Friday, June 26, 2009


Some People Really Like President Obama, Don't They?

This dates from before he was even sworn in:

1st Session
H. J. RES. 5

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.


January 6, 2009

Mr. SERRANO introduced the following joint resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years after the date of its submission for ratification:


‘The twenty-second article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.’.
Here, check it out for yourself. It doesn't look like a hoax to me.

Congressman José E. Serrano must want to make sure that we're not limited to only eight years of President Obama. (Perhaps he wanted to save the President-elect from a minor gaffe.)

As Glenn Reynolds says, this is extremely unlikely to happen. It is comical, though...


Thursday, June 25, 2009


Gilad Shalit: Coming Home At Last?

As seen in Ha'aretz (with a tip o'the hat to the Huffington Post):

European diplomatic sources said Thursday that kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit will be transferred to Egypt in the coming hours or coming days.

This information has yet to be confirmed by Israeli officials.

According to the European sources, Shalit's transfer is the first stage of an agreement between the various Palestinian factions, assisted by Egyptian mediation and done in coordination with the United States and with the support of Syria.

Shalit will be used as a "deposit" toward the completion of a prisoner exchange between the Palestinian factions, the sources said.

The agreement will include the exchange of prisoners and the opening of crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

According to Egyptian officials, a deal will be signed between Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions by July 7 at the latest.

The deal would put the Gaza Strip under the leadership of a joint committee subordinate to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and not under the control of the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

On Tuesday Palestinian news agency Maan quoted Egyptian sources as saying that Shalit was about to be transferred from the Gaza Strip into Egypt within hours, a report that Israeli sources denied.

Shalit was kidnapped in a cross-border raid by Gaza militants on June 25, 2006, exactly three years ago.
(emphasis mine)

If true, this is wonderful news -- and if Presidents Obama and Mubarak were able to facilitate this, my hat's off to them.

But I'll believe it when I see it. We've been waiting three long years, during which time even the Red Cross was given no proof that Corporal Shalit was alive or dead.

Israelis know better than to get their hopes up, particularly in response to "promises" or "assurances" from -- well, from just about anyone. We'll see.

(I'm intrigued by the nature of the deal that supposedly is being struck here. Is this a negotiation largely between Fatah and Hamas, facilitated by Egypt, with minimal Israeli involvement? Or is this a three-way deal, in which Israel is expected to open border crossings and release prisoners she is holding? I could read this news report either way.)

Stay tuned. But in keeping with the way things often work in the Middle East, my expectation is that we will see -- nothing. Negotiations will break down, we still won't see Corporal Shalit or know anything about his status, and Hamas and Fatah will continue trying to kill Israelis when they aren't too busy killing each other.

If I'm wrong about that, hardly anyone will be more delighted than I.

UPDATE: As of June 26, 2009, still no definitive word -- just talking heads speculating to one another. This detail is new to me, though:
[Hamas] officials have been consistent in their demands to Israel, through Egyptian mediators, that Cpl Shalit only be exchanged for 1,000 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons including several who were behind major suicide attacks that killed dozens of Israelis.
New, but not terribly surprising. The terrorists have not changed their methods. Nor would it surprise me -- although it would distress me greatly -- if Israel agrees to release the 1000 Palestinian prisoners, only to be given in return the remains of a Corporal Shalit who died long ago. (Remember, he has not been seen, except by his captors, for over three years.)

I don't think it's necessary to speculate on the futility of exchanging one kidnapped soldier, the condition of whom is totally unknown, for one thousand criminals and terrorists, every one of whom was convicted in a court of law and whose status is readily available. It seems obvious to me that doing so, however anxious Israel is to get Corporal Shalit back, will only encourage more kidnapping raids, precisely like the one that took Shalit in the first place. Terrorists, like the rest of us, will continue doing what they think works for them.

I will note, however, as I have before, that this shows us what Hamas thinks Palestinian life is worth.

Others have also noted this:
First, it would do good to remind our Arab neighbours and the world about this price whenever someone brings up the "disproportionate" killing of Arabs by Israelis in times of conflict. If the other side is setting a price of 1,000 Arabs for 1 Jew in a prisoner exchange, then they shouldn't complain when, in a war, more Arabs than Jews are killed. If they were to value life as much as we do, then the exchange would be 1 to 1.
I agree.

What I hope will happen -- but I regretfully doubt -- is that, as part of the exchange process, Israel is able (finally!) to find out where Shalit is... and then to take him back by force. (If Hamas wants its own people back badly enough, they are welcome to try the same tactic. They will not be successful.)

UPDATE 2: Israeli Defense Minister Barak has categorically denied that Gilad Shalit is any closer to coming home. According to the same report, Hamas also denies this.



