Thursday, April 09, 2009


Imitation: The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

From yesterday's Wall Street Journal:
President Obama surprised the world yesterday with an unannounced visit to Baghdad, where he met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and praised the courage and perseverance of America's troops. But the most pleasant surprise has been Mr. Obama's near-about face on Iraq since becoming President.

Speaking to GIs in one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces, Mr. Obama ticked off America's accomplishments in Iraq: "From getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement."

. . .

Prior to his Iraq visit, the President was asked by a Turkish student whether his Iraq policies were fairly close in substance to George W. Bush's. "Well, just because I was opposed at the outset, it doesn't mean that I don't have now responsibilities to make sure we do things in a responsible fashion," Mr. Obama replied. We'll mark that down as a "yes."
President Obama seems to have learned some good lessons from his immediate predecessor -- such as the unannounced visits to a war zone, which can be very effective at inspiring the troops and the local population alike. (As I recall, President Bush's first such visit, at Thanksgiving in 2003, was widely dismissed as a stunt. Perhaps things are in a different light now.)

Mind you, it would be nice if President Obama could continue the vital aspects of George W. Bush's presidency and policies, but refrain from continuing to denounce them at every opportunity. But that's okay -- given a choice between walking the walk and talking the talk, I'll take the former, thanks.

UPDATE: President Obama is likewise learning about the usefulness of warrantless wiretapping and such -- something he campaigned against heavily -- and even some of his biggest fans are starting to get worried:
Again, the gulf between Candidate Obama and President Obama is striking. As a candidate, Obama ran promising a new era of government transparency and accountability, an end to the Bush DOJ's radical theories of executive power, and reform of the PATRIOT Act. But, this week, Obama's own Department Of Justice has argued that, under the PATRIOT Act, the government shall be entirely unaccountable for surveilling Americans in violation of its own laws.
Hope and Change, ladies and gentlemen.

But we're still using euphemisms here: "the gulf between Candidate Obama and President Obama is striking". How big a gulf will it have to be before "Obama Lied" bumper-stickers start proliferating?

Not long, I guess...

UPDATE II: Perhaps I was too hasty in describing this as I did. There are reports that it wasn't a surprise visit after all:
Nevertheless, about that “surprise visit”.

It wasn’t. The visit was communicated a full 24 hours in advance and a small contingent of soldiers - not screaming hoards - were rustled into a meeting place at Camp Victory.

Got this email from a sergeant that was there.

“We were pre-screened, asked by officials “Who voted for Obama?”, and then those who raised their hands were shuffled to the front of the receiving line. They even handed out digital cameras and asked them to hold them up.”

Take a look at the picture at AP and notice all the cameras are the same models? Coincidence? I think not.
I have no idea if this is true or not; I haven't (yet) seen it reported by other sources, although it was picked up by HotAir and Instapundit.

I'd like to think that this is a nasty rumor. If it isn't, it's a sickening level of cynicism and opportunism, coming from a sitting President of the United States. After all, President Obama pledged to those who did not vote for him: "I will be your President too". Giving preferential treatment to those who voted for him -- merely to get a better photo-op -- when all of them had sworn to fight and die at his command, would be nothing short of revolting.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009


In re Pitchforks

A rather chilling observation:
“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” Barack Obama told the CEOs of the world’s most powerful financial institutions on March 27, when they cited competition for talent in an international market as justification for paying higher salaries to their employees.

Arrayed around a long mahogany table in the White House state dining room, the bankers struggled to make themselves clear to the president, but he wasn’t in a mood to hear them out. He interrupted them by saying, “Be careful how you make those statements, gentlemen. The public isn’t buying that.”

. . .

In a balanced society, an angry mob is never a part of the equation. But if the goal is to throw a capitalist society off balance in order to change it, an angry mob is the ticket. Anger is known to be the easiest and the most effective tool of crowd manipulation. Angry mobs cancel out the rule of law. Infusing anger into a community and turning it into an angry mob, canceling out the rule of law, and changing the balance in a society — this is what community organizers do for a living.

It was often pointed out during the election that Obama lacked management experience. While having a president with no experience is bad, it’s not nearly as bad as having a president with experience as a community organizer.
(emphasis mine)

I think this is a valid point, and an important one. By saying, even as hyperbole, that President Obama's administration "is the only thing between you and the pitchforks", the implication is that the mobs are screaming for blood... and that the banks had better listen to those mobs, because the administration can do little more than hold them back.

