Individuals are doing it, banks are doing it — faced with the horrific news and pictures from Japan, everybody wants to do something, and the obvious thing to do is to donate money to some relief fund or other.
We went through this after the Haiti earthquake, and all of the arguments which applied there apply to Japan as well. Earmarking funds is a really good way of hobbling relief organizations and ensuring that they have to leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places. And as Matthew Bishop and Michael Green said last year, we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective. Meanwhile, the smaller and less visible emergencies where NGOs can do the most good are left unfunded.
In the specific case of Japan, there’s all the more reason not to donate money. Japan is a wealthy country which is responding to the disaster, among other things, by printing hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of new money. Money is not the bottleneck here: if money is needed, Japan can raise it. On top of that, it’s still extremely unclear how or where organizations like globalgiving intend on spending the money that they’re currently raising for Japan — so far we’re just told that the money “will help survivors and victims get necessary services,” which is basically code for “we have no idea what we’re going to do with the money, but we’ll probably think of something.”
For reasons which you can find outlined in my Discover Your Inner Economist, I am generally in sympathy with arguments like Felix’s, but not in this case. I see a three special factors operating here:
1. The chance that your aid will be usefully deployed, and not lost to corruption, is much higher than average.
2. I believe this crisis will bring fundamental regime change to Japan (currently an underreported issue), rather than just altering the outcome of the next election. America needs to signal its partnership with one of its most important allies. You can help us do that.
3. Maybe you should give to a poorer country instead, but you probably won’t. Odds are this will be an extra donation at the relevant margin. Sorry to say, this disaster has no “close substitute.”
It may be out of date, but the starting point for any study of Japan is still Karel von Wolferen’s The Enigma of Japanese Power. Definitely recommended.
The fact that Charlie Sheen has decided donate a portion of the money from his live stage shows to help people affected by earthquake in Japan should be all you need to know that donating money to Japan is a bad idea.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes and even chemical or nuclear disasters can provoke a strong urge on the part of people to want to provide disaster relief in the form of charitable donations directed at those afflicted by the most recent disaster. This is almost always a mistake.
Almost all international disaster relief is ineffective. Part of the reason for this is that relief groups rarely know who is suffering most, or how aid can be most effectively directed.
Concern and generosity are entirely human—and entirely admirable!—responses to the disaster and tragedy in Japan. But if you really want to be helpful, as Felix Salmon and others have noted, there might be better ways to donate your money than just sending it to Japan. There are two basic rules for being useful: First, give to organizations with long track records of helping overseas. Second, leave it up to the experts to decide how to distribute the aid.
The first suggestion is simple: Avoid getting scammed by choosing an internationally known and vetted group. Big, long-standing organizations like Doctors without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross are good choices. If choosing a smaller or local group, try checking with aid groups, Guidestar, or the Better Business Bureau before submitting funds.
The second suggestion is more important. Right now, thousands of well-intentioned donors are sending money to Japan to help it rebuild. But some portion of the donated funds will be earmarked, restricted to a certain project or goal, and therefore might not do the Japanese much good in the end. Moreover, given Japan’s extraordinary wealth and development, there is a good chance that aid organizations will end up with leftover funds they will have no choice but to spend in country—though the citizens of other nations wracked by other disasters, natural or man-made, might need it more. Aid organizations can do more good when they decide how best to use the money they receive.
Felix Salmon wrote a column for Reuters warning people “don’t donate money to Japan.” His argument is that donations earmarked for a particular disaster often “leave large piles of money unspent in one place while facing urgent needs in other places.”
Commenters pointed out that many relief organizations accept donations with a disclaimer that surplus funds may be applied elsewhere. And other relief organizations don’t allow for earmarking of donations at all, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a burst of cash during an extraordinary crisis.
Salmon also wrote, “we are all better at responding to human suffering caused by dramatic, telegenic emergencies than to the much greater loss of life from ongoing hunger, disease and conflict. That often results in a mess of uncoordinated NGOs parachuting in to emergency areas with lots of good intentions, where a strategic official sector response would be much more effective.”
That last probably is true. I also have no doubt that various evangelical groups already are planning their crusades to Japan to rescue the simple indigenous people for Christ in their time of need. (Update:Yep.)
So if you do want to donate money, I suggest giving to the excellent Tzu Chi, a Buddhist relief organization headquartered in Taiwan. Relief efforts in Japan are being coordinated through long-established Tzu Chi offices and volunteer groups in Japan, not by random do-gooders parachuting in from elsewhere. Tzu Chi does a lot of good work around the globe, so your money will be put to good use somewhere.
The Egyptian government struck back at its opponents on Wednesday, unleashing waves of pro-government provocateurs armed with clubs, stones, rocks and knives in and around Tahrir Square in a concerted effort to rout the protesters who have called for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s near-30-year rule.
After first trying to respond peacefully, the protesters fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails as battles broke out around the square. A makeshift medical clinic staffed by dozens of doctors tended to a steady stream of anti-government protesters, many bleeding from head wounds.
The Egyptian health minister, Ahmed Sameh Farid, said that 596 people have been injured in the battles in Tahrir Square and that one man was killed when he fell off a bridge, The Associated Press reported.
As the two sides to the fight exchanged volleys, the military restricted itself mostly to guarding the Egyptian Museum and using water cannons to extinguish flames stoked by the firebombs. And on Wednesday night, state media broadcast an order from the government for all protesters to leave the square.
A plume of thick white smoke is emerging right now in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, an epicenter of Egypt’s massive protests, as “running battles” have broken out between the anti-regime protesters and pro-government forces. The Egyptian Army has yet to intervene. It would appear the government of Hosni Mubarak, on the ropes for the past eight days, has begun its crackdown.
Even as he pledged to step down in September, Mubarak told his police forces, the bulwark of his 30-year rule, to “shoulder its responsibilities” and “arrest the outlaws” yesterday. Within the hour, previously unseen supporters of Mubarak fought with protesters in Alexandria. Now it’s spread to the massive crowds at Tahrir Square in Cairo, where the demonstrators weren’t placated by Mubarak’s speech.
It’s all happening right now, live on Al Jazeera, and it’s not pretty. Protesters are throwing rocks at one another, and eyewitnesses report that people they believe are plainclothes police are wielding knives, sticks and “daggers.” The past week of anti-regime protests has been notable for their nonviolence. Now, pro-regime demonstrators are charging the square on horseback and camelback — two protesters even pulled someone off a camel. It’s worth noting that the regime has turned the Internet back on, as Renesys reports, right in time for its supporters to mobilize.
People are rushing one another near the square, where “pro-and anti-Mubarak forces are coming face to face in the side streets,” according to Al Jazeera’s on-scene correspondent. “I can see people running past me with blood on their shirts… No one knows where to go, who’s with who.” No one seems to know what caused the white smoke.