Another Joe-the-Plumber Moment

A lot of people were upset yesterday, when ABC News spent an entire day at the White House, devoting the day's coverage to President Obama's health-care reform proposals. It was seen as an unpaid infomercial for the President -- which is no doubt what it was intended to be, and what in many ways it was. A lot of angry ink was devoted to the need for an impartial press -- one that will make the party in power uncomfortable, not act as its warm and fuzzy mouthpiece.

And I agree with that, as far as it goes. But I think a lot of us underestimated President Obama's tendency to go off script:
Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist and researcher at the New York University Langone Medical Center, said that elites often propose health care solutions that limit options for the general public, secure in the knowledge that if they or their loves ones get sick, they will be able to afford the best care available, even if it's not provided by insurance.

Devinsky asked the president pointedly if he would be willing to promise that he wouldn't seek such extraordinary help for his wife or daughters if they became sick and the public plan he's proposing limited the tests or treatment they can get.

The president refused to make such a pledge, though he allowed that if "it's my family member, if it's my wife, if it's my children, if it's my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care".
We feel the same way about our family members, Mr. President. That's the point.

As Ed Morrissey points out: "If ObamaCare isn’t good enough for Sasha, Malia, or Michelle, then it’s not good enough for America."

This reminds me a lot of the innocent question Joe Wurzelbacher asked then-Senator Obama on the campaign trail -- "do you believe in the American dream?" -- resulting in a lengthy answer that included the magic phrase: "...and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody." That phrase gave Mr. Obama a lot of grief, and Mr. Wurzelbacher was pilloried for getting him to say it -- but it was a moment of truth, wasn't it?

And so is this. If President Obama really believed in his health-care proposals, he'd be willing to pledge to put himself (and his family) on them as well, to serve as an example.

Heck, if he believed in setting a good example, he'd require all members of Congress, and their families, to be on the plan... which would cause Congress to make sure the plan was good before they voted for it. That would demonstrate that passing the plan is less important than making sure it's a good plan... and we're all in favor of that, right?

(UPDATE: I love it when people agree with me.)

- - - - -

Will Dr. Devinsky be demonized for having the temerity to ask the question? Will ABC News? I don't know. But it does seem that, in response to President Obama's wilder proposals, the thing to do is just to keep him talking.

The trick then is to pay attention to what he says... and hold him to it.

(Of course, that's exactly what we need an independent press to do. But ABC still seems to have done the country a service, however inadvertently, by getting President Obama to say -- on live television -- exactly how much he believes in his own plan.)


Friday, June 19, 2009


Hosni Mubarak: Still Singing The Same Tune

I notice that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal. It's long-winded, clearly aimed at a Western audience, and full of pleasant-sounding phrases. But it can be summarized thus: President Obama's Cairo speech opens a new opportunity to push forward for Middle East peace, in particular for the Palestinians, and Egypt stands ready to take its place in this process.

That sounds nice, doesn't it? But as usual, the devil is in the details. Let's take a closer look.

President Barack Obama's seminal address in Cairo marked a turning point in America's relations with the Muslim world. His message was clear and incontrovertible: It is issues of politics and policy, not a clash of values, that separate the Muslim world and America. It is the resolution of these issues that will heal the divide.
Oh, I don't know about that. The Muslim world is overwhelmingly authoritarian, and its decision-makers have no apparent desire to let that change. (Mubarak himself has been re-elected four times by running unopposed, and once more when he briefly allowed opposition candidates. In the Middle East, everywhere except Israel, this is par for the course.)

The United States, by contrast, has had peaceful exchanges of power some 43 times. We've never canceled a national election, we've never failed to have vigorous opposition parties and candidates, and we've never had to fight it out to determine who our next President would be. Moreover, this is not accidental, but an essential part of the system, and Americans are (justifiably) proud of that.

That sounds like a serious clash of values to me.

Or does Mr. Mubarak mean that, with President Obama in office, the Arab world again has an American leader who sees things their way? This, unfortunately, does make a fair bit of sense; see below.

The ambitious agenda outlined by President Obama must now be followed by forward-looking steps in order to chart a new course in America's relationship with the Arab and Muslim world. I look forward to working with the president to achieve that objective.
That sounds pretty good. How, precisely, does Mr. Mubarak propose to overhaul American relations with the Arab world and/or Muslim world? As we'll see in a minute, what Mr. Mubarak really means is that America can now pressure Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on pro-Arab terms. (Since no other issues are mentioned vis-a-vis America and the Muslims, we can infer that this, and only this, is what Mr. Mubarak expects of Mr. Obama. In short: pressure Israel for us, Mr. President, and Arabs will be more friendly to you.)

