Friday, March 8, 2013

Mordechai Kedar: Advice to Western Leaders - Don't Come to Visit the Middle East

by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in the original עברית
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)

Photo Credit:
[The photo was taken at a demonstration against John Kerry in Egypt. The caption reads, "Kerry is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt".]

While speaking to American diplomats during his current tour, American Secretary of State John Kerry "created" a new state: Kyrzakhstan. Apparently he confused Kyrgyzstan with Kazakhstan. This slip of the tongue is more proof that those who hold key positions in the American government were appointed not because of their experience, talent, knowledge of the field and suitability for the position, but because of their connections, with the president, of course.

The new secretary of state, who has no experience in foreign affairs, must learn within a short time about almost two hundred states, about their history, their culture, their leaders, politicians and rulers and about the conflicts that they are involved in. The new secretary of state does not have a hundred day grace period or a term of apprenticeship, so the inevitable result is characterized by shallowness, mediocrity and mistakes such as Kerry has already made, and mistakes that are much more severe.

And what is worse is that the new secretary of state fills senior positions in the state department with his friends, who,
like Kerry, more or less, generally are not familiar with the international scene. Within the state department a nucleus of permanent professional officials does exist, but they are not always in the center of political activity, which is located on the axis between the White House and Secretary of State. 

The Middle East is one of the most difficult things for an American to understand, because the civil American culture is based on the individual, and is as far as possible from the East and its culture, which is based on groups  - tribal, ethnic, religious and sectoral - and this characterizes the societies in the Middle East. As a result of this, Americans see the Middle East through the lens of American culture and ask: "What is wrong with those people?".

There is a general pattern of failure regarding visits from senior officials, whether from America or Europe. The failure is a result of several factors:

1. The itinerary of the visit: Naturally, the itinerary cannot include all of the states in the region, so someone will always be offended because he and his state were not included in the tour. An apology does not eliminate the feeling of disdain felt by someone who has been left out of the itinerary, and the injured party will find an opportunity in the future to take revenge on the Western leader for insulting him by visiting the region and ignoring him.
2. The visitor wants to meet not only with the people in power, but also with the people of the opposition. This is acceptable in the United States and in Europe, but not in the Middle East: In June 2009, President Obama visited Egypt as a guest of Mubarak, but also met with his opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood. This meeting was like a knife in the back for Mubarak; it humiliated him and he was deeply offended by it. This is the real reason for his absence when Obama gave a speech to the Islamic nation. The meeting with the Brotherhood very much strengthened and encouraged them, and even today, many people who oppose the Brotherhood blame Obama for the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in their taking over the state.
3. The visitor tends to become involved in internal matters of the state that he is visiting, mainly in order to mediate and encourage reconciliation between the government and its opposition. In the Middle East such involvement is perceived very negatively, because according to the regional tradition, a mediator has the status of a judge, and how can a foreigner, who does not understand the culture of the Middle East, be a judge?
4. The visitor usually holds a press conference with his host, a president, prime minister or minister in the local state, in which he expresses support for the host and friendship toward him. In the West - where leadership is seen as legitimate - the public takes the words of the visitor as support for the state and friendship towards it. But in most of the states of the Middle East, where the government is perceived as illegitimate, a visitor who expresses support and friendship  for a ruler is seen as hostile to the population and a n accomplice in the governmental oppression that he suffers from.
5. The visitor likes to offer solutions to regional conflicts, but these solutions are usually shallow and do not address the roots of the conflicts. As a result, the "solutions" arouse opposition and hatred towards the visitor. The most obvious example is the solution based on money: monetary grants encourage governmental corruption and arouse hatred towards the visitor, since he is implicitly encouraging corruption.
6. The visitor behaves according to the accepted behavioral codes of his state, which may differ from those of the host state, especially where women are concerned. Women who hold senior positions in the West - Madeleine Albright, Condoleeza Rice, Catherine Ashton - are accepted in the West as equals to men. But in the Middle East it is not acceptable for a woman to behave in a authoritative manner towards men, even if she represents a different state.  This was especially true regarding Condoleeza Rice, who presented a great cultural challenge to the people of the Middle East, because they had to accept her authority despite the facts that she is a woman, unmarried, and of African descent. These three components, and especially her African descent, caused many in the area to regard her with severe repulsion.
7. President Obama also presents a difficult cultural challenge to the Middle East: a dark-skinned man of African descent is called "Abed" in Arabic, meaning "slave", so how can such a person tell the Arabs, Persians or Turks what to do or what not to do? Add to this the claim that he or his father left Islam, and according to the Islamic approach, whoever leaves Islam must be killed. Many people in the Middle East ask themselves "How on Earth can such a person dare to come to Cairo, to Saudi Arabia, to Iraq as the head of a state?" These words are not spoken aloud, but this is the feeling of many, too many, in the Middle East.
8. Visitors usually speak European languages, especially English and French. But these languages were the languages of colonialism, so when the visitor makes public announcements in one of these languages it marks him as a colonialist, a foreigner, and someone who is arrogant, humiliating and exploitative, and therefore also hated and shunned.
9. In preparation for visits from noted Westerners, there are many who would like to prepare a "reception" for him in the form of attacks and other terror operations, mainly in order to prove "who is in charge here". This was obvious in Iraq after 2003, and during the Palestinian Intifada from 2000 to 2007. As a result of this it can be said with assurance and great sorrow that visits of notables from the West cause bloodshed in the Middle East.
A visit from a Western notable is usually short, lasting a day or two, during which he tries to find a solution to a problem that has lasted for a long time and involves conflicts with ethnic, tribal, religious or sectoral factors or some complex combination of these components. The conclusion that arises from all of these reasons is that it is preferable for leaders and senior officials from the West not to visit the Middle East. These visits complicate old problems and create new ones, and moreover, the chances that these visits will yield a positive effect or result in a real solution to any problem, is quite low.