What about the Egyptian Army, which won accolades from the U.S. for not suppressing the anti-government demonstrations? It’s taking a hands-off approach, telling demonstrators that since everyone involved is a civilian, soldiers are not going to take sides. That’s according to anti-regime demonstrator Salma Eltarzi, who told Al Jazeera that she sees Mubarak’s game plan at work.
“We are in disbelief. We cannot believe [Mubarak] is so low,” she told the network. “The Army is very clear: you are both civilians and you cannot beat civilians. This is the game. He wants it to seem like the people are fighting each other so he has an excuse — ‘I was going to leave, but the people’s needs demand that I stay.”
Sonia Verma of the Globe and Mail is tweeting from the scene. Her most recent tweets, blocked into paragraphs:
Pro mubarak supporters jumping onto tanks. I am watching one have a very long talk with a soldier. Standing at one of the exits to tahrir. pro mubarak supporters standing on army tanks.
Hundreds of pro dem protesters pouring out of tahrir as things heat up. Groups of men mobilizing, arming themselves with bricks and sticks. Crowds pushing to get out of tahrir square. People saying they will use bricks as weapons. People digging up bricks in tarhir square. Everyone on edge today. Very different vibe than yesterday.
Very ominous information coming out of Cairo, with reports of gunfire. Al Jazeera suggests they might be warning shots to keep people away from the museum, which is being defended by a number of military vehicles.
In a biting, angry and harrowing commentary on the clashes unfolding in Cairo on Wednesday, the Egyptian blogger who writes as Sandmonkey has called the appearance of regime supporters on Cairo’s streets, igniting violent clashes, a ploy by President Hosni Mubarak to create chaos and justify his continued rule.
Additionally, al-Jazeera and other news sources have posted pictures of police ID’s taken from the “pro-Mubarak” demonstrators, lending credibility to the theory that this is little more than a police operation designed to break the back of the protest and, of course, inflict bloodshed.
Amanpour says that Barack Obama will continue to push for a quick resolution, but that may have to change. She points out that the nation’s mainstream isn’t necessarily out on the streets. The Egyptian middle class may well want a more orderly transition, perhaps especially after seeing the violence in the streets today, and may end up backing Mubarak’s plan to restore order, at least in the short term. The White House had better take care not to get too far ahead of itself.
The American invitation on Friday to the Israelis and Palestinians to start direct peace talks in two weeks in Washington was immediately accepted by both governments. But just below the surface there was an almost audible shrug. There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met
Instead, there is a resigned fatalism in the air. Most analysts view the talks as pairing the unwilling with the unable — a strong right-wing Israeli coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with no desire to reach an agreement against a relatively moderate Palestinian leadership that is too weak and divided to do so.
“These direct negotiations are the option of the crippled and the helpless,” remarked Zakaria al-Qaq, vice president of Al Quds University and a Palestinian moderate, when asked his view of the development. “It is an act of self-deception that will lead nowhere.”
And Nahum Barnea, Israel’s pre-eminent political columnist, said in a phone interview: “Most Israelis have decided that nothing is going to come out of it, that it will have no bearing on their lives. So why should they care?”
That such a dismissive tone comes not from the known rejectionists — the Islamists of Hamas who rule in Gaza and the leadership of the Israeli settler community in the West Bank — but from mainstream thinkers is telling of the mood.
State Department officials had been sure that the statement, a formal invitation for both parties to enter direct negotiations, would be released earlier this week. But last-minute objections from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides forced new rounds of discussions, culminating in what Reuters reported was a conference call between Quartet members Thursday afternoon to discuss the latest draft.
“There are details that are still being worked out. You could quote Yogi Berra, I suppose, ‘It’s not over till it’s over,'” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. “We think we’re very, very close to an agreement.”
Multiple diplomatic sources confirmed that the substance of the reported draft represents a compromise intended to accommodate the Palestinians’ calls for the pending Quartet statement to include several specific items that they believe are “terms of reference” for the direct talks but which the Israeli side sees as “preconditions” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to reject.
The apparent compromise would result in a statement whereby the Quartet reaffirms a “full commitment to its previous statements,” according to Reuters, a reference to the March 19 Quartet statement issued in Moscow, but doesn’t explicitly repeat certain contentious language from that document.
Among the disputed items in that statement, which Netanyahu ultimately rejected, were calls for a Palestinian state to be established in 24 months and for Israel to halt all settlement building, including natural growth of existing settlements, as well as building and evictions in East Jerusalem.
Neither side wants to be seen as resisting the move to direct talks, which the Obama administration has been pushing hard to begin before Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement moratorium expires next month. If the Quartet is able to get its new statement out Friday, it will be about a week later than State Department sources had predicted, due to some extra shuttle diplomacy that the U.S. team had not anticipated.
When Special Envoy George Mitchell traveled to the region last week, he believed he had a deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the wording of the statement, but it was clear upon arrival that Abbas had additional concerns, multiple diplomatic sources said.
So, Mitchell called back home to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to inform her that the Palestinians were not on board. After further negotiations, Abbas set forth his demands for what the statement should include, but when Mitchell brought those terms to Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister told Mitchell he couldn’t accept them.
“We wanted the statement to include the same elements the March 19 statement included,” the PLO’s Washington representative Maen Rashid Areikat, who is in the region, told The Cable in an interview.
“The Quartet statement must be clear about how the quartet sees the terms of reference, the time frame, and the situation on the ground, such as the cessation of settlement activity,” Areikat said.
Mitchell was forced to return to Washington empty-handed, but left the National Security Council’s David Hale in the region to continue working the problem and negotiations continued.
Mitchell’s trip wasn’t a failure, according to Areikat. “I believe it was part of an overall discussion of progress with the parties, and if we see progress in the statement it will have been worth it,” he said.
The big news today is of course the announcement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been invited to Washington at the beginning of September to engage in the first direct talks between the two sides in two years.
The stakes are high on a regional and international level, but Clinton’s announcement left many things up in the air, by refusing to endorse the pre-1967 boundary as the starting point for negotiations on borders, and leaving so-called “final status” issues, like the fate of Jerusalem, land swaps, and settlements, to be brought up when Netanyahu and Abbas decide to do so.
Still, the onus is on the United States to bring the two sides together, as President Obama will have to deal with the backlash if talks fail. As Daniel Levy, the co-director of the New America Foundation/Middle East Task Force said today:
[Clinton’s] announcement covered very familiar ground, following a playbook that has been tried many times and found wanting. Instead of terms of reference to guide negotiations we received today a guest list for a September 1 White House dinner – even the chaperons for that dinner have a decidedly retro ring to them – Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Mubarak. Today’s announcement could have been an opportunity to introduce some clarity to proceedings and to jumpstart real decision-making (by for instance, defining border talks as being based on ’67 lines with one-to-one land swaps). Rather we were served ambiguity, and not it seems of the constructive variety……What today’s announcement has done is to raise expectations given the one-year deadline placed on the resumed talks. Yes, deadlines have been missed before, but this time the US national interest in resolving the conflict has been placed front and center and there is now broad consensus that the two-state option is passing its sell-by date. It was the Obama administration that insisted on the direct talks format as the way forward, and the ball will now be in their court to produce results.