For decades, the Arab world has been engaged in a process of intense soul-searching as to how to cope with the forces of change in its midst, including the rising expectations of a rapidly growing younger generation, the destabilizing escalation of regional conflicts, and the swelling tide of radicalism and extremism.
This is true as far as it goes, but I don't think it goes quite far enough. He doesn't address the growing desire of Muslims for the right to choose their own governments and run their own lives -- think of Iraq and Lebanon, for example -- and the vested interest of existing governments, his among others, of crushing those desires. Nor does he address the standard technique of unifying the people through demonization of an outside group, which, over time, poisons the national debate and encourages a lack of responsibility on all levels. In the Arab world, the demonized enemy is, of course, Israel, Zionists, and Jews... and Egypt has been a major player in that game for a long time.

Egypt has long been at the forefront of confronting these challenges, whether in being the first to extend our hand for peace with Israel, addressing the dangers posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or confronting the threat of terrorism through the moderation and tolerance at the heart of our religious heritage.
That's not all Egypt has been in the forefront of; see above.

(I'm not clear on what he means by "confronting the threat of terrorism through the moderation and tolerance at the heart of our religious heritage". Presumably he means Muslim religious heritage, not Egyptian; I haven't heard Ra invoked much lately. Still, whatever "moderation and tolerance" can be found in Muslim tradition, that's not the way Egypt has been dealing with terrorism. Egypt's brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, is notorious.)

Through these challenges and beyond, Egypt has engaged in a process of reform that is succeeding in providing greater opportunities for our youth, more empowerment for women, as well as greater pluralism and internal debate. We openly acknowledge that this process still has a way to go in fulfilling our aspirations.
I'll buy the "greater pluralism" comment, insofar as in the last Egyptian national election, Mr. Mubarak actually allowed other candidates to run. I'm not aware of Egypt's contributions to increasing opportunities for Arab youth and Arab women, so I'll give him a pass on that.

The time has come to renew our commitment to address these many challenges. Among the host of challenges before us, it is the Palestinian issue that requires the greatest urgency, given the precarious state of the peace process after years of stalemate. President Obama has shown a willingness to lead to achieve peace in the Middle East; the Arab world must reciprocate with forthright leadership of its own.
Remember what I said a moment ago about demonizing outsiders to distract from local problems? Here Mr. Mubarak, having listed issues facing Egypt as "pluralism and internal debate", "empowerment of women", and "greater opportunities for youth", he naturally concludes that the most urgent of these is the Palestinian issue.

Despite the setbacks of the last few years, it is important to remember that many of the elements of a solution have already been negotiated.
This is nonsense. It is, however, a time-honored debating tactic -- close off debate on a thorny issue by claiming that the issue has already been settled. (Your opponent therefore must start out by defending the right to address the issue at all. We've seen this tactic before, of course; it's analogous to the way Israel is forced to start all discussions by defending her right to exist.)

Read on down, and we'll see which issues have, in Mr. Mubarak's mind, already been settled.

After nearly two decades of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since the initiation of the Oslo peace process, many of the details of a final settlement are well known. Furthermore, the Arab Peace Initiative, adopted at the Beirut summit of 2002, provides a regional framework for such a settlement. For the first time in the history of the conflict, the Arab states unanimously committed to full normalization and security for Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue.
Please note that, by implication, Mr. Mubarak is advancing the Arab Peace Initiative and equating it to the "well-known" details of a final settlement. Therefore, we could have peace, he suggests, if only we could skip the negotiations and just force Israel to accept the Arab position on all issues.

Obviously, that's unreasonable on the face of it. The details of the proposal are equally unreasonable from the Israeli point of view -- withdraw completely from all territories seized by Israel in 1967, from which Israel had been attacked repeatedly and mercilessly from 1949 through 1967; then, within the well-nigh indefensible pre-1967 borders, require Israel to nonetheless absorb millions of self-declared Palestinian refugees, thereby effectively destroying what is left of Israel.

Most Israelis generally see the demand to withdraw to pre-1967 borders as an attempt, by the Arab world, to fight the 1967 war over again, preferably with Israel hamstrung and handcuffed. Mr. Mubarak has done nothing to contest that notion.

The road to a final settlement will now require leadership and concerted effort from all sides. Over the last few years, Egypt has worked exhaustively to unite the Palestinian leadership in a manner that upholds their commitment to a negotiated two-state solution. Egypt has also tried to broker a durable cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, in parallel with our mediation on a prisoner exchange. During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Egypt last month I renewed our commitment to resume these efforts.
In other words, Egypt's demands on the Palestinians have been that they present a united front. This is tame indeed compared to what they demand of Israel... and, as we'll see in a moment, Mr. Mubarak's demands of Israel are not done.

