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Truth or Dare: China's Leader Asks for 'Sharp Criticism'

Last Wednesday, China’s new leader went looking for advice. “The CPC should be able to put up with sharp criticism, correct mistakes if it has committed them and avoid them if it has not,” said Xi Jinping, referring to the Communist Party of China. “Non-CPC personages should meanwhile have the courage to tell the truth, speak words jarring on the ear, and truthfully reflect public aspirations.”

Did Xi, in just a few words, overturn decades of Chinese Communist thinking on social control? Just about no one thinks so. “Sharp criticism?” asked Zhang Xing, a Beijing lawyer. “We cannot even comment on news reports, let alone make sharp criticism.” Zhang, like many others, suggests the party is “enticing the snake out of its cave.”

The Power of Resignation

One of my favorite lines, thus far anyway, concerning Pope Benedict’s surprise resignation comes from Italian parliamentarian Alessandra Mussolini, a really good-looking woman despite being, yes, the granddaughter of the pulchritude-challenged Il Duce.  Much of her facial good fortune owes something to the other side of her family: she is also Sophia Loren’s niece. However, there her genetic triumph both begins and ends. Mussolini is—how to put this gently?—not a genius. For example back in 2003, when the leader of the Italian fascist party abruptly performed a surprise turnaround, denouncing fascism as “the absolute evil,” Mussolini swiftly left that party in disgust.

Now she wishes to share her views on the pope.

Egypt's Refuseniks

Here’s something you don’t see every day:

Hundreds of low-ranking policemen in Egypt are holding protests to demand they not be used as a tool for political oppression in the country's ongoing turmoil.

Dozens of policemen rallied Tuesday outside local security administration headquarters in at least 10 provinces. Some of them carried signs reading, "we are innocent of the blood of the martyrs."

These little demonstrations aren't likely to have much, if any, effect, but they're still nice to see. More, please.

So Much for All That

Libya isn’t the only post-revolutionary country in North Africa that’s collapsing. Egypt is too.

Here is Lee Smith in the Weekly Standard:

This week marks the second anniversary of the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Two years after the refrain “the people want to topple the regime” filled Tahrir Square, it is now Egypt itself that is toppling. Street violence has pitted various groups against each other—anarchists against Islamists, policemen against protesters, men against women—and has left scores dead throughout the country.

The economy is hemorrhaging reserves and incapable of securing foreign investment, while Egypt’s currency tumbles to record lows. The international community, captivated two years ago by the revolution, has little confidence that Egypt’s new rulers can make peace between the country’s feuding factions. If the conventional wisdom among Western policymakers holds that Egypt is too big to be allowed to fail, the stark reality is that by many measures it is already failing.

[…]

During his tour of Cairo, Ahmadinejad was accosted by a Sunni Islamist who rapped him on the head with his shoe in a piece of Middle Eastern political theater that illuminates the key differences between Egypt and Iran. To be sure, the ruling regimes of the two countries share an abiding hatred of Israel, but the more important issue for both right now is the civil war in Syria, where Tehran needs to prop up Bashar al-Assad and Cairo is sickened by his regime, which has targeted tens of thousands of fellow Sunnis for death. Moreover, Iran has put Morsi in an awkward position by continuing to send arms to Hamas through the Sinai. As much as Morsi may want to join Hamas’s war against Israel, he can’t lest he forfeit American and European backing. There is no alternative superpower for Cairo to turn to. Inasmuch as Morsi is tied to Washington’s apronstrings, Iran’s active support of Hamas only highlights his impotence.

The good news regarding Egypt is brief, but noteworthy: Those forecasts auguring from the entrails of Mubarak’s demise the birth of a universal Muslim Brotherhood-run caliphate stretching from North Africa to the Persian Gulf were off by a very wide mark. The Islamist organization, which has been building its political base and waiting in the shadows to take power since its 1928 founding, turns out to be incapable even of governing Egypt.

Contrary to the reading of many Western academics, the Brotherhood did not win the presidency because of its long history of grassroots work, its social activism, or its political acumen and organization. Rather it came to rule Egypt simply because everyone else—from the secularists and liberals who kicked off the revolution to the military—was that much more incompetent. The fearful notion, still held by many in the West, that the Brotherhood plots to own the hearts and minds of the world’s billion-plus Muslims comports not with reality but only with the Brotherhood’s preening and now patently absurd self-image. Under Morsi’s stewardship, the Muslim Brotherhood model has been shown to produce poverty, hunger, instability, and violent internal conflict. Who among the umma would seek to unify under such a banner?