It is easy to be cynical about the scope of this supposed breakthrough. By getting the two sides back into direct talks Mr Obama has merely returned to where George Bush was after his Annapolis summit of November 2007. Big deal: the direct talks initiated then got nowhere, even though Israel’s prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert, was far readier for territorial compromise than is Mr Netanyahu. Even if, by some miracle, the two men came close to agreement, Hamas is still absent from the table. This means that half of the Palestinian movement would not be party to any deal and will try hard to sabotage one. So indeed will those Israelis in Bibi’s governing coalition who for reasons of ideology, security or both vehemently oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. It is better for the parties to be talking than not talking, but a betting man would not favour the chances of a breakthrough to peace.
That said, it would be a mistake to put the chances of success entirely at nil. When Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas hit the inevitable impasse, the Americans, who intend to be actively involved in the process through the person of George Mitchell, will doubtless table a bridging proposal. And this is the point at which the script could begin to depart from the precedent Mr Bush set at Annapolis.
Mr Bush left his push in Palestine to the end of his presidency, and with the Iraq war to fight never saw the peace process as much more than a distraction or palliative. Mr Obama, on the other hand, started early, and seems determined to persevere despite the pushback he ran into from Israel’s friends in Congress after his brutal confrontation with Mr Netanyahu over settlements in the territories. America’s president, in short, shows every sign of being a true believer in the necessity of solving this conflict, not least in order to redeem the promises he gave the Muslim world in his famous Cairo speech. A year from now, when the negotiation “deadline” expires, he may be approaching the final year of his presidency—but for all the parties in the region know he might still have another four-year term ahead of him. That will make it more expensive for the Israelis or Palestinians to resist whatever bridging ideas America brings to the table.
Well there is certainly less here than even the initial Obama spin would have had us believe. It seems to be that only an initial dinner is set. (”The United States will put its imprimatur on the talks in an orchestrated series of meetings that begin with a White House dinner Sept. 1 hosted by Mr. Obama.”) Beyond that? “Within the negotiations we’ve obviously had a lot of preparatory discussions with the parties on how to structure them,and we’ll need to finalize those, so we’re not in a position now to really talk about that.” Good grief. This has all the makings of a rushed announcement to try to put a horrid week for the White House behind them.”
It is interesting that Obama’s role is not yet finalized either. In fact, as my Israel expert points out, the death knell of the talks may be Obama’s own presence. After all, the Israelis have learned the hard way not to trust him, so it’s difficult to see how his presence could be a help. The telltale sign of the level of animosity between Obama and the Jewish state – he doesn’t yet have the nerve to visit Israel, where he could very likely face angry crowds. (”‘He looks forward to an opportunity to visit Israel,’ [Dan Shapiro] said of Obama, adding that such a visit would likely include a stop in the Palestinian Territories. The visit ‘could be very valuable and very meaningful at the right time.’”) Translation: he’s not going anytime soon.
The statements by others released on Friday were indicative of the low expectations that these talks engender among knowledgeable observers. AIPAC, which is obliged to cheer each step in the fruitless “peace process,” declares that it ”welcomes the renewal of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), as announced Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and expresses its appreciation to the Obama administration for its efforts in making this goal a reality.” But even its usually bubbly tone was replaced by sober and somewhat skeptical caveats:
For talks to succeed the PA must match Israel’s commitment to conducting peace talks without preconditions or excuses, abandon its longstanding attempts to avoid making difficult choices at the negotiating table and cease incitement against Israel at home and abroad. Likewise, Arab states must heed the calls by the Obama Administration and Congress to take immediate and meaningful steps toward normalization with Israel, and they must provide the political support for the Palestinians to make the kind of significant and difficult choices that will be required.
An even more candid statement came from Senate candidate Pat Toomey, who said he was hopeful but also “wary”:
Too often such talks produce little substance, and devolve into casting unfair blame at Israel for its legitimate efforts to guard its own security, while ignoring the unending violence that is openly encouraged by Palestinian leaders. That is especially the case with negotiations that involve the United Nations, the Russians, and the Europeans. I encourage President Obama to work against that tendency, and to set the tone in these talks by stressing the very real national security concerns Israel is dealing with.
And what happens when the talks go nowhere? Will we face yet another intifada? Will the bridging proposals morph into a imposed peace plan? Who knows — not even Day 2 is set yet. The administration has imbibed the peace process Kool-Aid, but there is little evidence that it promotes peace or that the Obami are competent to oversee negotiations. And meanwhile the real Middle East crisis — the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon looms on the horizon. In a real sense, the “peace process” is nothing more than a dangerous distraction.
Coincidentally, according to today’s front-page administration-fed NYT story, one year is also the timeframe U.S. officials are now claiming Iran has before it achieves nuclear breakout capacity. The idea of this two-step media offensive, presumably, is to put pressure on Israel not to do anything “rash” before the new round of peace talks plays out, especially with news set to break tomorrow that the Bushehr reactor is ready to go. That’s consistent with the White House’s thinking all along: They’ve always believed that settling the Palestinian issue first will make it easier to deal with Iranian nukes by denying the mullahs an opportunity to exploit the great Muslim grievance. If a peace deal is struck, then theoretically the goodwill it’ll generate towards Israel and America among Sunni nations will neutralize the Muslim solidarity that Iran wants to exploit when the confrontation over its nuke program finally comes. I’m not sure how that’ll work in practice, though, since Hamas will play no role in the peace negotiations and has no interest in ceding Gaza to its enemies in the Palestinian Authority in the event that a peace deal is hashed out. On the contrary, with Iran’s full support, they’ll inevitably accuse Abbas of having sold out the Palestinian nation in order to inflame the same sense of Muslim grievance and solidarity that the peace talks are meant to mute. In fact, if O shocks the world and the talks start making serious progress, I assume Iran and Hamas (and Hezbollah, of course) will simply precipitate some sort of crisis in order to derail them. Which is to say, how can you expect any deal to hold as long as Tehran and its proxies still have fangs?
If you think today’s announcement that the Israelis and Palestinians are going to resume “direct talks” is a significant breakthrough, you haven’t been paying attention for the past two decades (at least). I wish I could be more optimistic about this latest development, but I see little evidence that a meaningful deal is in the offing.
Why do I say this? Three reasons.