These steps must now be joined with a serious process to negotiate a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The priority should be to resolve the permanent borders of a sovereign and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, based on the 1967 lines, as this would unlock most of the other permanent status issues, including settlements, security, water and Jerusalem.
This certainly would unlock most of the other permanent status issues, in that it makes many of them moot.

Please note also that Mr. Mubarak is not merely advocating a withdrawal of all territories seized by Israel in 1967; he wants more than that! He insists on a territorially contiguous Palestinian state, which would effectively cut Israel in half. Take a good look at the pre-1967 borders; imagine a "territorially contiguous" Palestinian state that includes Gaza and the West Bank.

In other words, he doesn't merely want to turn back the clock to 1967; he wants to undo Israel's gains from the 1948 war as well.

Success of these negotiations will depend on firm commitments from both sides to uphold the credibility of the process. Israel's relentless settlement expansion, which has seriously eroded the prospects for a two-state solution, must cease, together with its closure of Gaza. For their part, the Palestinians must continue to develop their institutional capacity while overcoming their division to achieve their aspirations for statehood.
There it is again -- Egypt's demands of the two sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition to everything else he's demanded of Israel, Israel must also cease settlement expansion. (This is a catch-phrase President Obama has adopted enthusiastically; since Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has already said that he doesn't intend to start any new settlements, this means that existing ones shouldn't build anything new on land they already own.) Israel must also open the blockade of Gaza (which never applied to food, fuel, and humanitarian supplies in the first place; the idea was to keep weapons out, which presumably does not meet with the approval of Mr. Mubarak).

In return, the Palestinians, says Mr. Mubarak, must "continue to develop their institutional capacity" (which institutions, pray tell? Would Hamas bomb-making and missile-launching classes qualify?), as well as "overcoming their divisions". In other words, stop your internal squabbling, but otherwise keep doing what you're doing.

That, of course, would include Palestinian terrorism, a glaring omission in this pleasant-sounding editorial. Mubarak never calls for Palestinian terrorism to stop, or even to slow down. Presumably that means that he expects Israel to negotiate in good faith while her citizens are being kidnapped and murdered.

While full normalization with Israel can only result from a comprehensive settlement including the Syrian, Lebanese as well as Palestinian track, the Arab side stands ready to reciprocate serious steps towards peace undertaken by Israel.
Loose translation: "Peace with the Palestinians still doesn't automatically mean peace with Syria, Lebanon, or other Arab nations. But if Israel will take the suicidal steps we demand, the Arab nations will 'reciprocate' with some as-yet-undefined steps of their own."

A historic settlement is within reach, one that would give the Palestinians their state and freedom from occupation while granting Israel recognition and security to live in peace. With President Obama's reassertion of U.S. leadership in the region, a rare moment of opportunity presents itself. Egypt stands ready to seize that moment, and I am confident that the Arab world will do the same.
Please note: the Gaza Strip is free of occupation right now. This has not brought Israel 'recognition', nor 'security to live in peace'. Hamas' response to Israel's historic uprooting of tens of thousands of her own citizens in 2005 was, as we know, daily rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, more than eight thousand of them in less than four years. Nor does Hamas recognize Israel now, any more than it did before Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip.

Recently Hamas allowed as how, if Israel retreated to the pre-1967 borders, Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within those borders, and offer Israel a "long-term hudna", in exchange for Israeli recognition of "Palestinian national rights". That term, of course, could easily encompass the demand for Palestinian refugees to be resettled in Israel after the withdrawal; it could encompass other as-yet-unspecified demands as well.

(Please note that, in 2005, Israel did retreat to the pre-1967 borders of the Gaza Strip. In a rational world, we might have expected the Palestinians to therefore establish a peaceful border there, since they'd gotten what they were asking for, although the West Bank boundary might continue to be problematic. But that's not what happened. In fact, the West Bank, where Israel still retains military authority, has been much quieter and more peaceful since 2005 than the Gaza Strip, where first Fatah and then Hamas had control. In other words, Israel has a pretty good idea what would happen if she withdrew to the pre-1967 borders, because she's already done it!)

Here's a final question: Egypt, says Mr. Mubarak, "stands ready to seize [the] moment" to advance peace, as he sees it. He does not say, at any time, what Egypt is prepared to do, other than talk. Should we find this disturbing... or comforting?


Monday, June 15, 2009


Enemy of the World

Michael Totten has an article in Commentary Magazine that's so good, I'm having difficulty excerpting it because there's nothing I'm willing to cut out.

Here's the opener:
The Islamic Republic regime in Iran is vividly revealing itself as an enemy of the entire world.

“Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s police and the Basij militia are using violence and terror to suppress the Iranian people at home. His terrorist proxies fire missiles at Israel while torturing, maiming, and murdering Palestinians. He sponsored a violent coup d’etat against the elected government in Beirut last year with his Hezbollah militia. He sponsors a terrorist insurgency against the elected government of Iraq, while his fanatical proxies shoot and kill American soldiers. A car bomb cell belonging to the regime’s Lebanese franchise was recently arrested in Azerbaijan, and more cells were rolled up in Egypt. Terrorists sponsored and encouraged by him and his predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini, have murdered civilians from Argentina to Japan.

The regime’s only allies in the world are terrorist armies and Bashar Assad’s Baath Party state in Syria. Assad himself, like Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, is a pariah among the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Kurds, Azeris, and Israelis who make up the region.

Iranian civilians risk violent beatings and worse by the thousands for standing up to the regime in the streets and treating it as the enemy it clearly is. There is no better time for the rest of us to do so, as well, especially since such gestures carry far less risk for us. The Pasdaran have no divisions in Washington, Paris, or London.

Please do read the whole thing.

UPDATE: My buddy the Sandmonkey theorizes that the elections in Iran -- which show strong signs of being rigged (surprise!), and the resulting (almost unprecedented) mass anti-government protests, could be the beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic of Iran. (I don't think we're that lucky. I hope I'm wrong.) He also says that, if Iran implodes over this, "
then Obama is officially the luckiest bastard alive." (I've always liked his approach to political correctness.)

Will President Obama be let off the hook, not having to deal with a nuclear Iran because the Iranians take care of it themselves? Probably not; as I understand it, Mousavi, the other major candidate, was also very much in favor of a nuclear Iran. Nonetheless, if the Iranian nuclear threat can be defused without war, I'm in favor of it. And if that makes Mr. Obama lucky, well, the United States needs lucky presidents, right?


Friday, June 12, 2009


Rev. Wright Clarifies

From ABC News:

Rev. Wright: I Meant to Say “Zionists” Are Keeping Me from Talking to President Obama -- Not Jews

Gee, thanks, Reverend... that makes me feel a whole lot better.

You're a little behind the times, I'm afraid. That excuse -- "I'm not anti-Jew, I'm anti-Zionist" -- was old hat in the eighties. Besides, if the reason for your backtracking is to claim that you're not antisemitic, let's just say that, as a person who gets confused about the distinction between Jews and Zionists, you have no leg to stand on here.

(In case either of my readers are confused on this issue: a Jew is someone who was born into the faith or converted to it. A Zionist is someone dedicated to the preservation and protection of the State of Israel. I am a Jew and a Zionist; Noam Chomsky is a Jew but not a Zionist; Walid Shoebat is a Zionist but is not Jewish; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is neither a Jew nor a Zionist. All clear?)

Rev. Wright further muddies the waters in his anti-Zionist diatribe by saying: "I quote Jews when I say this". Big deal; finding anti-Zionist Jews is not difficult. (Heck, finding antisemitic Jews isn't that hard either.)

Is Rev. Wright being dishonest, or just lazy? In the latter case, he'd have a much better argument by saying "I quote Zionists to bolster my anti-Zionist argument"... which he could certainly do. (There are people dedicated to the preservation if Israel who condemn Israel's recent actions in Gaza, Israel's treatment of Palestinians in general, and so on. Some of them are high-ranking officers in the Israeli military.)

If he's being dishonest, of course, then it doesn't matter if his argument makes sense or not; it only matters if it sounds good.

Oh, and just for the record: Reverend, it's not the Jews or the Zionists that keep you from speaking to President Obama. It's your poisonous opinions and speeches, which you seem unable or unwilling to change; disassociating from them is actually a very reasonable thing for President Obama -- or anyone! -- to do.

In short, the one most responsible for distancing you from the President is yourself. Too bad.


Monday, June 08, 2009


Egypt Bans marriage To Israelis

Hard to believe, isn't it? When was the last time a sovereign country outlawed marriages to citizens of another sovereign country?
“This is an historic ruling,” al-Wahsh said to reporters after the ruling. “Egyptians married to Israelis are dangerous to Egypt’s national security, acting in ways that contradict the constitution of their country and Islamic laws,” he said.
As Solomonia points out, an important detail here is that it's a popular ruling. The judge was responding to what the people seem to want:
Calls flooded into TV talk shows discussing the verdict and readers posted comments on Web sites of newspapers that wrote about it.

Everyone appeared united in elation at the ruling, as well as in hatred of the Jewish state and everything that related to it, even if it was originally Egyptian.

Can these people point to a single case of anti-Egyptian espionage coming from an Egyptian-Israeli marriage? I highly doubt it.

And once again, as has often occurred with respect to Egypt, Israelis are left wondering: if this is the treatment we get from the countries that do sign a peace treaty with us, then why did we bother?