(And this, mind you, in response to CEOs justifying their salaries. Even if you accept that the President has a right to question this -- given that those CEOs must now answer to the federal government -- does the President really expect top executives in the world's most powerful financial institutions to work for peanuts? What's to stop them from quitting, finding work where they're respected, and leaving the United States Government with second-raters to run the banks? And does President Obama really have a leg to stand on, warning executives about their multi-million-dollar salaries, when he has just pledged trillions of dollars in other people's money?)

Threatening people with the wrath of the mobs isn't responsible government; that's fear-mongering. (It's also not true, as near as I can tell. Sure, there are plenty of Americans fed up with financial mismanagement, but I don't see people gathering tar and feathers. What I see, rather, is Americans wanting their 401Ks to start going up again.)

If we truly are in danger of angry mobs overturning our financial institutions -- and I don't think it's anywhere near that bad -- then the President should use his "bully pulpit" to calm things down and ensure the rule of law, not browbeat the very targets of those mobs. And if we're not in danger of that, then why on Earth is the President claiming that we are?

Community organizers were instrumental in forcing banks to give subprime loans to unqualified minority borrowers by using the “pitchforks” tactics — protesting in front of the banks, camping on the lawns of the bankers’ family houses, intimidating families, and suing in courts. After the bankers were sufficiently roughed up, a community organizer would show up at their office to “negotiate” the bank’s surrender in the form of bad loans and money for community organizations that pay community organizers for their “services.”

Most Americans will probably associate this trend with the protection racket that was rampant in Chicago in the 1930s. It follows the same pattern: the mob, in conjunction with the unions, would organize strikes and protests, do physical damage, and intimidate business owners. Then a mob representative would meet with the owner and offer “protection” by saying “I’m the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

Does President Obama understand how bad this looks, particularly given that he's a politician from Chicago? Or is he determined, in spite of appearances, to do all he can to save the system, using the techniques he think will work best? (If so, there are some serious criticisms of his techniques... and he's not listening.)

Or is he determined, in spite of appearances, to do all he can to remake the system? Given how many industries he's trying to revolutionize, from our financial system to the health-care system to the automobile industry, this seems more and more plausible to me as time goes on.

Read the whole thing. I don't agree with all he says, but there's some good stuff in there.

UPDATE: And here's a take that stands the whole thing on its head:
But imagine what would have happened if one or more of the bankers in that meeting with Mr. Obama had had the courage to stand up and remind him of of the facts:

“No, Mr. President. The only thing between the Democrats and the pitchforks is us, the bankers, and that’s the way it always has been. You Democrats used us to buy votes with home loans, requiring us to lend money to people who could not pay it back. You left us holding the bag, Mr. President — you and the rest of the Democrats then in Congress. And you need our cooperation to save your political hide from the people with the pitchforks.”



Friday, April 03, 2009


Teleprompter Unplugged

If you get mad when people refer to "the TelePromTer President", you probably don't want to click the link above. If you take umbrage when people say that President Obama is less than articulate without a script, or that the American press is all too eager to cover for him when he trips, then this link is not for you.

If, however, you're a little tired of the Obama adulation and rock-star status -- from the silly to the downright disturbing -- and are delighted when a newspaper actually reports his flubs, just as we'd expect them to do for any President -- then you might enjoy this.

Brief version: President Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown were asked an insightful question on the economic crisis, one that boils down to "whose fault is it?"... and Brown defers to Obama, who then spent two and a half minutes not answering the question.

John Crace, writing for The Guardian, does not mince words in his transcript of President Obama's answer. Enjoy.

For the purists, here's a link, supposedly, to a YouTube video of the event. (I haven't watched it myself yet.) Oh, and as of 3PM on April 3rd, nearly 48 hours later, hardly any non-British newspaper has covered the story.

(hat tip: American Thinker)

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Avigdor Lieberman Hits The Big Time

Israel's new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisra'el Beiteinu party ("Israel is our home"), gave his first speech yesterday -- and it seems to have attracted quite a bit of attention.

Daniel Pipes calls it "Avigdor Lieberman's Brilliant Debut". The BBC cheerfully chooses to emphasize the negative, remembering him as the "hard-liner" who told Hosni Mubarak to "go to hell"... and then paraphrases his speech to their liking without quoting it. (Actually, Lieberman had been rebuking Mubarak for never visiting Israel, in spite of a 30-year-old peace treaty, and said: "If he wants to talks to us, he should come here, and if he doesn't want to come, he can go to hell." Context can be helpful.)