1. There is no sign that the Palestinians are willing to accept less than a viable, territorially contiguousstate in the West Bank (and eventually, Gaza), including a capital in East Jerusalem and some sort of political formula (i.e., fig-leaf) on the refugee issue. By the way, this outcome supposedly what the Clinton and Bush adminstrations favored, and what Obama supposedly supports as well.
2. There is no sign that Israel’s government is willing to accept anything more than a symbolic Palestinian “state” consisting of a set of disconnected Bantustans, with Israel in full control of the borders, air space, water supplies, electromagnetic spectrum. etc. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it clear that this is what he means by a “two-state solution,” and he has repeatedly declared that Israel intends to keep all of Jerusalem and maybe a long-term military presence in the Jordan River valley. There are now roughly 500,000 Israeli Jews living outside the 1967 borders, and it is hard to imagine any Israeli government evacuating a significant fraction of them. Even if Netanyahu wanted to be more forthcoming, his coalition wouldn’t let him make any meaningful concessions. And while the talks drag on, the illegal settlements will continue to expand.
3. There is no sign that the U.S. government is willing to put meaningful pressure on Israel. We’re clearly willing to twist Mahmoud Abbas’ arm to the breaking point (which is why he’s agreed to talks, even as Israel continues to nibble away at the territory of the future Palestinian state), but Obama and his Middle East team have long since abandoned any pretense of bringing even modest pressure to bear on Netanyahu. Absent that, why should anyone expect Bibi to change his position?
So don’t fall for the hype that this announcement constitutes some sort of meaningful advance in the “peace process.” George Mitchell and his team probably believe they are getting somewhere, but they are either deluding themselves, trying to fool us, or trying to hoodwink other Arab states into believing that Obama meant what he said in Cairo. At this point, I rather doubt that anyone is buying, and the only thing that will convince onlookers that U.S. policy has changed will be tangible results. Another round of inconclusive “talks” will just reinforce the growing perception that the United States cannot deliver.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.
Several officials said the highly classified analysis, written in January to President Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, came in the midst of an intensifying effort inside the Pentagon, the White House and the intelligence agencies to develop new options for Mr. Obama. They include a set of military alternatives, still under development, to be considered should diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.
Officials familiar with the memo’s contents would describe only portions dealing with strategy and policy, and not sections that apparently dealt with secret operations against Iran, or how to deal with Persian Gulf allies.
One senior official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the memo, described the document as “a wake-up call.” But White House officials dispute that view, insisting that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
In an interview on Friday, General Jones declined to speak about the memorandum. But he said: “On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”
The Gates memo broke too late in the news cycle to re-book guests for Sunday, so no one from the administration has been asked to respond on the record. (Coincidence? Probably.) A conventional reading of the Gates memo suggests that the Defense Department, in January, urged the National Security Staff to come up with more (read: military) options for preventing Iran for obtaining a viable nuclear weapon. But that’s not precisely what the memo said, or at least not what the portions quoted by the New York Times says.
But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.
In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.
According to several officials, the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.
Since the memo was written in January, the administration has begun to tie Iran’s non-compliance to a strengthened Non Prolfieration Treaty. Right now, the NPT’s penalties for such a “virtual” weapons state are fairly weak. That’s one reason why Gates expressed skepticism that the NPT regime could contain the threat. So the administration wants to significantly increase the penalties for non-compliance, which would provide the president and the world community with more options. It’s hard to imagine that Gates is implying that the U.S. military has not planned for a military strike, or to secretly assist another country in a military surprise, or that the U.S. intelligence community isn’t attempting to secretly undermine and sabotage Iran’s efforts. Why? Because the Pentagon HAS such plans, IS working with other countries and the IC is doing what the IC does. Gates’s memo ought to be read in the context of complaining or urging the administration to create the political will to legitimately exercise those options.
Who leaked it? Start with the lead byline (David Sanger, who has sources throughout the non-proliferation community) and work backwards, thinking about the timing of the memo, the actions taken since the memo, the spins and when the memo was leaked.) Occam’s razor almost always doesn’t apply.
UPDATE: “The New York Times sources who revealed my January memo to the National Security Advisor mischaracterized its purpose and content,” Gates responded Sunday to the New York Times report. “The memo was not intended as a ‘wake up call’ or received as such by the President’s national security team. Rather, it presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision making process.”]
The report on the three month old Gates’s memo follows both open and classified testimony of State Department, intelligence and Pentagon officials to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking Republican on the committee, told Fox News Sunday that he did not “need a secret memo” to think the U.S. doesn’t have “a coherent” Iran policy,” McCain told Chris Wallace. “That’s pretty obvious.”
Where is the line? The anonymous senior administration official had more such tough talk. The official said that the United States would ensure that Iran would not “acquire a nuclear capability.”
Well, that’s a great relief to those of us who long ago concluded that President Obama has accepted Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons, consistent with the administration’s discussion of containment of Iran. Prevention appears to have been thrown out the window some time ago.
Secretary Gates also called for rethinking the containment of Iran when it acquires nuclear capability: “the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.”
As always with stories like this, one wonders about the motives of the Times’s sources. Why would anonymous officials leak word of a highly classified memorandum suggesting that the administration has no policy beyond what has proved to be empty talk? These apparently well-informed officials must think that we have something to worry about.
Now consider what’s about to happen beyond the next few weeks’ debate over an Iran sanctions resolution at the United Nations Security Council. In May, the U.N. will convene a discussion among NPT signatories about how to strengthen the provisions of the nuclear treaty. Its focus, among other things like international nuke fuel banks, will concern verification and enforcement mechanisms, including how to build in greater “early warning” through the IAEA about when states drift into noncompliance but not outright breach, and what diplomatic actions that danger ought to trigger.
In other words, a precursor to the problem Gates identifies in this memo. (Or, if you prefer, the problem identified in Gates’ memo is a symptom of the category of NPT-lacunae that the conference will address.)
Really, it’s jaw-dropping that, at this stage, Gates must sound the alarm, reminding everyone that nothing they’ve done so far has or is likely to work. Indeed, it’s hard to see how what the Obami are presently doing won’t impair those military options. After all, Obama is giving the Iranians cover to move ahead with their nuclear program while the UN dithers over negotiations about ineffective sanctions. The problem, we must conclude, is Obama, himself, who seems blissfully unaware of his own inadequate and misguided efforts. (”Some officials said his memo should be viewed in that light: as a warning to a relatively new president that the United States was not adequately prepared. He wrote the memo after Iran had let pass a 2009 deadline set by Mr. Obama to respond to his offers of diplomatic engagement.”)
The Obami seemed unprepared for the failure of engagement last year and are only now working on a sanctions effort; Gates’ memo suggests we are now no more prepared for what is in all likelihood the outcome of the next round of dithering: an Iranian regime undeterred from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. As the Times notes, “Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the upper echelons of the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well-prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed.” There is no greater national-security challenge than the threat of a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state. And the president is failing to address it, as his defense secretary warns. The American people and history will judge Obama accordingly.