And on top of all that, this appears to be a manufactured issue in the first place:
It is not clear whether the Egyptian government will enforce the ruling against Israeli-Egyptian marriages, but it seems to have quenched the thirst of millions here for an action against Israel.

“[These marriages] would usher in a new generation of people who would help Israel implement its imperialistic desires in this region in general and in Egypt in particular,” said Ibrahim al-Enani, a professor of international law from Cairo. “This court ruling doesn’t contradictwith either Egypt’s constitution or international laws,” he added.

Ironically, what might have been missed by the judges who passed the ruling is that most Egyptians living in Israel are married to Israeli women with Arab origins. These people speak the same language as the Egyptians and sometimes also share their same faith.

But in their desire to pour their anger at anything that might represent Israel, the judges and al-Wahsh, who filed the case months ago, did not bring that distinction to the table.

(emphasis mine)

I haven't seen this story picked up much. Still, the LA Times has some additional details.


Friday, June 05, 2009


Pres. Obama's Cairo Speech

Well, I wasn't expecting this...

As Professor Glenn puts it: "They told me that if I voted for McCain, we’d get a President whose speeches on Islam were praised at Hot Air and criticized at the HuffPo. And they were right!"

I think the Huffington Post is getting increasingly disillusioned with the President not living up to the expectations set in his campaign. (That's natural; I doubt anybody could live up to all people expected of Barack Obama.) Contrariwise, Hot Air has pretty low expectations of him in the first place, so a speech with some teeth in it was a pleasant surprise.

Surprisingly for me, I agree with many of the criticisms of the Huffington Post. President Obama was in Cairo to address the Muslim world, and he spoke mostly in platitudes. That's not how that part of the world works. In a democracy, it can make sense to address the people; in a repressive regime, speaking to the people accomplishes nothing, unless you're also prepared to help jump-start a revolution.

To get results from a dictatorship, one must address the leaders and decision-makers... and they will tend to respond better to actions than to words. (They are very adept at speaking words that mean nothing.) This President Obama did not do; more on that in a minute.

I also noted a few things in the Cairo speech that took me by surprise. (I'll confess that I read it; I didn't watch it or listen to it.) In a classic example of "being all things to all people", President Obama stated flatly "I am a Christian" to a Muslim audience -- just moments after speaking like a Muslim when he said "As the Holy Koran tells us, 'Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.'" He's including himself as a recipient of wisdom from the Holy Koran; to a Muslim who wants to believe that Obama is also a Muslim, this amounts to vindication.

Let me add that this is not just classic Obama-speak, but it's also typical of the Koran. If you want to preach that the Koran is a book of peace and tolerance, quote this: "...If anyone killed a person not in retaliation for murder or to spread mischief in the land, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind. And (likewise) if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the whole of mankind" (Surah Al-Maaida 5:32). If you'd rather preach jihad, this might be more to your liking: "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, torture them, lie in wait and ambush them using every strategem of war." (Surah 9:5)

It's a clever tactic in both cases. If you tell all sides what they want to hear, everyone will be happy... at least, until you actually have to do something. (It's a lot harder to please everyone with actions than it is with words.) Unless your audience goes to the trouble to seek out the contradictions in your words, you will have pleased everybody and promised nothing.

This has worked very well for President Obama, because his audiences are usually so pleased when he agrees with them that they don't notice when he agrees with their opponents. And it works for the Koran as well; out of a sense of tolerance, we feel obliged to accept the Koran as the Holy Book of the Muslims, meaning that we must take it as a whole -- the parts that preach peace and the parts that preach jihad.

But if one looks carefully, one sees that the words are just words. President Obama didn't promise to do anything as a Christian, or as a Muslim; he said that advancing the cause of understanding between the West and the Muslim world was a priority for him, but he didn't say how he planned to achieve it. Similarly, he spoke some strong words about the need to recognize Israel and the rights of its citizens (on the one hand), and the intolerable effects of occupation upon the Palestinians (on the other hand); but speaking as President, as the ultimate spokesman of America in the world, he didn't promise to do anything about it. He said a lot about what Israel must do, and what the Palestinians must do, and what the Arab world must do, but he didn't take the responsibility of action for himself.

Perhaps the President thinks that, by inspiring the people of the world to think as he does, the cause of peace will be advanced. If so, he'd do well to remember that actions speak louder than words... and lots of loud words are not a substitute for action.

I haven't taken the trouble to dissect the speech in detail; others have, and have been less than pleased. Yid With Lid has some harsh things to say about the details; others saw the bigger picture.

UPDATE: Mark Steyn, as is his wont, does not mince words: "That sound you heard in Cairo is the tingy ping of a hollow superpower."

UPDATE 2: I hate to display my geekish credentials, but I must...