Israel's Ha'aretz asks "How Absurd Can Netanyahu's Government Get", citing Lieberman's status as Foreign Minister as a self-evident absurdity, not requiring further explanation. Others go further: al-Jazeera calls him an "ultra-nationalist"; Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Fatah chief Mahmud Abbas, said "We are not obligated to hold talks with a racist hostile to peace like Lieberman".

I don't know; it sounds to me as though he's making all the right enemies.

Mind you, he's also antagonizing his friends: his predecessor, Tzippi Livni, said that he had wiped out years of diplomatic efforts in 20 seconds (and interrupted him during his speech!). I suspect he would respond that yes, that's exactly what he did, and it was intentional; see below.

So what did he say, actually? My initial response is to say that, yes, he's an amateur on the diplomatic world stage, with something of the bull-in-the-china-shop about him. On the other hand, he had some strong things to say, and he said them bluntly and forcefully at his first opportunity. Let's have a look.

Good afternoon, honorable outgoing Foreign Minister, honorable outgoing Deputy Foreign Minister, incoming Deputy Foreign Minister, Director-General Ministry employees, honored guests,

When my fellow students and I studied international relations, and learned what an international system is, we learned that there is a State and there are international organizations and all kinds of global economic corporations. Things have changed since then and, unfortunately, in the modern system, there are countries that are semi-states. It is hard to call a country like Somalia a state in the full sense of the word and the same holds true for the various autonomies in Eastern Europe, in the Balkans and here as well. It is even hard to call a country like Iraq a state in the full sense of the word. And even worse, there are now international players that are irrational, like the Al Qaeda organization. And we can certainly also ask if the leader of a strong and important country like Iran is a rational player.

Hmm... not a strong beginning. He depicts himself as a student, underlying his status as an amateur in his new job. He insults several countries, including the emerging democracy in Iraq, by calling them "semi-states", with no indication as to why, nor what this implies in terms of Israel's future dealings with them.

(Granted, Israel has no diplomatic relations with Somalia or with Iraq that I know of. Israel has a long history of trying to make friends and getting rebuffed; perhaps Lieberman is simply declaring that he's not that sort of foreign minister. Israelis have a reputation for bluntness, do we not?)

In my view, we must explain to the world that the priorities of the international community must change, and that all the previous benchmarks - the Warsaw Pact, the NATO Alliance, socialist countries, capitalist countries - have changed. There is a world order that the countries of the free world are trying to preserve, and there are forces, or countries or extremist entities that are trying to violate it.

That's a reasonable message -- we have been viewing foreign relations using outdated paradigms, and it's time we saw things as they are and treated them accordingly. Again, though, I think he's making some strong statements without backing them up, which does not do much to persuade anyone. (Is he trying to be persuasive? One could argue that, as Israel's top diplomat, that's his job.)

The claim that what is threatening the world today is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a way of evading reality. The reality is that the problems are coming from the direction of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

Well, I like that first sentence. In my opinion, he should have explained that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the distraction Arab totalitarian regimes use to distract their subjects from problems at home. Instead, he names Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq as world threats... which, to me, is heavy-handed at best. (Iraq is not currently an exporter of terror, the way it used to be under Saddam and the way Iran still is; mentioning them together is hardly fair.)

What is important is to maintain global and regional stability. Egypt is definitely an important country in the Arab world, a stabilizing factor in the regional system and perhaps even beyond that, and I certainly view it as an important partner. I would be happy to visit Egypt and to host Egyptian leaders here, including the Egyptian Foreign Minister - all based on mutual respect.

By contrast, this looks as though he's sucking up to Egypt now. (If so, it's not working.) Is he trying to compensate for his "go to hell" comment? (On the other hand, it's notable that he's inviting the Egyptian Foreign Minister, not President Mubarak.)

"What's important is to maintain global and regional stability" -- this sounds like the return of realpolitik, not what I'd expect from him. Let's continue.

I think that we have been disparaging many concepts, and we have shown the greatest disdain of all for the word “peace.” The fact that we say the word “peace” twenty times a day will not bring peace any closer.

Amen! He is now indirectly accusing previous Israeli governments -- and his direct predecessor -- of talking too much. Moreover, he says that merely talking about peace, while not taking the necessary steps to bring peace closer, shows disdain for peace -- a profound thought indeed.

There have been two governments here that took far-reaching measures: the Sharon government and the Olmert government. They took dramatic steps and made far-reaching proposals. We saw the Disengagement and the Annapolis Conference.