It is better to conduct diplomacy behind the scenes, with a minimal presence. It is possible to offer support and to help heads of state, politicians, organizations and activities, instead of coming for hasty, public visits, which do not serve the goal in a basic and positive way.

The time has come for leaders in the West to understand that the Middle Eastern culture is not the same as the European or American culture. the people of the Middle East are aware of their history, and have a totally different value system and system of priorities from those of Western cultures. The status of the group - ethnic, tribal, religious and sectoral - is immeasurably higher than the status of the parallel group in Western culture, and it is not possible to implement solutions in the Middle East  that are tailor-made for European or American cultures.

Religious considerations play a key role in the Middle East, and therefore for the leaders of the states  that exercise separation of religion and state, where it is a personal matter for every individual, a basic component necessary to understand the culture of the Middle East is missing.

Visits from leaders are an important part of the political culture in the West, but are perceived in a totally different manner in the Middle East. Therefore it is important for world leaders to understand that their visits in this area are not effective and not positive and therefore cannot bring the desired results.

My words also relate to Israel, because this country is not located in Europe or in America, but must find its way within the Middle Eastern maze . The visits of European and American presidents and heads of state in Israel do not bring positive results, and it is enough to mention President Clinton, whose visit to Israel pushed its leaders to sign the Oslo Accords, which resulted in the rise of Hamas and this organization's takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Obama's imminent visit to Israel may - moreover- push Israel to agree to the establishment of an additional terror state, this time in Judea and Samaria, because no one in the world, including Obama, can assure that Hamas will not take over this area too in time.

Just as a doctor must study at least ten years before he can operate on his first patient, likewise, an engineer studies many years before he designs his first bridge. And a diplomat should study the Middle East well and in depth, its culture, its religions and its history before he comes for his first visit. It would be better if all Western leaders had an academic degree in the history of the Middle East and the cultural  characteristics of this region, before he tries to engineer solutions for societies such as that in Afghanistan and Iraq, and before he comes for visits attempting to solve problems such as those between Israel and her neighbors.

The problems of the Middle East - and the bloodbath in Syria proves this in the most terrible way - stem from the attempt to impose the political culture of foreign societies upon the Middle East. The time has come for the world to stop this and begin to relate to the Middle East according to what it actually is, and not in the dreams of visitors who come for two days.



Dr. Kedar is available for lectures

Dr. Mordechai Kedar ( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.

Additional articles by Dr. Kedar

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.

Brennan Signals 'Our Saudi Partners'

by Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison

When President Obama met Saudi King Abdullah in London in 2009, the former bowed low before the latter.  No American president had ever so abased himself before one of the world's most oppressive rulers before.

Now, Mr. Obama has nominated John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Signals Intelligence, or sigint, is the science of interpreting signals sent by enemies of the United States.  With his Arabic-language skills, John Brennan ought to be good at interpreting signals.

He's very good at sending them.  When he spoke of Jerusalem -- his "most loved city in the world" -- he referred to it first by its Arabic name, al Quds.  Nobody refers to Jerusalem as al Quds unless he wants to send a signal: "I agree with you."