Readers of Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy may remember the charismatic character Salvor Hardin. At one point, early in the first book, he follows several politicians around, records everything they say, and then feeds it all into a device called a "semantic analyzer", which eliminates all the double-talk, self-contradictions, and meaningless statements.

The results are illuminating. One politician, as I recall, thereby has his words reduced to: "You'll give us what we want, or else we'll beat the hell out of you and then take it anyway". And another politician, once he had the meaningless goo filtered out of his words, was left with... nothing. As Hardin explained: "Gentlemen, in five days of talks, this man didn't say one damned thing -- and he said it so that none of you noticed."

I have long wished for such a device. Certainly it would have proved useful in Cairo.

(The Asimov quotes are off the cuff; my apologies if I'm misremembering.)


Thursday, June 04, 2009


One of the Largest Muslim Countries?

Power Line
cites one of President Obama's recent malapropisms: "And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world".

At first I didn't think it was that serious a misstatement, unless you see it as part of a bigger pattern. (I didn't think it was a big deal when he implied that America had 57 states either.)

On the other hand, a slip of the tongue by a candidate on the campaign trail, while speaking to Americans, is quite different than an unintended show of international support, by the President, on the world stage. Does it help us, or hurt us, when the President of the United States claims that America is a Muslim country? I have my own opinion on that... and no doubt the President does too, if he thought about it in advance.

Given that our sworn enemies have declared their goal of making the whole world Islamic -- and given that the United States is not a Muslim country now, nor has it ever been one -- it makes me decidedly uncomfortable when the President says that it is to an Islamic audience. (In particular, he has to twist the definition of "Muslim country" all out of shape to do it.) Perhaps this is not "giving comfort to the enemy", but it feels uncomfortably close.

So, did the President think in advance about the consequences of saying what he did? Or was he thinking on his feet, and just saying something he thought might sound good? I'm not very happy about it either way.

By the way, as Don Surber points out, the New York Times reported the statement as straight news. No fact checking was necessary, apparently, although the statement is obviously wrong to anyone who knows anything about the Muslim world.

How wrong is it? Wikipedia lists the United States in 52nd place -- at least today they do. (That's by number of Muslims; if you go by percentages, the United States is a lot further down than that.) The United States is therefore outranked by such "Muslim countries" as Russia (#17), China (#19), France (#40), and Germany (#50) -- all of which, by the way, also have higher percentages of Muslims than America does.

Michael Ramirez has the right idea. If anything, perhaps he understates the case:

To be fair, a number of incidents are being conflated here. President Obama said it when speaking to France's Canal Plus, not to Saudi Arabian King Abdullah. And he did say that "...we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation", but that was in Turkey a month ago.

Interesting, though, isn't it, that he can say, in part, that America does not consider itself a Muslim nation, and then a month later say that America can be considered, not just a Muslim country, but one of the largest? If that's not being all things to all people, I don't know what is.

UPDATE: Is the statement part of a bigger pattern? Your guess is as good as mine. But Jake Tapper, of ABC News, notes that President Obama is increasingly comfortable referring to his own Muslim roots -- a topic that was utterly verboten less than a year ago, during the campaign.

Let's not address, here and now, the conspiracy theories about President Obama being a "stealth Muslim" and a Manchurian candidate, nor the theories about his not being American-born. (It is noteworthy, in my opinion, that the President could dispell these and other rumors easily if he wanted; he has not done so. But that's not evidence.)

Instead, let's just note that we have here a politician who silences a topic on the campaign trail, implying strongly that it's racism even to bring it up... and then brings it up himself, more and more, once he's in the White House. Maybe that looks like "hope and change" to you; to me, it looks very much like Politics As Usual.

Note also Toby Harnden's excellent piece in the London Times. He points out that it's actually not clearly known how many Muslims there are in the United States. So perhaps America is in 24th place, or 34th, or 48th. He also notes the irony that Israel may have more Muslims than America does.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009


On Honoring Past Commitments

Seven times the question was posed - a question that could be answered “yes” or “no” (and that in fact has only one appropriate answer) - and seven times the spokesman declined to answer whether the administration stood by the explicit commitments given to Israel when it turned over Gaza to advance the “peace process.” Now the administration wants Israel to commit, in advance of negotiations, to do it all over again in the West Bank, in return for new paper promises, just as the U.S. reneges on its prior ones.
Read the whole thing for the precise transcript. It reads like Abbott & Costello's "Who's On First" routine.

Can we give the Obama Administration the benefit of the doubt here? I'd sorely like to do that. But unless the Administration comes out soon -- very soon -- with an admission that, yes, it does consider itself bound by the commitments of past administrations, including the commitment in question here -- then other countries will just assume that, no, the United States does not honor its past commitments. (At that point, it won't much matter if the Administration answers the question; the trust will have been lost, and will need to be re-earned the hard way.)