Soviet-Style Imperialism & the Ukrainian Language

An important new book by the distinguished University of Vienna linguist Michael Moser promises to be the definitive account of the anti-Ukrainian language policies of the Yanukovych regime. Entitled Language Policy and Discourse on Languages in Ukraine under President Viktor Janukovyč, 25 February 2010–28 October 2012, Moser’s monograph is slated for publication as part of the “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” series with Ibidem Press in Germany. Professor Moser is the author of eight books and a specialist on the Slavic languages in general and Ukrainian in particular.

The book begins with a short overview of the Ukrainian language’s historical development and treatment by both the Russian czarist and Soviet regimes. In particular, during the Soviet period:

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Assessing Israel's Strike on Syria

Last week saw what might have been the first incursion by Israeli warplanes into Syria airspace in six years. The strike took place on Wednesday (January 30th), and by week’s end, unnamed US and Israeli officials were claiming that the Israel Air Force had hit a convoy of Russian-made SA-17 antiaircraft batteries, plus other “game changing” munitions, en route to Lebanon. By Sunday, Israel’s defense minister seemed to confirm the reports of his country’s involvement in the attack, but that hardly answered all the questions swirling around last Wednesday’s events.

Shooting at the Neighbors

Three years ago I interviewed an Israeli man on the Golan Heights who fought in Lebanon in the 1980s.

“I can’t understand that place,” he told me. “The Christians and Druze were shooting each other. They weren’t shooting at us, they were shooting each other. Most of the time they seemed to get along perfectly fine, but then Thursday or Monday would come along and they’d fight. Why? Why did they think their lives would get better if they shot at the neighbors?”   

Some things never change.

Lebanon’s Christians and Druze aren’t shooting each other today. Now it’s Lebanon’s Sunnis and Alawites who are shooting each other as the Syrian civil war sends shock waves through the region.

My pal Darius Bazargan produced and narrated a BBC documentary about the fighting in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, the second largest in the country. Tripoli has none of the polish and cosmopolitanism of Beirut, yet it’s rife with the sectarian violence and darkness and rising Islamism of Syria.

Darius and I argue sometimes, and we’ve argued right here in the comment section of this blog, but he’s a good guy and he does good work and I urge everyone to watch his new film. Don’t hope for a happy ending, though, because there is not one.

Big News in Tunisia

A Tunisian opposition leader was just assassinated, presumably by an Islamist, and massive demonstrations have broken out all over the place, the biggest since the revolution. The headquarters of Ennahda—the sort-of-but-not-exactly “moderate” Islamist party—was set on fire. So the government dissolved itself, appointed technocrat stand-ins, and promises speedy elections.

Tunisia has all sorts of serious problems, but I can’t imagine the Egyptian government—and obviously not the Syrian government—handling a crisis by firing itself. 

How Should the US Respond to China's Cyber Attacks?

Last week, the Associated Press reported that the National Intelligence Council is working on a new National Intelligence Estimate that will point the finger at the Chinese government for a multi-year campaign of cyberattacks against American networks. The estimate, according to the wire service, will call for more effective action against Beijing.

The news comes on the heels of a series of revelations that Chinese hackers have been reading e-mails of New York Times reporters as well as attacking the computer systems of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Reports also suggest the Chinese have hacked Twitter and the Department of Energy.

Resurrecting Stalin — Again

Russia’s ruling regime is persisting in its attempts to rehabilitate the name of Joseph Stalin. For Vladimir Putin, this has been a consistent course—from the reinstated melody of Stalin’s national anthem to new school textbooks justifying Stalin’s mass purges as “adequate to the task of modernization.” In 2010, as Russia marked the 65th anniversary of victory in the Second World War, the authorities attempted to “decorate” the streets of Moscow with portraits of the dictator—but were forced to back down in the face of strong opposition from veterans, civil society groups, and the Russian Orthodox Church.

North Korea Rattles Nuclear Sabers

When North Korea’s Kim Jon-un recently proclaimed that South Korea was the nuclear-capable dictatorship’s next target, the people in South Korea’s capital city let out a collective yawn. Yet Seoul lays a mere 30 miles from the North’s battle-ready garrisons, just on the other side of the demilitarized zone—that narrow swath of land that has divided the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War.

But while that divide may separate the two geographically, many in the democratic south consider that the strip of land is transcended by the ancient blood relationship that joins the two sides. One expert told me, “They are our blood brothers.” And that is one of several reasons why many here believe that, in spite of the bluster and even the occasional armed confrontation, their North Korean kin will never follow through on Kim’s bellicose threats.