Every Arabic-speaking country denies the right of Israel to exist.  Every one yearns to see Jerusalem swept free of Jews and called al Quds.  When the Jordanians controlled East Jerusalem (1949-1967), they banned all the Jews from living there and from visiting Jewish holy places there.  They even desecrated thousand-year-old graves in Jewish cemeteries there.

That's what is meant by al Quds.  When you say you love this city more than any other and give it its Arabic name, you are sending the most terrible message.  You are feeding into the Arab narrative that calls the establishment of the Jewish state Nakba -- the Day of Catastrophe.

John Brennan obviously rejects Winston Churchill's advice to Western statesmen: "Let the Jews have Jerusalem. It is they who made it famous."  Churchill was no enemy to Arabs.  Churchill even created Jordan as an Arab state and gave it a Hashemite ruling family. 

But Churchill would not abase himself and the British people before these desert despots.  As President Obama has done to us as Americans.  As John Brennan is doing to us and to our allies in Israel. 

John Brennan speaks of "our Saudi partners."  Partners in what?  Mr. Brennan won't speak of a global war on terror.  He rejects the use of jihadism to describe Muslim terrorists, since he regards jihad as a legitimate expression of a religion of peace and tolerance.

How tolerant is Saudi Arabia?  Mr. Brennan might consult our own U.S. State Department Report on International Religious Freedom:

Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice. ... The [Saudi] legal system is based on the government's application of the Hanbali School of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. The public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited, and there is no separation between state and religion.

If the Saudis will not cooperate with us on basic human rights, like freedom of speech and religion, might they at least be "our partners" in fighting al-Qaeda, right?  After all, al-Qaeda says it wants to overthrow King Abdullah, the man to whom Mr. Obama shows obeisance.

The Report of the 9/11 Commission shows that the Saudis are not willing to help us even on this.  In 1998, Vice President Al Gore traveled to Saudi Arabia to seek then-Crown Prince Abdullah's help in questioning Madani al Tayyib.  Tayyib was a leading finance officer of al-Qaeda, held by the Saudis since 1997.  The official report on Gore's failed diplomatic mission ends with this line: "The United States never obtained this access."

Had we been able to "follow the money," we might have unraveled the al-Qaeda plot to attack the United States.  We may never know if by interrogating Tayyib we could have saved thousands of American lives and trillions of American dollars.

This much should be clear: the Saudis are not "our partners," as John Brennan says they are.  When American lives are at stake, the Saudis are no friends.

John Brennan came away from his CIA tour in Saudi Arabia in the late 1990s filled with nothing but goodwill and admiration for what he calls our Saudi partners.  Was he there when Al Gore begged for the Saudis' help?

Brennan's astonishing naivety alone should raise serious doubts about his serving as director of America's most sensitive intelligence agency.  Every American who cherishes liberty and security has a right to be alarmed at such a disastrous choice for DCIA -- and appalled by a president who could make it.

Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are senior fellows with the Family Research Council, in Washington, D.C.


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Egypt-Gaza Tunnels Must be Destroyed, Cairo Court Rules

by Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff

Egyptian attorney Wael Hamdy: "I filed the case because I was worried about the state of national security in my country after the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power and its unclear policies and links with Hamas."

A Palestinian works inside a smuggling tunnel flooded by Egyptian forces, beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border in Rafah, Feb. 19, 2013.
Photo credit: Reuters

Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Meet Israel's New Neighbors

by Prof. Eyal Zisser

Until recently, many Israelis could not be bothered by the Syrian revolution. It was just another news story unfolding somewhere in faraway Syria. Exposure to the story was mainly through the newscasts on radio and television. But events over the past several weeks prove that the revolution is already here, on the border fence, and in some cases, already well inside the Golan Heights. 

At first, this new situation took the form of skirmishes between rebels and Syrian military forces near the border. Then there were stray bullets or shells that hit Israeli territory, and later some of the rebels took refuge in Israel or just crossed the fence to receive medical care. But the kidnapping of 20 U.N. observers who had been tasked with monitoring the area of separation on the Syrian-Israeli border is a turn for the worse in an already problematic situation along the border. 

The Syrian regime has lost control over large sections of the country; its grip is loosening by the day. The insurgents seized the al-Raqqah Governorate in eastern Syria over the past week, the first time an entire administrative region has fallen under rebel control. 

For some time now, the Syrian regime has had no control over the areas close to Iraq and Turkey. The battle is now over who controls the borders with Lebanon, Jordan and, of course, Israel. The regime appears to be turning inward and focusing on its core foundations: the capital, Damascus, and the road from the capital to the Syrian coast (which is where most of the Alawite Syrians live). It has also exerted efforts to prevent the fall of the second most important city in Syria, Aleppo, although that is considered a secondary goal. 

