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The Difference Between Israelis and Terrorists

Let’s be abundantly clear about something: It is not the policy of the state of Israel to purposely send people to kill and terrorize Palestinian civilians. That kind of action is anathema to the overwhelming majority of Israelis, and to the extent that there are some crazies among the Israeli population who think otherwise, those people have never wielded power in Israel and never will.

If only the Israelis were the beneficiaries of some reciprocity regarding this issue:

Four Israelis were killed and eight more wounded in a frenzied assault by two Palestinian men on Jewish worshippers praying at a Jerusalem synagogue in the most lethal incident in the city in years.

The two assailants who launched their attack with meat cleavers and a gun during early morning prayers were then killed by police officers in the ensuing gun battle at the scene of the attack.

The deaths occurred as the two men – identified by family members as cousins Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal from the East Jerusalem district of Jabal Mukaber – burst into the Bnei Torah synagogue in Har Nof, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of West Jerusalem.

Three of the victims held dual US-Israeli citizenship, and one was a British-Israeli citizen – 68-year-old Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, who emigrated to Israel from the UK in 1993.

The three US citizens were 59-year-old Rabbi Moshe Twersky – the head of an English speaking religious college – Aryeh Kopinsky, 43, and Kalman Zeev Levine, 55. The grandson of one of the founders of the Modern Orthodox movement, Twersky lived close to the scene of the attack in Har Nof.

[. . .]

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a militant group, said the cousins were its members. A PFLP statement did not specify whether the group instructed the cousins to carry out the attack. Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, also praised the attack.

[. . .]

A cousin of the men, Sufian Abu Jamal, a construction worker aged 40, described it as a “heroic act and the normal reaction of what has been happening to Palestinians in jerusalem and at the Al Aqsa mosque.”

Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement could not be reached for comment.

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Venezuela’s Disastrous Economic Situation

Behold what Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro hath wrought:

The sprawling street market that radiates outward from the metro station in Petare, Caracas’s largest slum, is the retail equivalent of an anti-Target.

There’s no organization to it. Tube socks and school supplies are sold beside giant pyramids of pineapple and piled yucca. Leopard-print hot pants stretch over mannequin buttocks next to the stinky stalls of fishmongers.

The bazaar was known until this month as one of the city’s biggest open-air black markets, the place to find all the scarce items that shoppers must queue up for hours to get in supermarkets, or can’t find at all. Earlier this year, toilet paper and corn­meal were scarce; lately it’s diapers and deodorant that have “gotten lost,” as Venezuelans say.

Authorities mostly turned a blind eye to the informal commerce, but late last month Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro went on TV to decree a ban on street sales of coffee, eggs, shampoo and some 50 other “regulated” items whose prices­ are capped by the government. He ordered the National Guard to police market stalls for such items as mayonnaise and powdered milk, and threatened to prosecute recidivist violators.

The crackdown is tricky for Maduro. In Petare and elsewhere, it risks alienating some of the poor Venezuelans who had long been loyal to Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, but are increasingly unhappy with his understudy.

Maduro ya se maduró,” quipped vendor Maribel Nieble, with a play on the president’s last name that meant “Maduro has turned rotten.”

I am waiting, of course, for all of the people who once praised Chavismo to admit that they supported a disastrous economic and governing ideology that is responsible for the immiseration of an entire country. Isn’t it time for them to do so? I mean, after all, surely their consciences have caught up to them by now.

Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Thoughts

The president of Russia happens to think that the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 was not so bad, and possibly, fine and dandy. Of course, it ought to go without saying that he could not be more wrong in this assessment:

2014 will be remembered as a year in which Eastern Europe suffered one of its greatest crises since the collapse of the Soviet Union: the still-unfolding, still-destabilizing situation in eastern Ukraine. Some observers have noted how similarly Russia’s moves in the region track the USSR’s previous patterns of engagement with its “satellite states,” suggesting that we could be in the midst of a “new Cold War.” Others, the Obama administration among them, agree that the conflict’s threat to continental security is on a level unseen in recent decades, but does not approach the machinations that the USSR and the USA plied against each other at the height of hostilities. A more subtle stream of thought has fixated on Russia’s alleged “hybrid war” against Kiev, where the Kremlin has shaped the conflict as “an aggressor whose moves are shrouded in deception.”

In light of this recent “hybrid war,” Roger Moorhouse’s latest book, “The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941,” could not be more timely. Stridently anti-Soviet, it urges readers to harken back to the insidious intrigues of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between Hitler and Stalin on the cusp of World War II, an alliance that shocked both realists and ideologues worldwide when it was revealed. In this work, Moorhouse is largely successful in presenting and explaining the history of the pact and its implications on populations throughout the region. . . .

[. . .]

Moorhouse’s first target in the book is the sticky narrative that the USSR agreed to the pact for defensive reasons. The official Soviet argument for the pact, up until the regime’s collapse in 1991, was that it was meant to forestall a German invasion until the Red Army could modernize and challenge the Wehrmacht in battle. Yet Moorhouse makes clear that Stalin could have defensively allied with other powers that were just as repugnant ideologically to the Soviets as the Nazis were, such as the British. Moorhouse argues that while other considerations may have influenced Moscow, including its dislike of the United Kingdom, the prototypical “capitalist aggressor,” Stalin entered into an alliance with Germany because Hitler offered tangible territorial benefits. For the Kremlin, the lure of regaining the land it lost in the Brest-Litovsk Pact, regardless of it coming at the expense of Poland, the Baltic States and other countries, was too seductive to pass up.