As many others have pointed out: If you don't honor yesterday's commitments, how on Earth can you expect anyone to trust the commitments you make today?

If President Obama truly believes that he is not bound by the commitments of a Republican Administration -- which were upheld by Congress, at that -- then it follows inevitably that future Administrations won't be bound by his commitments... meaning that his promises to other countries are backed by nothing at all.

Nor will this achieve what President Obama seems to want. As Noah Pollak ably explains, if Israel cannot count on the United States to honor its past commitments, then Israel will likely go it alone -- and has the wherewithal to do so. If, as Mr. Pollak suggests, the Obama Administration thinks it can pressure Israel by withholding arms sales, this too will backfire. In extremis, Israel will use its military hardware while it still works... and implement its own foreign policy, with no need to placate the United States first.

(Do you think Israel would never launch an attack -- against, say, Iranian nuclear facilities -- against the direct demands of the United States? Think again. Israel's very survival is at stake here, and she knows it. Then, too, Israel has done it before; remember the USS Liberty?)

As a less-extreme case, let's remember that, yes, Israel has been dependent on the United States for her weapons purchases for a long time -- since 1967, in fact, when France started reneging on her past commitments. But Israel has also manufactured her own weapons, to her own specifications, from battle rifles to tanks to fully-functional warplanes. Having to go it alone would be a severe economic hardship on Israel, to be sure... but Israel has known extreme economic hardship before.

I have yet to understand President Obama's apparent policy of placating enemies and alienating friends. Does he really think that courting the murderous terrorists of Hamas and Fatah, while stiffing America's longest and most loyal ally in the Middle East, will achieve anything positive? In a larger sense, does he think that making friends of Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, and so forth will somehow make up for the friends he loses elsewhere?

And does he not realize that, if he allows himself the luxury of abandoning past agreements with American allies, subsequent Administrations can do the same to his agreements? And does he not see how damaging this is to the United States?

As I said, I very much hope that President Obama will understand that prior commitments must be kept -- for America's sake. Right now it doesn't look as though he does.

UPDATE: Dore Gold, formerly Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, expresses this far better:
Many observers are surprised to learn that settlement activity was not defined as a violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords or their subsequent implementation agreements. If the U.S. is now seeking to constrain Israeli settlement activity, it is essentially trying to obtain additional Israeli concessions that were not formally required according to Israel's legal obligations under the Oslo Accords.

Given the fact that the amount of territory taken up by the built-up areas of all the settlements in the West Bank is estimated to be 1.7 percent of the territory, the marginal increase in territory that might be affected by natural growth is infinitesimal. Moreover, since Israel unilaterally withdrew 9,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the argument that a settler presence will undermine a future territorial compromise has lost much of its previous force.

Disturbingly, on June 1, 2009, the State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, refused to answer repeated questions about whether the Obama administration viewed itself as legally bound by the April 2004 Bush letter to Sharon on defensible borders and settlement blocs. It would be better to obtain earlier clarification of that point, rather than having both countries expend their energies over an issue that may not be the real underlying source of their dispute.
Read the whole thing.

UPDATE 2: Eliott Abrams has an interesting piece in the June 26, 2009 Wall Street Journal: Hillary Is Wrong About the Settlements. Here's an excerpt:
In recent weeks, American officials have denied that any agreement on settlements existed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on June 17 that "in looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility."

These statements are incorrect. Not only were there agreements, but the prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation -- the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank. This was the first time Israel had ever removed settlements outside the context of a peace treaty, and it was a major step.

It is true that there was no U.S.-Israel "memorandum of understanding," which is presumably what Mrs. Clinton means when she suggests that the "official record of the administration" contains none. But she would do well to consult documents like the Weissglas letter, or the notes of the Aqaba meeting, before suggesting that there was no meeting of the minds.

Mrs. Clinton also said there were no "enforceable" agreements. This is a strange phrase. How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?

Regardless of what Mrs. Clinton has said, there was a bargained-for exchange. Mr. Sharon was determined to break the deadlock, withdraw from Gaza, remove settlements -- and confront his former allies on Israel's right by abandoning the "Greater Israel" position to endorse Palestinian statehood and limits on settlement growth. He asked for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze.

For reasons that remain unclear, the Obama administration has decided to abandon the understandings about settlements reached by the previous administration with the Israeli government. We may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist.
Well, actually, yes we can... but it would not speak well for us if we did. Nor does it speak well for us if, as American policy, all treaties and agreements must be re-negotiated every time the White House changes hands.

The obvious result of that will be for other countries to resist trusting us with anything -- anything at all -- if there's an election coming up. And the consequence of that should be clear; in the United States, there's always an election coming up.


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