For all its hostility toward Israel, the Syrian regime was a known quantity. It could be dealt with and engaged effectively, and it has been overly careful not to disrupt the peace along the border with Israel. But it is gradually being supplanted by vacuum and even chaos. This is evident in the video clips the hostage takers released on Thursday. 

A significant number of the rebels in the Golan Heights area belong to the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate. The group operates in southern Syria, and in the north, in the Aleppo region. But alongside that group there are a whole host of other armed militias. These groups lack a central leadership and are mainly composed of outlaws and bandits out for a fight; these gangs seek control of the rural regions and the Syrian periphery. These are Israel's new neighbors and we had better get used to them. If the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force leaves (as it said it might in the wake of recent developments), Israel would no longer enjoy the buffer that has separated it from the Syrian revolution. 

Alas, the revolution is now part of our everyday lives. It is no longer just an intellectual exercise for pundits and experts, who have largely been preoccupied with predicting President Bashar al-Assad's demise. 

Prof. Eyal Zisser


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Europe Rolls Over for Hezbollah Blackmail

by Soeren Kern

The recent cases in Bulgaria and Cyrus provide irrefutable evidence that Hezbollah is highly active in Europe, where it raises funds, launders money, traffics drugs, recruits operatives and plots attacks with impunity.
The main objective of Israeli President Shimon Peres's week-long state visit to Brussels, Paris and Strasbourg March 5-12 is apparently to persuade reluctant European leaders to designate Lebanon's Hezbollah movement a terrorist organization.

Blacklisting Hezbollah would deprive the militant group of significant sources of fundraising by enabling the freezing its bank accounts and assets in Europe. It would also facilitate intra-European police cooperation aimed at pursuing and arresting Hezbollah operatives believed to be living underground throughout Europe.

Several Western countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands officially classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization years ago. But the European Union has steadfastly resisted calls to sanction Hezbollah.

EU leaders say they do not have enough information to make a judgment about whether Hezbollah is involved in terrorism. They have tried to justify themselves by saying that because the issue is legal, not moral, in nature, they need "courtroom evidence" of Hezbollah's culpability.

Well, at least that has been clarified: in recent weeks Bulgarian authorities implicated Hezbollah in the July 18, 2012 terrorist attack which killed five Israeli tourists and their driver in the Black Sea resort of Burgas.

Bulgaria's February 5 public announcement, which angered many EU countries afraid of provoking Hezbollah, was the first time that an EU member state has officially established that Hezbollah was guilty of a carrying out a terrorist attack on EU territory.

European officials have long rationalized their lack of resolve against Hezbollah by claiming that the organization has both a military wing and a political wing, and that cracking down on the former would cripple the latter, which consequently would lead to the destabilization of Lebanon as well as the broader Middle East.

Many analysts, however, say this high-mindedness is a smoke screen behind which Europeans are hiding to conceal the real reason why they are reluctant to confront Hezbollah: fear, fear and more fear.

Europeans are afraid to call Hezbollah what it is because they fear reprisals against European interests at home and abroad. Europeans also fear that if they take a hard line against Hezbollah, the group may activate sleeper cells and carry out attacks in European cities. (According to a leaked German intelligence report, there are more than 900 Hezbollah operatives in Germany alone.)

In addition, Europeans are afraid that Hezbollah may retaliate against European troops, known as UNIFIL, participating in the United Nations mission in Lebanon.

In Spain, for instance, where Hezbollah was involved in the April 1985 bombing of a restaurant near Madrid in which 18 Spanish citizens were killed, the case was closed in 1987 due to a lack of arrests.

After six Spanish peacekeepers were killed in a Hezbollah bomb attack in southern Lebanon in June 2007, a fearful Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero recruited that same Hezbollah to safeguard Spanish troops, presumably as a way to safeguard his own job.

Less than a month after those killings, it emerged that Spanish intelligence agents met secretly with Hezbollah militants, who agreed to provide "escorts" to protect Spanish UNIFIL patrols. The quid pro quo was that Spanish troops look the other way while Hezbollah was allowed to rearm for its next war against Israel.

The Spanish government recently announced that it will cut the number of its troops within UNIFIL to half by the end of 2013. What is clear is that Spain, as well as its European partners, have abandoned the letter and the spirit of UN Resolution 1559, the main objective of which was to disarm Hezbollah and to transfer effective control over the southern Lebanon to Lebanon's armed forces.