Pundits are looking for a political motive behind the timing of this leak, but my sense about it is different. This is the second thing worth noting about the New York Times story: its absence of apparent spin. There is no subtle attempt to discredit Gates, to question his motive for the memo, or even to help the leaker(s) drive home a policy point. It’s a very different “leak story,” in other words, from previous ones about Obama’s policy in Afghanistan or Bush’s policy in the war on terror.
It’s almost as if the New York Times, itself, has run out of spin: as if it isn’t sure what it wants readers to think about this. That is as heartening, in its way, as the article is evidence that Secretary Gates recognizes how our military planning has fallen behind the pace of events. The piece gives us a glimpse – rare for the mainstream media – of ground truth about a policy situation. And what it shows us is a “bounded” problem: one for which there are pragmatic, relevant options. If Obama chooses to ignore Gates’s warning, even the New York Times may decline to cooperate in spinning that feckless course
Talk about catnip for the right. They’re absolutely salivating over this one, which will be teed up further on wingnut radio tomorrow. But it’s not like Bush had a plan in place for Iran either, unless you call belligerent bombast and diplomatic freeze-out a strategy.
And why do we not have a long-range plan to deal with Iran going nuclear? Because as I’ve been saying for a very long time, the U.S. cannot prevent Iran from going nuclear, even if they cannot successfully weaponize their technology for a while. But also because no president, White House strategist, or national politician, is allowed to utter anything beyond We will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, something everyone who studies the issue knows is absolute rubbish.
A nuclear capable Iran inevitably leads towards Israel in U.S. political minds, with no person capable of strategizing on U.S. Middle East policy without thinking of our fried first. It paralyzes policy makers.
People have been whispering about a nuclear Iran reality for a very long time. It’s why diplomatic engagement and deterrence is the policy of the day, post Bush’s preemptive doctrine, which was far too nebulous to do anything but stir up more trouble.
The reality is that there is no way to prevent Iran’s steady march to nuclearization, going beyond domestic capabilities.
The leader and the second in command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as a radical, Yemeni-American cleric who is said to have inspired the Ft. Hood massacre, are said to have been killed during an airstrike in Yemen today, according to Yemeni officials. The deaths have not been confirmed by the US.
The Yemeni Air Force targeted Nasir al Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and his deputy Said al Shihri, as they gathered for a high-level meeting of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The terror group’s top leaders were thought to have been gathering at the home of Anwar al Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who provided religious justification for US Army Major Nidal Hasan to carry out a deadly shooting spree against US soldiers in Ft. Hood, Texas.
Wuhayshi and Shihri are said to have held the meeting at Awlaki’s home to plot a response to last week’s controversial cruise missile attack against terror camps in Sana’a and Abyan, Saba News, the official outlet of the Yemeni government, reported. The strike took place in the Al Said district in the Shabwa province. The government claimed that “about 30 al Qaeda suspects from Yemeni and foreign nationalities” were killed.
US officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment on the status of Wuhayshi, Shihri, or Awlaki, nor would they discuss any US role in today’s strike. The US carried out the Dec. 17 strike using air-launched cruise missiles.
The rest of the piece goes on to explain that no one knows for sure yet who exactly was killed in the strike. In addition to Aulaqi, the top leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) may have been present. This includes Nasir Wuhayshi (an al Qaeda bigwig with direct ties to al Qaeda central’s leadership in northern Pakistan) and Said al Shihri (who is reportedly AQAP’s #2).
If the name Said al Shihri rings a bell it is probably because there were a significant number of reports on al Shihri’s rise earlier this year. Al Shihri is now among Guantanamo’s most famous alumni.
But, let’s get back to Aulaqi. When Aulaqi’s ties to Major Nidal Malik Hassan first surfaced in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting, the FBI was quick to pooh-pooh them. The Bureau claimed that Hassan’s numerous emails back and forth with Aulaqi were consistent with Hassan’s research. (Maj. Hassan was reportedly researching the psychological effects of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
This was transparently false. There is no legitimate reason for a Major in the U.S. Army to contact a leading al Qaeda cleric with ties to the September 11 hijackers (Aulaqi assisted at least two of them en route to their day of terror as a “spiritual advisor”). Aulaqi does not have anything legitimate to say about the psychological effects of combat on U.S. troops other than, as a leading al Qaeda ideologue, he is all for them. Also, we’ve come to learn that Hassan said something to the effect that he couldn’t wait to join Aulaqi in the afterlife.
Got that? Major Hassan -– who professed his admiration of suicide bombings and offered a theological justification for them in a June 2007 presentation at Walter Reed Hospital -– told a top jihadist ideologue, who preaches the virtues of suicide bombings, that he couldn’t wait to be reunited in the next life.
If one was inclined to see the well-deserved death of Anwar al-Awlaki in the Yemen strike as a gift from Santa Claus, perhaps we can consider Saeed Ali al-Shehri as a stocking stuffer. Jake Tapper reports that Shihri, a former Gitmo detainee released by the Bush administration who returned to help lead al-Qaeda in Yemen, was killed in the same strike that killed Awlaki and a total of 30 attendees of an AQ leadership meeting (via No Runny Eggs):
Those believed to have been present at the target in the eastern province Shabwa included the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahayshi, his No. 2, Saeed al-Shehri, and Anwar al-Awlaki, who was quoted telling Al Jazeera Web that Maj. Nidal Hasan, asked him “about killing U.S. soldiers and officers. His question was is it legitimate” under Islamic law.
Tapper reminds his readers of Shehri’s journey:
Saeed al-Shehri, a Saudi and former detainee at Guantanamo, was transferred to the Saudi government by the administration of President George W. Bush on November 9, 2007. He went through jihadi rehab at the “Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Care and Counseling,” where participants undergo a 12-step program to prepare them to return to society. Al-Shehri instead returned to al Qaeda.
If nothing else, this shows the folly of returning hardened terrorists to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, a move that the Obama administration plans to make with almost 100 current Gitmo inmates. Jihadi rehab has a fairly high recidivism rate, and they’re not curing alcoholics. Shehri should never have been released in the first place, and the fact that we had to go after him twice should make us think twice about releasing any more, especially in Yemen.
Good news if true. Yes, there are frequent false reports of senior terrorist leaders meeting their demise and, yes, they seem to be able to replace their top lieutenants and continuing marching forward. On the other hand, as Bernard Finel and Christine Bartolf report, ” several indicators that suggest al Qaeda is losing relevance.” While “overall Islamist terrorist violence has risen 20-30 percent since last year – which is the highest point it has ever been . . . evidence also shows that the reach and power of al Qaeda has diminished significantly and become more focused on local political leaders, rather than at the United States and the West.”