Women on the Front Lines in the Middle East

With all the to-do over the US military’s decision to allow women in combat, it’s worth noting that women of other nations are already on the front lines in the Middle East and elsewhere—even if they’re not in uniform.

No, this is not where I defer to sexy media photos of young female protesters courageously defying government tanks in recent Arab unrest, despite the bravery on display.

This is about a far more undercover conflict: the fight over female identity in Arab and Muslim societies. What does that mean? That means family dinner conversations about mom’s participation in political protests, for example; it means little girls starting to tell little boys it’s not okay to hit them; it means young ladies asking why they’re still making their brothers’ beds for them.

Confronting Morsi's Blind Spot

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s president, is an unbelievable man—in both senses of that word. Last month, the New York Times called him out for virulent anti-Semitic remarks in a speech he gave three years ago.

In it, Morsi characterized Jews as “these bloodsuckers who attack Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.” He advised Egyptians to “nurse our children and grandchildren on hatred” of Jews and Zionists.

In my own research a few weeks earlier, I found that, two years ago, he remarked that Egypt’s treaty with Israel “talked about a just and comprehensive peace and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Where is that peace, and where is that state?” And he called on the Egyptian Parliament to review the treaty.

The Superpower Takes a Breather

My latest piece in the Wall Street Journal is up and it's outside the paywall.

France just smashed al Qaeda in Mali with little more than moral support from the United States. Washington didn't even lead from behind. Americans did not lead at all. This time we sat on the sidelines while France—France!—led and did everything from the front.

Last winter the entire northern part of the northwest African country was seized by Ansar al-Dine and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, who together transformed it into a Taliban-style terrorist state. The famous ancient trading city of Timbuktu—long a mecca for adventurous tourists and the host of an annual international music festival—became a grotesque, hand-chopping tyranny that hemorrhaged violence and refugees.

The international community dithered for almost a year, as if an al Qaeda state isn't all that big a deal. But when the Islamists began expanding south toward the capital and took the city of Gao, France dispatched its war planes and ground troops and threw the bad guys out in a matter of weeks. Its fighter jets are currently pounding terrorist camps deep in the Sahara near the Algerian border.

President François Hollande visited Timbuktu over the weekend and was hailed as a liberator by throngs of residents, including imams, yelling "Vive la France!"

The French sure have come a long way from the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" of yesteryear. A Canadian friend and colleague who wholeheartedly approves of what happened now jokingly refers to Americans as "burger-eating surrender monkeys."

Of course, Americans didn't actually surrender to anyone. We were hardly even involved in Mali. And it's not, as some love to think, because the world has become post-American. The U.S. remains the only country on earth that can project massive amounts of power for an extended period of time anywhere on the planet. The superpower is simply taking a breather. The fact that most of us, Democrat and Republican alike, feel like taking a break from it all doesn't mean we're flat on our collective back like Russia when the Soviet Union imploded.

The hypercautious Obama administration is temporary, as is the current war-weary American mood. We'll be back.

No one bothers with the idea that history is over these days, least of all the conflict with Islamists. Osama bin Laden is dead, but al Qaeda is wreaking havoc all over the Middle East and North Africa. It's only a matter of time before they mess with us again in a way that we can't blow off, especially if they've convinced themselves that our little break means we're not as powerful as we used to be. They underestimated us before, and they're bound to do it again, especially after we withdraw from Afghanistan.

The American superpower is an original. It's reluctant and self-doubting. Most Americans just aren't that into it. Policing the world is deadly, expensive, exhausting and thankless. France can unilaterally invade a former colony like Mali and endure nary a peep, but anti-American protests break out all over the place whenever the U.S. intervenes anywhere, even with authorization from the U.N. Security Council.

Strutting around the world like a colossus doesn't appeal to anything in the American soul. We do it because somebody has to, because we can, and because most of us sense instinctively that we'll wake up in a different world if Russia and China take over the job.

France stepped up in Mali for a similar reason. Because somebody had to, because Americans didn't feel like it, and because the French could.

Washington was relieved. Americans don't worry about waking up in a different and darker world if France calls a few shots internationally. The French share American values, more or less—unlike the Chinese and Russians. So thank goodness France was there to relieve us.

Otherwise Al Qaedastan would have sat there and festered.

Read the rest in the Wall Street Journal.

Now I REALLY Can't Go to Libya

Libya is so unstable now that international airlines are refusing to fly there.

The government should have just approved my visa when I first asked for it. The bureaucracy over there is in no better shape than the security services. Libya will just have to suffer alone for a while.

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