Europeans are also afraid of inciting the thousands of shiftless young Muslim immigrants in towns and cities across the continent. The fear of angry Muslims is, in fact, so pervasive in European capitals that in practical terms Islam has already established a de facto veto on European foreign policymaking.

In addition to the investigation in Bulgaria, there has also been the trial in Cyprus of Hossam Taleb Yaakoub, a captured Hezbollah operative with joint Lebanese and Swedish citizenship who is suspected of plotting attacks on Israeli targets. The trial, which is scheduled to end on March 7, has provided many insights into Hezbollah's secret operations in Europe.

Taken together, the recent cases in Bulgaria and Cyprus provide irrefutable evidence that Hezbollah is highly active in Europe, where it raises funds, launders money, traffics drugs, recruits operatives and plots attacks with impunity.

Even so, the new revelations are unlikely to cause the EU to reconsider its refusal to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group and crack down on its fund-raising. Indeed, European officials have signaled that they desperately want to keep the peace with Hezbollah.

After Bulgaria implicated Hezbollah, John Brennan, President Barack Obama's chief counterterrorism advisor and his nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency, urged the EU to condemn Hezbollah: "We call on our European partners as well as other members of the international community to take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah's infrastructure and disrupt the group's financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks."

But Catherine Ashton, the European Union's high representative for foreign policy, responded without even mentioning Hezbollah by name. She said only that there was now a "need for reflection" and added: "The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on EU soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians."

In Sweden, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt went so far as to express his anger at Bulgaria for blaming Hezbollah. In a February 5 tweet, he said: "We need to reflect seriously on consequences of Bulgaria probe naming Hezbollah as behind terrorist attack."

Only one EU country has had the courage to blacklist Hezbollah's entire organization: The Netherlands proscribed the group in 2004. In a recent statement, the Dutch Embassy in Israel said: "The Netherlands has been calling for Hezbollah to be included on the EU list of terrorist organizations since 2004, and has consistently urged its EU partners to support such a move."
If the EU is eventually shamed into adding Hezbollah to its terror list, it will probably follow the example not of Holland but of Britain.

In 2008, the British government "banned" Hezbollah's military wing after the group targeted British troops in Iraq. But the Labour government stopped short of curtailing Hezbollah's ability to operate in Britain, arguing that the military wing is separate from the political wing.

In recent weeks, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has repeatedly urged the EU to replicate the British model and outlaw only Hezbollah's military wing. Although this "fix" would allow the EU to say that it has taken meaningful action against the group, Hezbollah leaders themselves make no such distinction.

Sheikh Naim Qassem, the second in command of Hezbollah, with the title of deputy secretary-general, has rejected Britain's attempt to separate the group into military and political wings. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in April 2009, Qassem said: "Hezbollah has a single leadership. … The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads Jihad actions in the struggle against Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu concurred, saying: "There is only one Hezbollah, it is one organization with one leadership."

Avi Dichter, Israel's Minister of Home Front Defense and a former director of Shin Bet, had this to say: "To speak about [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah as someone who is only political is ridiculous. … Asking if Hezbollah is a terrorist organization is like asking if Paris belongs to France. Who is sleeping? Are we Israelis sleeping or are countries in Europe sleeping? There is no debate."

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor, writing in the Washington, DC-based magazine Foreign Policy, put it this way: "Calling Hezbollah a charity is like calling al-Qaeda an urban planning organization because of its desire to level tall buildings. … The EU must find the moral and political courage to place Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations. It must find a clear message that Hezbollah can no longer target its citizens with impunity."

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

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Brennan Vulnerable on More Than Drones

by Jonathan S. Tobin

The consensus in the last month among political observers is that while Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense faced serious challenges that would ultimately fall short of stopping him, there was never a chance that the president’s choice to run the CIA would be turned down by the Senate. With so much fire concentrated on Hagel, it was assumed that White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan would skate to an easy victory even if tough questions were posed at his confirmation hearing. The day of that hearing has finally arrived, and though it is doubtful that he will be rejected, it looks as though he will face an even rougher time than expected when on the Senate hot seat.

Much of that has to do with the recent revelations about the administration’s guidelines about conducting drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets. Liberal Democrats like Ron Wyden and a libertarian Republican like Rand Paul will rake him over the coals about this controversial, though justified policy. Other Republicans will take him to task for the disaster at Benghazi and try again to probe into the questions of who in the White House knew what and when did they know it about the incident, as well as who changed the talking points which led to administration figures like Susan Rice putting out false information about the murders having resulted from a film protest rather than a terror attack.