This, incidentally, belies the notion that Afghanistan — or even Pakistan — is the key to beating back al Qaeda. They’re back to their roots as a series of regional Islamist terror cells, which means they can operate just as effectively in Yemen or any other country with a significant Islamist sympathy and a weak government.
Interesting interview on Obama’s shifting Yemeni strategy gives details behind recent military strikes in that country, which takes our aiding Yemeni leaders with anti-terrorism support through military equipment to another level.
There’s nothing like a good, diverting spy scandal. The FBI today arrested an eminent space scientist, Stewart David Nozette, and charged him with espionage. He allegedly agreed to sell information about American nuclear weapons to an operative of Israel’s Mossad — only the agent turned out to be an uncover FBI agent. Nozette was the principal investigator on the NASA team that discovered water on the moon. But he spent years as a top scientist at the Department of Energy, where he specialized in satellite technology. According to CBS News, his work for an Israeli defense/aerospace consulting company owned by the Israeli government — work that involved providing unspecified but presumably sensitive technical assistance — brought him to the attention of investigators. The affidavit alleges that Nozette secreted two computer drives out of the company and brought them to a third country. What he did with them — and what was contained on those disks the FBI isn’t saying. From the FBI release, it’s hard to figure out what he might have given the Israelis when he worked for them. Left somewhat vague is what he tried to sell to the undercover agent. But his resume provides a clue.
Take it as a given that Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile and its half dozen nuclear facilities in the country are targets for U.S. espionage — be it from the the SIGINT satellites tasked by the National Security Agency to the imagery satelittes run by the National Reconaissance Office. At the Pentagon’s Ballistic Missile Defense Agency, Nozette ran a program that focused on dual-use nuclear compliance monitoring satellites. The Clementine satellite that discovered water on the moon was, before it was used by civilian scientists, a platform for a sohpisticated nuclear compliance sensor. Among the technologies that Clementine validated was a capacity to peer beneath the ground — one of the ways that hidden water was discovered.
No doubt that Nozette would be in a good position to know how easily it is for U.S. technologies to pierce the veil of Israel’s secret nuke program.
Stewart David Nozette, 52, worked in top government jobs from 1989 to 2000 and had access to military satellite programs and nuclear weapons programs, according to court papers that were unsealed Monday after the scientist was arrested at his Chevy Chase home.
According to Mr. Nozette’s biography at NASA.gov, he played a lead role in developing the Clementine bistatic radar. The radar, which discovered water on the South Pole of the moon, can be used to track ballistic missiles.
The criminal complaint against Mr. Nozette cryptically notes that on or near Jan. 6, the scientist traveled to “foreign country A” with two computer thumb drives. Upon his return to the United States, an officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection “could not locate the thumb drives that been in Nozette’s possession when he had left the United States,” the complaint said.
Prior to that trip, Mr. Nozette “informed a colleague that if the United States government tried ‘to put him in jail’ [based on an unrelated criminal offense], Nozette would move from the United States to Israel or foreign country A [not Israel], and ‘tell them everything’ he knows,” the indictment said.
Court records show that Mr. Nozette was under federal criminal investigation over allegations that he defrauded NASA through the Alliance for Competitive Technology, a company he founded. In 2007, federal agents executed a search warrant at his Maryland home and the offices of this company.
Here’s an interview Nozette previously gave to NASA, where he described how he got interested in space. And here’s an interview he gave last October to India’s NDTV on a joint NASA-Indian Space Research Organzation collaboration to search for water on the moon. The mission apparently had serious problems. He was scheduled to speak at Mississippi State University last week.
Nozette wrote this 1985 oped in the New York Times advocating commercial spin-offs from the Reagan-era Star Wars/Strategic Defense Initiative program, with which he was involved.
Israeli daily Haaretz reports that the Israeli government owned aerospace company that Nozette consulted for is Israel Aircraft Industries.
(Incidentally, Yosef Yagur, the alleged Israeli handler of an elderly American man Ben-Ami Kadish arrested last year in an old age home in New Jersey for having passed classified information to Israel in the 1980s, was also previously ostensibly employed by Israel Aircraft Industries (along with Kadish’s brother). Kadish later reached a pleadeal with the US. Yagur had also reportedly received information from Jonathan Pollard.)
Nozette may have been a good scientist, but he appears to have been a bad spy. He was unquestionably reckless. In 2007, federal agents searched his offices, prompting him to tell colleagues that he would reveal everything he knows, the Washington Postreports, if charged with a crime. The Post further says that Nozette worked as a “technical consultant for an unnamed aerospace firm that the Israeli government owned.” It is this work that could produce complications for the Israeli government. Was Nozette already providing Israel with secret information in his capacity as a technical consultant?
He was paid $225,000 from 1998–2008 for his services as a consultant. This alone is now bound to serve as a red flag for critics of Israel, let alone the conspiracy-minded. With both the Jonathan Pollard affair and the more recent case of former–Pentagon employee Lawrence Franklin lurking in the background, there is already plenty of fodder for those convinced that Israel and America’s interests are inimical and that American Jews are guilty, by definition, of dual loyalty. Franklin is a PR headache by remaining so visiblein such a nutty way, just as Nozette is a nuisance because even if he wasn’t spying for Israel, it still gets the blame for his activities. But in this regard, Nozette’s avarice may be something of a good thing. It would offer a clear and simple explanation for his alleged traitorous behavior that has nothing to do with a belief in Zionism or the Jewish state. Still, there is the matter of the Israeli passport that Nozette asked for from his FBI handlers . . .
So the Nozette case will probably never be settled to the satisfaction of Israel’s adversaries. Instead, a new round of finger-pointing at the Jewish state is surely in the offing. Whether there is much to point at, however, will become clearer in the next few days. With high-level talks taking place in Vienna on Iran’s nuclear program and Washington convulsed by a debate over Afghanistan, the Nozette case couldn’t have come at a better time for Israel. With any luck, it will quickly disappear from the headlines—at least until the next Israeli spy case pops up.
The most hilarious part is that Nozette admitted that he no longer had access or security clearance, but that he could “recall the classified information to which he had been granted access, indicating that it was all still in his head.”
In the end it was all about the money, Nozette making sure his contact knew he needed the cash to be delivered in “under ten thousand” deposits. He was captured on videotape at a drop box delivering information that was “Top Secret and Secret that concerned U.S. satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy.”
Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain and a writer for The Daily Beast, has threatened to quit Twitter after a sexy self-portrait she posted on the popular micro-blogging site stirred controversy.
The picture on her Twitter page, accompanied the words “my spontaneous night,” prompted an immediate backlash from some of her 60,000-plus followers on the site, prompting the controversial but prolific McCain to post a series of comments defending herself and, ultimately, threatening to shut down her feed.
