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State in hopes of reversing its lightning-swift seizing of territory in Iraq and Syria. Still, even as bombs fall from the sky thousands of miles away, the question of how it failed to anticipate the rise of a militant force that in the space of a few months has redrawn the map of the Middle East resonates inside and outside the Obama administration.

President Obama fueled the debate in an interview broadcast over the weekend when he said that intelligence agencies had underestimated the peril posed by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Mr. Obama accurately quoted James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, acknowledging that he and his analysts did not foresee the stunning success of Islamic State forces or the catastrophic collapse of the Iraqi Army.

But by pointing to the agencies without mentioning any misjudgments of his own, Mr. Obama left intelligence officials bristling about being made into scapegoats and critics complaining that he was trying to avoid responsibility.

“This was not an intelligence community failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat,” said Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

More from Josh Kraushaar:

In attempting to downplay the political damage from a slew of second-term controversies, President Obama has counted on the American people having a very short memory span and a healthy suspension of disbelief. The time-tested strategy for Obama: Claim he’s in the dark about his own administration’s activities, blame the mess on subordinates, and hope that with the passage of time, all will be forgotten. Harry Truman, the president isn’t. He’s more likely to pass the buck.

Yup. This Keystone Kops behavior should get underlings fired, and should get the president to assume personal responsibility for the bungling that took place on his watch. Unfortunately, as Kraushaar suggests, recent events appear to suggest that mistakes will simply be swept under the rug in the hopes that the public will forget all about them.

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