Those will be the headlines of today’s hearings, and though they are topics that deserve scrutiny there are other questions that need to be asked about Brennan’s views that may be of even greater importance in determining his fitness to lead the country’s intelligence operations. Brennan’s positions on engagement with Iran, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood need to be given as much attention as that given to the drones and Benghazi.

As terrorism investigator Steve Emerson notes, Brennan wrote an academic paper in 2008 that championed engagement with Iran. The paper was the blueprint in some ways for much of the Obama administration’s foolish attempt to sweet talk the Iranians and was based on the fallacy that moderates within the Islamist regime could overcome the hardliners with enough encouragement. That was a misreading of the situation in Tehran that had already been debunked by events by the time it was written but which was more fully exposed during the years of the Obama presidency, as time after time Iran used the diplomatic process to manipulate the West into giving them more time to achieve their nuclear goal. Going forward the key question is how willing is the administration to go back down that dead end road and let the Iranians prevaricate long enough to get their bomb?

The same question must be posed about Brennan’s position about Hezbollah. Brennan has used the same sort of language about moderates within that terrorist organization that he used to justify the feckless engagement policy with Iran. Indeed, Brennan has even called for Americans to “cease public Iran bashing” and to “tolerate, and even … encourage, greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s political system.” Brennan has spoken as if the group was evolving away from terrorism even though the evidence for this is slight and the group is still operated by people who have killed many Americans and runs under orders from Iran. The recent murderous terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria carried out by Hezbollah demonstrates how wrong Brennan has been on this subject.

Brennan also appears to be part of the consensus within the administration that backed the U.S. embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt this year. Brennan has been at the head of an effort to do outreach with American supporters of the Brotherhood. He has also repeatedly sought to confuse the issue about support for jihadist goals by Muslims. His semantic arguments have been aimed at convincing Americans to view Islamist terrorism as somehow being motivated more by economics than religion. That is such a fundamental misunderstanding of America’s enemies as well as the history of the conflict and of the Arab and Muslim worlds that it is hard to see how a person who holds such views can be trusted to run the country’s intelligence operations.

John Brennan’s mindset about his supposed field of expertise—terrorism—appears to be stuck in a political vise that refuses to look clearly at the motivations of Islamists or at their goals. It is this kind of thinking that has led the administration to continually seek to appease Iran and Hezbollah and to empower the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The repercussions of these blunders are currently unfolding in the Middle East as Islamists tighten their grip on Egypt, revive a bloody terror campaign in North Africa and get closer to a nuclear weapon in Iran.

What is needed at the CIA is someone who will question the complacency about Islamism that predominated at the White House while Brennan ran its counter-terrorism shop. We can only guess at what new intelligence fiascos will occur on his watch at Langley. At the very least, the Senate should not let this nomination go forward without a thorough public examination of just how wrongheaded many of Brennan’s views have been. 

Jonathan S. Tobin


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The White House’s Self-Destructive Cynics

by Seth Mandel

The Obama administration’s promise to make the country’s work force suffer as much as possible for their representatives’ inability to stop the sequester—which was Obama’s idea—seems to mean more work for at least one sector of the American economy: fact-checkers. They are overworked trying to keep up with the task of debunking the White House’s embarrassing parade of false talking points and misrepresentations about the effects of the budget cuts included in the sequester.

Because this legion of fact-checkers are really just opinion bloggers, the White House doesn’t have too much to lose from subjective statements that are open to interpretation—which the fact-checkers inexplicably often “fact check” despite the absurdity of it. But the administration has stumbled in offering verifiably false statistics, which removes the protective layer of interpretation revealing an obvious attempt to mislead the public. Today Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post seems almost agitated at the Obama administration’s antics:
At a news conference last Friday, President Obama claimed that, “starting tomorrow,” the “folks cleaning the floors at the Capitol” had “just got a pay cut” because of the automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester.
The president very quickly earned Four Pinocchios for that statement, especially after senior officials at the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), the federal agency that employ janitors on the House side, and the office of the Sergeant at Arms (SAA), which employs janitors on the Senate side, issued statements saying the president’s comments were not true.
Still, the White House has kept up its spin offensive, claiming that a cut in “overtime” was a de facto pay cut and thus the president was right — or at least not wrong.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that this new claim also received four pinnochios. Why is the White House making stuff up? Democrats are starting to complain to the media that it’s because the petty yes-men the president famously surrounds himself with are essentially political pranksters who are a bit removed from reality. As Politico reports:
The stakes in the sequester debate aren’t quite as high as they were during the debt ceiling battle of 2011, but Democratic veterans of the Obama-Republican wars of 2009 and 2010 are getting a creepy sense of déjà vu from a White House messaging shop they believe fumbled the rollouts of the stimulus and health care initiatives….
One top Democratic Congressional aide offered this bit of advice to Obama: “Don’t accentuate a fight you don’t intend to wage [and] can’t win. … They spent two weeks building up sequester as a horror show and then got fact-checked a dozen times and were forced to back off their own claims of it being a disaster once they were forced to acquiesce to the cuts happening.”
Though Democrats in 2008 valiantly attempted to establish Obama as a thoughtful intellectual, what quickly became clear was that the president was inexperienced and inflexible and obsessively focused on the daily political skirmishes in the press instead of long-term policy wisdom. It is the Twitter presidency for the Twitter age.