In one Tweet, she said, “so I took a fun picture not thinking anything about what I was wearing but apparently anything other than a pantsuit I am a slut, this is”
A few minutes later, she added, “why I have been considering deleting my twitter account, what once was fun now just seems like a vessel for harassment.” About an hour later: “ok I am getting the #%$^ off twitter, promise not to delete my account until I sleep on it, thank you for the nice words supporters.”
As of this writing, it is unclear if she will leave Twitter for good.
McCain has long been a controversial figure, angering some conservatives for her insipid commentary (see “The GOP Party Doesn’t Understand Sex“) as well as her attempts to moderate the GOP position on social issues.
ABC News’ Jake Tapper came to McCain’s defense, Tweeting, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot people? Leave @McCainBlogette alone. if she’s not your cup of tea, move on. Yeesh. So foxtrot lame.”
I’m interested to see how many of the lefty liberals and feminist poseurs who loved to say that I was attacking a woman merely for having breasts are saying that Meghan McCain is doing anything more than just having breasts.
And in the cleavage between Chris and MM’s comments, we have Mr. Forward saying:
“Hey boy, look over there. Balloons!”
Ah, yes! How thematically satisfying it was to have Meghan’s buffoonish, balloonish breasts rising into the public view on the same day as The Boy’s Balloon. Now, the Boy in the Balloon has been downgraded to the Boy in the Box. I don’t really know what that portends for Meghan’s breasts.
As to Mrs. Parker’s advice to the GOP that “The answer is . . . drum roll, please . . . women,” I’ve been saying this for years, which is the case well beyond our own borders. But the cast of female characters in the GOP play of Parker’s choosing isn’t exactly worthy of a drum roll, let alone fanfare announced yesterday in her Washington Post column.
The irony of having Meghan McCain on Parker’s list, considering Mrs. Parker was the first conservative to lambast Sarah Palin, is just too delicious. Ms. McCain has certainly been outspoken on Republicans needing to open their tent, with everyone fawning over the young woman’s contrarian views, but politicians require good instincts and judgment, something Ms. McCain seems to be sorely lacking. Cindy could have warned her. Sure Ms. McCain can learn, but the obvious question to ask Mrs. Parker is what wonk power John McCain’s daughter brings to the table beyond her gift for gab and big…er… good looks? Though that hasn’t stopped Republican know nothing stars like now disgraced Jon Ensign.
On Wednesday, I posted a hastily taken self-portrait on Twitter—which I thought was funny and silly—and within a few hours I had caused a minor media scandal. I spent most of the next day thinking about what exactly was so shocking about the picture, why there was such an immediate and nasty overreaction. After all, it’s not like I was caught making a sex tape. I certainly didn’t pose nude for Playboy. And I hadn’t even exposed a nipple.
So why all this Sturm und Drang?
Could it be it’s because I have breasts? Because for those of you who didn’t know, I have two. They’re larger than some women’s and not as big as others. I don’t usually show off my cleavage—as I did in the photos I posted—which I will admit is not the smartest thing I have ever done. But it’s just not worth the drama it caused.
As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I live my life very openly. I will happily tell you what I’m doing every minute of every day. I will tell you what songs I’m listening to, what movies I’ve seen, and what books I’ve read. (That’s Arthur Danto’s new biography of Andy Warhol in the photo, by the way.) I love reading other people’s Tweets to me.
It’s amazing what you can learn. And I’ve certainly endured my share of harsh comments from those who follow me. But yesterday was the first time it really wasn’t fun. It’s not easy to be called a slut. But I’m not giving up my Twitter just yet—I’m just going to be more judicious in how I use it. At the end of the day, I am a work in progress. I am not perfect and have never given anyone the assumption that I am. I turn 25 next week and I am still adjusting to the glare of the spotlight and making mistakes.
This is the last time I’ll ever address this non-scandal but at the very least I hope other girls can learn from this episode before they post any kind of photo online. I know I have learned a valuable lesson about the Internet and the boundaries between personal and public use with social media.
There’s no corroboration of the deus-ex-Twitter thing, so, T-minus negative two seconds until something exactly like this happens again, and Meg copies and pastes this insipid column and publishes it yet another time, for money. She ends the piece: “I just wanted to get that off my chest.” IF YOU’VE LEARNED ANYTHING TODAY ABOUT RESPECTING WOMEN YOU WILL PAY ATTENTION TO THE WORD “TO” AND IGNORE THE SEX PHRASES OF “GET OFF” AND “CHEST.”
After Obama agreed to cancel the missile defense program for Poland and the Czech Republic, the president got Moscow to give him an inch. Maybe, they said, we’d have to move on tougher measures against Iran if Tehran doesn’t satisfy us on its nukes. “Hallelujah!” said the president and his entourage.
All of this good cheer is now over. Lavrov greeted Clinton in Moscow with the bad news: “At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process. … Threats, sanctions and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”
Just before Hillary arrived in Moscow, she warned that America was impatient. With whom? With the Iranians, of course. But her impatience with Tehran will be useless unless we get impatient with Russia.
“We did not ask for anything today,” she said. “We reviewed the situation and where it stood, which I think was the appropriate timing for what this process entails.”
Of course, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. In fact, with the Russians, if you don’t demand and threaten a little, you get zero.
Martin Peretz condenses the news accounts concerning the Clinton trip. Applying the reality principle to the proceedings, Peretz notes with some asperity: “Obama hasn’t reset the American relationship with Russia. He was taken for a ride. Maybe his vanity won’t let him admit it. But, believe me, the Russians know they have taken him (and us) for a big ride, indeed.”
During the campaign, Peretz was an important supporter of Obama, misreading him substantially. Jack Kelly devoted a good column to Peretz’s misguided assurances on Obama’s positions related to Israel. Peretz was fooled, but he is not a fool. The same cannot be said of Obama.
It would have been nice if Hillary saved some of the venom she used on that poor Congolese man for the Russians. The Putin/Medvedev coalition has skillfully manipulated the Obama administration at every turn, convincing them to abandon missile defense without a quid pro quo, bogging down the new START treaty with language that restricts our conventional military capabilities, and playing “who’s on second?” whenever the subject of real, damaging Iranian sanctions comes up.
Churchill had Russia pegged 60 years ago, famously saying: “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interests.” Still true today. Russia doesn’t want to participate in Iranian sanctions. They do want sanctions, of course, just the kind that they abstain from and big Western oil consumers participate in. Russia is a country that lives or dies on cost of energy. If oil skyrockets after tough sanctions or a military strike, Russia benefits. If Iran is allowed to develop a nuclear arsenal and weaken our standing in the Middle East, Russia benefits. It’s win-win for Ivan, win-win-win if you factor in our baffling decision to kill European BMD unilaterally, instead of using it as a bargaining chip.
