To Build or Destroy?

“Something is stirring in the West Bank,” reports The New York Times’s Ethan Bronner, explaining:

“With both diplomacy and armed struggle out of favor…the…Palestinian Authority…is trying to forge a third way: to rouse popular passions while avoiding violence. The idea…is to build a virtual state and body politic through acts of popular resistance.

‘It is all about self-empowerment,’ said Hassan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister, referring to a campaign to end the purchase of settlers’ goods and the employment of Palestinians by settlers and their industries. ‘We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.’”

Bronner goes on to report that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad “is spending more time…in neglected villages opening projects related to sewage, electricity and education.”

Shielding Iran's Nukes

A little-noticed colloquy at a House subcommittee hearing last week may help prod a revisiting of the most dastardly case of the politicization of intelligence in memory, perhaps in U.S. history. Vann H. Van Diepen, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, was testifying before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade when Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) asked him about his role in preparing the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s “Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities.”

Van Diepen, a career diplomat, had been seconded to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where he served as National Intelligence Officer for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Proliferation. In that role, he is widely understood to have been the principal author of the NIE. A non-classified brief version of the NIE was released to the public, which was an extraordinary occurrence, and in all likelihood President Bush and his top advisors agreed to this only because they knew that otherwise a similar version would be leaked.

Drain the Atlantic

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius suggests that the recent dust-up between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations sets the stage for a more assertive U.S. role in Mideast diplomacy, in effect attempting to impose a settlement based on a formula that Ignatius credits to Zbigniew Brzezinski. Never mind the provenance, since Brzezinski in his dotage has become something of an anti-Israel monomaniac, even suggesting that the U.S. should shoot down Israeli warplanes if they attempt to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. The plan in itself merits consideration.

Chalabi Out of the Closet

Confessing error is never easy, especially when under attack. We neoconservatives were proven right about every issue on which we took up cudgels against liberals and paleocons for 25 years, so when we finally were wrong on Iraq, we got pilloried. The particulars of our errors—whether it was the whole idea of invading Iraq or just aspects of its execution—will be sorted out for a long time, but one cardinal mistake was undoubtedly our infatuation with Ahmad Chalabi.

I met him around the time of the first Gulf war, and I gave him a copy of my recently-published book, Exporting Democracy: Fulfilling America’s Destiny. When I saw him next, maybe five years later, he said: “I read your book, but I don’t think your government has.” I was of course flattered and amused. And I was enchanted by this articulate man from that other-planet of Baathist Iraq who professed the very same democratic beliefs central to my worldview.

Retreat is in the Air

A summit last week between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provided a useful measure of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy success, and there is very little of it to be found.

Obama’s bedrock idea was that most of America’s woes abroad were self-inflicted. We had been arrogant, deaf, and belligerent—doubly so under the presidency of George W. Bush—and had alienated the world at large. Obama, a man of rare charm and oratorical gifts, a man with roots in Africa and Asia, as well as Europe, and a political thinker who had spent his entire career as a critic of the United States, was perfectly suited to set all this right. He made a point at the outset of his term of apologizing far and wide for past U.S. behavior and of proffering an outstretched hand to all, especially those governments with which America had been at odds. He even mothballed America’s policy, consistent since the Carter years, of promoting human rights and democracy, apparently believing that our advocacy appeared supercilious and stood in the way of comity with the rulers of many states.

Snow, Science, and Prizes

“The back-to-back snowstorms in the capital were an inconvenient meteorological phenomenon for Al Gore,” cracks The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. The largest snowfall in DC’s recorded history unleashed a blizzard of ridicule of “global warming.” Milbank points out that the storms do not in fact disprove the various dire forecasts. Some theorists of climate change have said that a general trend of warming would be punctuated by extreme weather events, so the likes of what we have experienced this winter may not contradict that. But, as Milbank points out, climate alarmists have themselves leaned so heavily on anecdote—a glacier losing mass here, a species altering its habits there—that they have left themselves open to refutation in kind—in this case, millions upon millions of white, flaky anecdotes piling up beyond endurance all over Washington.

Iran: What We Can Do

Last Thursday (February 11), the anniversary of 1979’s Islamic Revolution, the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime succeeded in keeping control of central Tehran, thwarting the hopes of the Green Movement to turn the day into another display of public protest.

The authorities relied on three tactics. First, they mobilized hundreds of thousands of their own people, busing them in from around the country, to fill the city center. These included members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Basij militia, and other security personnel. In addition, thousands of civilian marchers took part in the official commemoration. There is no way to know how many of these marchers were genuine regime-supporters and how many were government employees or individuals otherwise beholden to the authorities, participating under duress. But they occupied the strategic terrain.

Go Green

This Thursday may reveal, or even determine, the shape of our world for years to come. February 11 is the anniversary of the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Forbidden to stage protests since the ones that rocked the country following June’s stolen election, the opposition Green Movement has turned instead to co-opting public events, when official protocol encourages Iranians to take to the streets.

The most recent of such co-opted occasions were the anniversary of the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in November; the mourning for Ayatollah Montazeri, following his death in December; and the observance of the Shiite holiday of Ashura a week after that. Each time the opposition displayed impressive strength.

Protest leaders have announced that February 11 will be the next occasion for the people to display their discontent. But the regime, too, has made known its intent to mobilize supporters, hoping to bolster its legitimacy.

Health Care Made Simple

I don’t have a home-entertainment system. I buy my clothes off the rack at Macy’s. I drive an ordinary sedan. My dinner table is graced with wine costing less than $10. We shop sales.

But my wife and I splurge on health care (as we did on our children’s educations).

Are the values reflected in these choices unusual? I doubt it. But this is the nub of the health care issue at the epicenter of American politics the past year.

We have had a confusing and dishonest debate. Senator Kennedy made this a crusade. Presumably, the reason for crusading was compassion for the uninsured, an estimated 50 million Americans who are not without health care, but who get less of it and of a lower quality. Fair enough. Had Obama had the political courage to ask the rest of us to kick in an extra hundred bucks, or whatever, in taxes so that these folks can get the same care most of us get, I’d have been ready to ante up.

Who Doesn't Get It?

A day after an obscure Republican captured the safest Democratic seat in the U.S. Senate, President Obama offered this explanation: "a mistake of mine [was] the assumption [that] if I just focus on policy ... people will get it." How's that for self-criticism? He takes himself to task for overestimating the public.

This sounds like arrogance, but its root is ideology, an ideology that explains the paradox at the heart of Obama's approach. Liberal columnist E. J. Dionne describes it: "He pledged to change the tone in Washington and restore amicable relations between the parties. But he also promised to accomplish large things ... [There was a] contradiction ... between Obama's commitment to sweeping change and his soothing pragmatism."

In adopting this self-contradictory stance, Obama was being neither a knave nor a fool, but rather reflecting his formative political identity as a "community organizer." He followed this calling immediately after college, and when he later turned to electoral politics, it was, according to his wife, Michelle, as a "community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change."


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