Yisrael Beiteinu was not then part of the coalition, Avigdor Liberman was not the foreign minister and, even if we had wanted to, we would have been unable to prevent peace. But none of these far-reaching measures have brought peace. To the contrary. We have seen that, after all the gestures that we made, after all the dramatic steps we took and all the far-reaching proposals we presented, in the past few years this country has gone through the Second War in Lebanon and Operation Cast Lead - and not because we chose to.

(emphasis mine)

His self-serving comments (and third-person self-reference) aside, he is now getting to the important point of his speech. Israeli concessions have not brought peace; from an historical perspective, it would be hard to deny this.

I have not seen peace here. It is precisely when we made all the concessions that I saw the Durban Conference, I saw two countries in the Arab world suddenly sever relations, recalling their ambassadors - Mauritania and Qatar. Qatar suddenly became extremist.

We are also losing ground every day in public opinion. Does anyone think that concessions and constantly saying “I am prepared to concede,” and using the word “peace” will lead to anything? No, that will just invite pressure, and more and more wars. "Si vis pacem, para bellum" - if you want peace, prepare for war; be strong.

An interesting response to Israel's critics. Lieberman here reminds us that "peace through strength" is not a typical Israeli position, at least not today... but that it certainly did not originate with Israel, and in fact has history to support it.

We definitely want peace, but the other side also bears responsibility. We have proven our desire for peace more than any other country in the world. No country has made concessions the way Israel has. Since 1977, we have given up areas of land three times the size of the State of Israel. So we have proven the point.

Awkwardly worded, perhaps, but he's absolutely right. Pre-1967 Israel was 20700 square kilometers in size; in 1967 Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula (61,100 square kilometers), and gave it all to Egypt in 1979 in return for a peace treaty.

Even if you include the West Bank etc. in your calculations, post-1967 Israel was roughly 89,277 square kilometers in size; giving up the Sinai and the Gaza Strip reduced Israel's size by nearly 70%. Is there another country on Earth that has done such a thing voluntarily?

The Oslo process began in 1993. Sixteen years have passed since then, and I do not see that we are any closer to a permanent settlement. There is one document that binds us and it is not the Annapolis Conference. That has no validity. When we drafted the basic government policy guidelines, we certainly stated that we would honor all the agreements and all the undertakings of previous governments. The continuity of government is respected in Israel. I voted against the Road Map, but that was the only document approved by the Cabinet and by the Security Council - I believe it was Resolution 1505. It is a binding resolution and it binds this government as well.

The Israeli government never approved Annapolis, neither the Cabinet nor the Knesset, so anyone who wants to amuse himself can continue to do so. I have seen all the proposals made so generously by Ehud Olmert, but I have not seen any results.

This seems to be the part that has Israel's critics apoplectic -- Israel is repudiating the Annapolis agreements!

As others have pointed out, Lieberman is wrong here -- Israel's cabinet did approve the Annapolis agreement. (He was there, as Minister for Strategic Affairs, so he should know better.)

Nonetheless, he has an important point to make here regarding the lack of validity of the Annapolis agreement in 2009, and he has logic on his side. Read the text: those parts of it that are not pleasant-sounding platitudes ("we agree to launch bilateral talks"; "we express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed") have largely been superseded by events. Negotiations with Mahmud Abbas do not apply to Palestinian areas controlled by Hamas, as Hamas has repeatedly avowed.

In other words, Annapolis is dead... and Lieberman is simply the first world diplomat to say so publicly.

He is careful, however, to make it clear than an alternative still exists:

So we will therefore act exactly according to the Road Map, including the Tenet document and the Zinni document. I will never agree to our waiving all the clauses - I believe there are 48 of them - and going directly to the last clause, negotiations on a permanent settlement. No. These concessions do not achieve anything. We will adhere to it to the letter, exactly as written. Clauses one, two, three, four - dismantling terrorist organizations, establishing an effective government, making a profound constitutional change in the Palestinian Authority. We will proceed exactly according to the clauses.
(link and emphasis mine)

Kudos to him for referring back to the Road Map -- an agreement he repudiated at the time -- and making it clear that he will take no liberties with it. (We'll have to watch and see if he keeps that promise, of course.)