This comes through forcefully in Vali Nasr’s much-talked about piece for Foreign Policy in which he recounts his time as an advisor to the administration as having a front-row seat to disaster. It should be noted that Nasr was brought on by the late Richard Holbrooke who was frozen out by Obama, and thus Nasr’s perspective is sympathetic to Holbrooke (and to Hillary Clinton).

But Nasr is also sympathetic to Obama’s stated policy goals, and joined the administration hopeful. He soon became disillusioned by the discovery that long-term policy objectives were utterly meaningless to Obama and his staff, who spent much of their time settling scores. Nasr acknowledges that such behavior is a fact of life in Washington, and he is credulous of Holbrooke’s general perspective. But he knocks Obama for advertising himself as a different kind of candidate who would be a different kind of president:
Not only did that not happen, but the president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics. Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play on the nightly news, or which talking point it would give the Republicans. The Obama administration’s reputation for competence on foreign policy has less to do with its accomplishments in Afghanistan or the Middle East than with how U.S. actions in that region have been reshaped to accommodate partisan political concerns.
The Politico story shows that while Nasr may have had his own loyalties in the Obama administration turf wars, his view of how policy is shaped in the Obama White House is widely shared. One of the reasons the president makes such a terrible negotiator is that he doesn’t seem to seriously think through the issues on which he is negotiating. It is more important to him that that he not give his opponents any semblance of a policy victory than it is to solve the problem. This is the way the president and his supporters accuse Republicans of approaching every negotiation, and no wonder—they assume their own bitterness and cynicism is widely shared. We should be thankful they’re wrong about that.

Seth Mandel


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Reign of Evil: A Look Back at the Vicious Rule of Hugo Chavez

by Arnold Ahlert


It is no accident that the death of Hugo Chavez, while mourned by the usual suspects on the left, was celebrated by thousands of his fellow countrymen. In the Doral section of Miami, FL, home to the largest enclave of Venezuelans living in America, the strongman’s demise was met with unrestrained joy. Daniela Calzadilla, who moved from Caracas five years ago, due to the skyrocketing crime rate and dwindling career opportunities, expressed a common refrain. “We hope this is the path to return our democracy and that hopefully we can have the same country we once had,” she said. Mary LaBarca put it even simpler. “We are not celebrating someone’s death,” she said. “We are celebrating freedom.”

Hugo Chavez was born July 28, 1954. Raised largely by his grandmother in the western state of Barinas, Chavez began nurturing his fascination with Marxism at an early age, boosted by Castro’s revolution in Cuba in 1959. His education led him to despise “imperialist” America, even as he idolized Castro and 19th century South American liberator Simon Bolivar. He eventually joined the army, after failing to fulfill his dream of becoming a major league baseball player.

In 1992, after rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, Chavez led an unsuccessful coup against then President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Scores of civilians and soldiers were killed, but Chavez won a large populist following as a result. He was jailed, but then released two years later by then President Rafael Caldera. Four years later, Chavez was elected president with 57 percent of the vote. Chavez changed the nation’s name to the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” and often appeared in front of huge paintings of Bolivar. The message was clear: Venezuelans were invited to think of him as the second coming of a historical hero.

Yet shortly after he won the vote, a lawyer from Barinas told Newsweek Magazine what had really occurred. “Venezuelans are dreaming of a savior, but Chávez is a dictator. People don’t know what they are getting.” After his inauguration in 1999, Chavez rewrote the nation’s constitution, precipitating a special presidential election in 2000, giving him a six year term.

1999 was the year he also began traveling around the world, ingratiating himself to a number of America’s enemies. While in Communist China, Chavez put his cards on the table. ”I have been very Maoist all of my life,” he declared at the time. He was also successful in getting OPEC to pump up oil prices.