And more from Linas Linkevičius, the foreign minister of Lithuania:

Vladimir Putin has stated that there was nothing wrong with the Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which was made 75 years ago on 23 August 1939. The Soviet Union simply did not want to go to war, Putin added.

Two tiny details seem to be ignored in this evaluation: the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact merely enslaved eastern Europe (by the Soviet Union, incidentally). Second, the pact led to the second world war. It was not an escape route by the Soviet Union, but instead a cold-blooded calculation to ignore Hitler’s growing appetite for territories.

Leaving history to historians, I would like to draw attention to the western responsibility here. We cannot let such statements go unnoticed because they are part of a bigger narrative, under which the Russian leadership now seeks endorsement for its aggressive and revisionist foreign policy.

Otherwise we, the western democracies, risk becoming part of a similar pact. Not by consciously entering into dirty deals with the aggressor, but by not doing enough to prevent it, and leaving the impression that anything is possible. True, the western response solidified recently, albeit a bit late. However, notions of the need to appease Russia are gaining speed.

The confidence with which Russia is acting now comes partly from our inability to stand by our values and principles. Russia applied similar tactics in the case of Georgia in 2008. We searched for ways to get back to normal quickly, hoping that “normal” was also the intention of the Russian regime. It turned out it was not. So unwillingly, we became part of their plan. History repeats itself now.

Linkevičius is quite right in pointing out that history is being perverted here in order to justify imperialist and hegemonic acts on the part of Russia. The question, of course, is whether anyone of significance and note is going to speak out and object to this attempt to rewrite history. Thus far, in general, there has been silence from the West. I realize that not every lunatic pronouncement coming out of Moscow deserves note, mention and to be dignified with a comment, but surely, someone can say something about an attempt to portray the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as stuff that happens in the ordinary course of dealings between foreign ministers.

If Barack Obama Were a Republican, There Would Be Shrieks and Hollers about “Neocons” Right about Now

The president who promised he would take us out of Iraq, the president who took us out of Iraq prematurely because his administration was too incompetent at arranging for American troops to stay in Iraq longer, is now getting us more and more enmeshed in Iraq:

A senior military official says that American military advisory teams will now go to Iraq’s western Anbar province where Islamic State militants have been gaining ground and slaying men, women and children.

The teams are part of President Barack Obama’s new directive to expand the U.S. mission in Iraq by deploying another 1,500 U.S. troops to serve as advisers, trainers and security personnel.

The official said it is likely that the bulk of the additional troops will be in Iraq by the end of the year. This would bring the total U.S. forces in Iraq to about 3,100, and would mark their first return to Anbar since the war ended.

The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Obama administration’s Iraq policy has been questionable at best, and disastrous at worst, for a very long time. The fact that we appear to be meandering into a war without any decisive plan to win it does nothing to cause me to think that the administration’s approach to Iraq is getting any better anytime soon.

Oh, and relating to the title of this blog post: Where are the peace demonstrations? Where is International ANSWER? Where are all of the left-of-center politicians and pundits who complained about neoconservatives and their supposedly pernicious influence when the Bush administration was in office? I don’t ask these questions because I expect decent answers to them. I ask these questions because it is worth remembering that when it comes to America’s policy vis-à-vis Iraq, there are a lot of hypocrites out there who wouldn’t know intellectual consistency if you slapped them in the face with it. And right now, they are showing their true colors.

Why Don’t Evil Regimes Get Called Out as Evil Regimes?

I agree with Benjamin Wittes when he writes that “there’s a lot to be said for a foreign policy organization’s willingness to hear out, ventilate, and challenge the views of our foreign policy adversaries.” I also agree with Benjamin Wittes when he writes that during the hearing, there should be no effort to whitewash awful and despicable violations of human rights, and general bad behavior on the international stage on the part of a particular regime. Unfortunately, as Wittes points out, the Council on Foreign Relations completely failed to call out the bad behavior of the North Korean regime, thus leading to a disastrous and intellectually reprehensible event with the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations. Shame on Donald Gregg, a former American ambassador to South Korea, for not being tougher and more forceful with the North Koreans, and for unnecessarily and “creepily” (Wittes’s entirely apt word) trying to establish himself as a pal of the North Korean ambassador.

This kind of failure of nerve has consequences, of course. The main consequence is that nasty regimes like the one in North Korea are able to get away with human rights violations and disrupting international stability, and are able to score propaganda victories to boot. I don’t know why the Council on Foreign Relations would not want to prevent this outcome–and would not want to get a reputation as an institution that asks tough questions of questionable characters and regimes–by forsaking a chance to hold the North Korean ambassador’s feet to the fire during any question-and-answer period, but there you have it; during the course of the North Korean ambassador’s talk, the CFR completely and utterly failed to establish itself as a rigorous interlocutor.

I’d like to think that the CFR will learn something from this disaster and will try to avoid similar disasters in the future. Maybe a little negative blog attention will help in that regard.

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.

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.

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