We also see an interesting political development here. An American Secretary of State would not say "I will never agree", as he does, because American cabinet secretaries serve at the pleasure of the President, who can hire and fire them. In Israeli politics, however, Lieberman is not just the new Foreign Minister; he's the head of Yisra'el Beiteinu, which won 15 seats in the recent elections. Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot simply tell Lieberman "I set foreign policy here, not you", as an American President would; if Netanyahu pushes Lieberman too hard, Lieberman will walk away from the Cabinet, taking his 15 seats with him, leaving Netanyahu's government ripe for a no-confidence vote.

We are also obligated to implement what is required of us in each clause, but so is the other side. They must implement the document in full, including - as I said - the Zinni document and the Tenet document. I am not so sure that the Palestinian Authority or even we - in those circles that espouse peace so much - are aware of the existence of the Tenet and Zinni documents.

His insistence on the Tenet and Zinni agreements is interesting. What do they contain that the Roadmap does not? Mostly they contain specific details -- a commitment by Israel to redeploy and to explore non-lethal methods of crowd control, a commitment by the Palestinians to clamp down on incitement and to stop weapons smuggling and terrorism, and so on.

When was Israel at its strongest in terms of public opinion around the world? After the victory of the Six Day War, not after all the concessions in Oslo Accords I, II, III and IV. Anyone who wants to maintain his status in public opinion must understand that if he wants respect, he must first respect himself. I think that, at least from our standpoint, will be our policy.
A weak ending to a problematic speech... but nonetheless, he's trying to demonstrate, to Israelis, that it has been Israel's victories, not her concessions, that have won her support.

It will be interesting to see the long-term reactions to this speech, and to Israel's actions going forward. No doubt Lieberman, and Netanyahu, and Israel, will be vilified all over the world; no doubt people will condemn Israelis for electing such people into office. (I'm willing to bet that such sentiments will come from the same people who insisted that Hamas had been elected, and thus must be honored and respected.)

But will Israel pursue a policy of peace through strength, showing respect to others only insofar as she is herself respected? And if so, will this produce results? I'm optimistic, but time will tell. Time will also tell if Avigdor Lieberman can learn to soften his hard edges a bit. (Perhaps he won't; Israel already has a top diplomat, with plenty of diplomatic experience on the world stage, named Benjamin Netanyahu. It will be interesting to see how they work together.)

But speaking for myself, as an Israeli who has bemoaned a weak Israeli government at just the time when strength is needed -- well, it looks as though that has changed. In the words of Daniel Pipes, Israel's back.

UPDATE: Jeff Jacoby also liked the speech. (Frankly, I thought Mr. Jacoby uses Lieberman's points to make a better case than Lieberman did. Have a look and see for yourself.)

Hat tip: Solomonia



Thursday, April 02, 2009


Netanyahu: "Stop Iran - Or I Will"

So says an exclusive interview in The Atlantic. I must say, it sounds good to me.

On the other hand, the headline is a bit misleading; nowhere in the article is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually quoted as saying that. It's not even a paraphrase; Mr. Netanyahu never talks about Israel attacking Iran at all. He simply describes the dangers of a nuclear Iran, in great detail, and explains why it is not just a problem for Israel.

So perhaps this is another case of a journalist putting words into a politician's mouth -- not words the politician said, but words that the journalist thinks the politician could have said.

I'm reminded of an alarmist headline on a non-alarmist article about global warming, a few years back. In that case, though, it's possible that an editor added a headline that the article's writer never intended. Here the sentiment is clearly part of the article itself, as can be seen in the first paragraph:
In an interview conducted shortly before he was sworn in today as prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu laid down a challenge for Barack Obama. The American president, he said, must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and quickly—or an imperiled Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself.
Go look for yourself; does he ever quote Netanyahu as actually saying that?

Of course, as has been pointed out elsewhere, there is a "public narrative" about Netanyahu -- which is why it's virtually impossible to read a newspaper article about him that doesn't call him a "hard-liner" (instead of "conservative"), or that he does not favor a "two-state solution" (untrue, although he does expect the Palestinians to earn their state first). But it's not a journalist's job to tell us what he thinks a politician thinks; we need to know what the politician actually said.

Whether Israel will attack Iran remains to be seen. We know many of the pieces of the puzzle -- that Israel has stopped an enemy country from going nuclear before; that Iranian nuclear sites are not as well protected as they previously thought; that Israelis in positions of authority have spoken about this before. We can even surmise that this is more likely to happen now than under Mr. Netanyahu's predecessor, the hapless (and hopeless) Ehud Olmert. Nonetheless, we'll know about this when -- and if -- it happens.

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