Steadily, Chavez’s “democratic” revolution began to resemble the dictatorship his regime inevitably became. The legislative and judicial branches of the Venezuelan government were subordinated to his authoritarian rule. He stacked his government with military officers, emulating the juntas that ruled Peru and Panama in the 1970s. The constitution became increasingly irrelevant, a reality most recently emphasized when Chavez’s absence still allowed him to win inauguration last January. That absence should have triggered certain procedures, but they were completely ignored. Chavez also politicized Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state-owned oil company, whose output has declined by almost half from 2000 to 2011.

This combination of factors, as well as Chavez’s interminable rants (one went on for almost ten hours), polarized the nation to the point where Chavez was himself ousted in a short-lived coup in 2002. Yet his populist supporters, angered by TV images of the nation’s former elite reveling in victory, restored him to power two days later.

Chavez was hardened by the coup attempt, which he blamed on George W. Bush. His hatred of America and capitalism drove him into alliances with other Latin American leftists, with whom he formed the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), an effort to counterbalance American “hegemony.” That counterbalance also included tactical support for the communist Columbian terror group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). He formed alliances with Libya, Iraq, and Iran and Syria, and former members of his military alleged he supported Al Qaeda as well.

Chavez forged more dubious alliances during a 2006 trip. They included Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin, who sold Chavez $3 billion worth of military hardware, and Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who awarded him Iran’s highest state honor, the Islamic Republic Medal, for supporting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. In the same year, he referred to Israel as one of America’s “imperialistic instruments,” and President Bush as “the Devil,” an “extremist,” an aspiring “world dictator,” and the “spokesman of imperialism.” This year it was revealed that Chavez was keeping Venezuelan Jews under surveillance because he considered them a “fifth column.”

Chavez’s ongoing relationship with Iran was despicable. He acted as their banker in order to help them avoid sanctions, and allowed them to open factories in remote locations, likely to pursue weapons production. According to the Israelis, he was also supplying them with uranium.

Unsurprisingly, Venezuela increasingly began to resemble some of the authoritarian states Chavez admired. The Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Index of Economic Freedom ranked the nation as one of the most repressed in the world. Only Zimbabwe, North Korea and Cuba ranked lower. Chavez’s government also seized TV stations, numerous banks, the assets of 60 oil service companies, 32 sugar plantations, and foreign-owned cement plants, that refused to be nationalized. All privately held oil production was effectively nationalized in 2007 as well.

Crime soared. Caracas became one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and Venezuela’s 2009 murder rate topped that of war-torn Iraq, and Mexico’s cartel-inspired carnage. By 2012, Venezuela’s national murder rate was one of the highest in the world. Chronic food shortages and power outages as well mounting debt — leading to a 33 percent currency devaluation last month, Venezuela’s fifth in a decade — has turned the nation into one of the Western Hemisphere’s worst economic basket cases.

None of this should surprise. A year after he won reelection in 2006, Chavez held a constitutional referendum whose chief purpose was the elimination of presidential term-limits. When voters defeated it, he repeated the process a year later and succeeded in eliminating them. He won another term in 2012, after lying and declaring himself cancer free. Two months later, he went back to Cuba. He was never heard from again.

Chavez characterized his repressive regime as “21st-century socialism.” In reality, in bore a striking resemblance to the repressive regime of Fidel Castro, a man he idolized, and whose nation he kept propped up with cheap oil in return for the training of his private army of enforcers, known as the Bolivarian Circles. Chavez’s regime, in turn, has been largely propped up by China, which has subsidized Venezuela with $36 billion in loans that are being repaid in oil, not cash. And as of last September, the state-run oil company in a nation sitting on some of the largest oil reserves in the world is now paying its debt by issuing bonds–aka IOUs.

Thus, despite his bravado, his charisma, and a host of other dubious qualities that endeared him to leftists, Hugo Chavez was little more than a self-aggrandizing authoritarian thug. His grandiose schemes did little to alleviate the country’s economic woes. Yet he leaves behind a hand-picked  successor in Vice President Nicolas Maduro, and enough of a political apparatus that the constitutionally mandated election required to take place in 30 days will likely be nothing more than a formality, officially instating Maduro as president.

Henrique Capriles, a charismatic opposition candidate who lost the October election to Chavez, may mount a challenge, but it is unrealistic to expect him to coordinate a viable election campaign in the space of a month in a nation where “Chavistas” have all but eliminated opposition media.

Chavez is dead. Sadly, the authoritarianism he nurtured will likely live on.

Arnold Ahlert


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.