Russia, seemingly unimpressed with our president’s Nobel Peace Prize, is playing a smart, tough game of realpolitik here. The Obama Administration, guided by anything but reality, is basing their entire foreign policy on lofty promises made during the campaign. They’re playing chess, we’re playing checkers. That’s a contest that Ivan will win every time.
Hillary proclaims herself to be delighted by the new relationship. But this is a one-sided, dysfunctional relationship if there ever was one. One side does precisely what it wants, and the other makes excuses. (Does this remind you of . . . no, let’s keep on topic here.) At some point, even the most devoted fans must begin to ask why the Obami keep giving stuff away without getting anything back. And why do they seem so happy to be doing it?
That noise you hear is Liz Cheney and her “Keep America Safe” characters clucking over it. As you’ll see in the video, complete with comic voiceover, they’re ready. No doubt the Kremlin’s behavior will incite Liz and her benefactor, Bill Kristol, the father of revolving neocon groups, to ratchet up the chatter against Obama even more.
Just before the Senate Finance Committee wrapped up for the long weekend, members debated one of Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-AZ) amendments, which would strike language defining which benefits employers are required to cover.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) argued that insurers must be required to cover basic maternity care. (In several states there are no such requirements.)
“I don’t need maternity care,” Kyl said. “So requiring that on my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.”
Stabenow interrupted: “I think your mom probably did.”
A well defined minimum benefits package would compel health insurers to provide basic services to all Americans. The Kyl amendment, which ultimately failed, would have allowed the industry to continue profiting from discriminatory practices. As former health insurance executive Wendell Potter explained in an interview with ThinkProress, insurers would like to move us all into “these limited benefit plans that are very skimpy and don’t cover you, don’t cover what you need. That way, when you do get sick, they’re not on the hook to pay you anything. They would love to have you enrolled in these.”
It generated laughter in the hearing room, and with good reason, but it’s worth emphasizing why Kyl’s argument is worthy of derision. In the hopes of making insurance cheaper, Kyl is comfortable with not covering basic maternity care. The status quo — only 21 states require insurers to provide maternity care benefits — is just fine with the #2 senator in the GOP leadership. If discriminatory practices boost industry profits, it’s just the free market working as it should.
There was general agreement, including on the part of the Palestinians, that the peace process has to be resumed as soon as possible with no preconditions,” the premier told reporters in New York City.
Earlier, US President Barack Obama expressed a similar sentiment, emerging from bilateral meetings with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowing to move ahead with the diplomatic process, while seeming to step back from his call for a total settlement freeze, saying that Israel now is discussing “restraining settlement activities.”
A source close to the Palestinians told POLITICO Obama asked the Palestinian delegation to compromise on its demand for a full settlement freeze. In turn, Obama said, ths U.S. would provide the Palestinians proposed “terms of reference” for Israeli-Palestinian permanent status negotiations, as early as next week, as well as continue to press the Israelis on settlement freeze.
While Mitchell answered press questions, the NSC’s Shapiro was seen in the hall on his cell phone briefing White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on the meetings.
Mitchell said National Security Advisor Jim Jones, Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, himself and Obama had sat on the two sets of bilateral meetings. Jones, Clinton, Obama and Mitchell had sat in on the three way meeting.
The Israelis and Palestinians will send delegations to meet with him in Washington next week.
In some ways, Obama repeated today some of the mistakes that have spoiled his efforts thus far. For no obvious reason–and clearly irritated by both Netanyahu and Abbas–the president had summoned the sides to this mini-summit and lectured them like rebellious children. No statement was agreed on, so he made one on his own. He demanded final status negotiations, despite the Israeli government’s belief that interim agreements and gradual progress better fit the current situation. He showed little sympathy for Abbas’ reluctance to negotiate, despite the fact that Abbas couldn’t even attend this meaningless meeting without being subjected to a barrage of criticism at home. (The best advice may have come from a Hamas spokesman I heard on Israeli radio this week, who suggested that Abbas meet with the group’s leader, Khalid Mishal, to stem the internal Palestinian conflict before even thinking about peace with Israel.)
But beneath the seemingly empty demands and banal pronouncements, a lot can be read into Obama’s short statement. He said Israelis should “restrain” settlements, not “freeze” them–a distinct change in rhetoric from the past few months. He said “permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon”–but was careful enough not to commit to a time table, as he did not long ago. Gone is Hillary Clinton’s cocky denial of any previous agreements between Israel and the United States regarding natural growth of settlements. A more subtle, humble approach carried the day. The president admitted that “it is past time to talk about starting negotiations,” which is exactly what his special envoy, George Mitchell, will be doing next week when he continues the exhaustive work of negotiating over the start of negotiations.
What is different about the current situation is that when this president makes “evenhanded” statements in which he poses a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians, his coolness to the Jewish state during his nine months in office leads one to believe that he really means it. Obama’s obsession with trying to halt the building of Jewish housing not only in Jerusalem but also in the West Bank (parts of which were accepted by the Bush administration as permanently belonging to Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza) has not made the Palestinians more amenable to peace. On the contrary, the more Washington backs away from the Israelis, the more likely Abbas (not to mention his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza and threaten his hold on the West Bank) is to stand pat and wait for the Americans to deliver more Israeli concessions to him on a silver platter. And given that leftist Jewish groups, who may well have the ear of Obama and his intimates, are calling for more pressure on Israel, supposedly for its own good, there is every reason to believe that any involvement by the president in the talks will be to Israel’s detriment.
Far from being a formula for peace, Obama’s involvement and his hectoring of Israel may set in motion a chain of events that, like the failure of Bill Clinton’s Camp David summit, may instigate a new campaign of Palestinian violence. Photos such as the one taken today may nurture the illusion that Obama is helping to nudge the Middle East on its way to peace. But the price for such heightened expectations, in the absence of any real change of heart about the need for mutual recognition of Israel on the part of the Arab and Muslim worlds, may be terrible indeed.
Talking About The Talking About The Talking… Do You Feel Cynical Or Dizzy?
Ethan Bronner at NYT:
Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up
Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:
Andrew Lebovich at Washington Note:
Lexington at The Economist:
Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:
Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy:
UPDATE: Daniel Drezner and Heather Hurlburt at Bloggingheads
UPDATE #2: Hussein Ibish and Eli Lake at Bloggingheads
Max Fisher at The Atlantic
UPDATE #3: Daniel Levy at The Huffington Post
Filed under Israel/Palestine
Tagged as Allah Pundit, Andrew Lebovich, Bloggingheads, Commentary, Daniel Drezner, Daniel Levy, Eli Lake, Ethan Bronner, Foreign Policy, Heather Hurlburt, Huffington Post, Hussein Ibish, Israel, Jennifer Rubin, Josh Rogin, Lexington, Max Fisher, New York Times, Stephen Walt, Taylor Marsh, The Atlantic, The Economist, Washington Note