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Notes and Comments

French Twist, The Libyan Front, & Immoral Equivalence

FRENCH TWIST: FDD’s Jonathan Schanzer and Claudia Rosett in the Wall Street Journal on the unintended consequences of Nicolas Sarkozy’s support for Palestinian statehood:

What began as a French bid to one-up a weak U.S. foreign policy is now devolving into a struggle over continued U.S. funding for the only significant U.N. organization headquartered in Paris: the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). …

In recent weeks, while the Palestinians have pressed forward with a bid for full membership in Unesco, both French diplomats and U.N. officials have been quietly back-pedaling on the issue. Like so many maneuvers at the U.N., this reversal appears to be less about grand matters of principle than about money.

According to American law since the 1990s, the U.S. is prohibited from giving funds to any part of the U.N. system that grants the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) the same standing as member states. This could amount to a shortfall of more than $70 million per year to Unesco.

Currently, Unesco operates with an annual budget of more than $325 million, to which the U.S. is by far the largest contributor, giving 22%. France, while prizing Unesco as its showpiece U.N. tenant, chips in just 6.1%. …

French diplomats are now saying that, despite their earlier backing of the Palestinian unilateral bid, Unesco is “not the right time, nor the right place” to wrestle with the question of Palestine. …

The French position is now hard to pin down. Mr. Sarkozy backs the deliberation process at the Security Council, but hesitates to support Palestinian membership in a relatively minor appendage of the organization.

More here.  
 
Separately, Jon writes:

The U.S. House of Representatives wants to hammer Mahmoud Abbas and the PA for snubbing American-led diplomacy and applying for statehood at the UN last month. Congress and the White House should zero in on Palestinian corruption and shape a new aid regime that accomplishes U.S. objectives more effectively.

Abbas controls the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund, whose board he hand-picked and whose by-laws he rewrote. Since 2006, the PIF has awarded contracts exclusively to Abbas cronies, including his sons, Yasser and Tareq. The PIF-backed Wataniya cellular phone company, which drew on international-donor funding, inked a lucrative advertising contract with Tareq, while his brother Yasser sat on its board. The Abbas family is now said to be worth millions, with lavish property holdings and investments throughout the Middle East.

What’s needed is not a wholesale cut in aid, but a concerted effort to root out PA corruption. This would include U.S. Government Accountability Office audits of Abbas’ presidential budget, international oversight of the PIF, and a much closer look at the financial relationship between the PA and Hamas in Gaza. Most importantly, it would give the White House and Congress new leverage over the wayward Palestinian leadership.

More here.  
 
IRAN’S MILITARY/INDUSTRIAL/TERRORIST COMPLEX: In my column this week, I argue that we now know – or should – that

the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and the Supreme Leader they serve represent the most critical threat confronting America and the West. Terrorism is one of their weapons. Nuclear devices will be another — unless effective measures, finally and belatedly, are taken to prevent the Islamic Revolution from advancing.

More here.  
 
FDD fellow Lee Smith writes:

A demand for more sanctions against Tehran in response to an operation intended to slaughter hundreds of American allies in the U.S. capital—in a series of attacks that would have also caused hundreds of American casualties—makes it clear to everyone, especially the Iranians, that Washington isn’t going to do anything serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. …

[T]he whole point of Tehran’s policy of terror is to lay claim to its actions and dare the United States to respond …

The point of the Iranian plot was to show that the Americans are incapable of protecting their allies, even in the U.S. capital. But as mad as the Saudis are at Washington for not doing anything about the Iranians, sometime down the road they’ll be prepared to grit their teeth and cut a bargain with their foe. There is no such deal in the offing for the Jewish state. …

If the only country able and willing to go after Iran’s nuclear program is Israel, the only one who is capable of stopping the Israelis, Tehran realizes, is the United States. And so Iran and the United States now find themselves in one of the Middle East’s oddest alliances, with the United States unwittingly aiding Iran in its effort to get the bomb. If this happens, Tehran will use this new weapon to remake the political map of the Middle East in ways that are very unlikely to benefit the United States, and will directly threaten the survival of its closest ally.

More here.  
 
Separately Lee writes:

The plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in a Washington restaurant shows that the Iranians are getting bolder. The bizarre belief that the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, and CIA have fundamentally misconstrued the Iranian operation in its details and its provenance shows that American elites have become even more elaborate in their efforts to explain away Iranian intentions and ambitions. In effect, we’ve executed a disinformation campaign against ourselves, in which we keep saying the water that is about to come to a boil is only getting a little warmer. The Iranians, though, see it rather more clearly: The Americans have deterred themselves and will pull back even further once we’ve acquired the bomb. …

More here.  
 
Roya Hakakian notes Tehran’s history of overseas assassination, including testimony by a top official of Iran’s ministry of intelligence who revealed after defecting that the regime maintained a list

of 500 individuals, “enemies of Islam” who Tehran had systematically pursued to annihilate. Several dozen on the list had already been killed by 1996. The decision for each killing was made in the meetings of a small group called “the Committee for Special Operations.” …

Iran’s Supreme Leader, president, foreign and intelligence ministers, and the chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards … make up the Committee for Special Operations.” …

More here.  
 
Max Boot writes:

American presidents have been denouncing Iranian misdeeds ever since the dark days of 1979, the start of the Iranian revolution, when our embassy was seized and our diplomats held hostage — but seldom if ever have we backed up those words with commensurate actions.

Jimmy Carter chose to treat an act of war as an opportunity for negotiations. Ever since, U.S. presidents have hesitated to get tough with the Iranians, even as they (or more accurately their proxies) bombed our embassy and the Marine barracks in Lebanon, seized hostages there, bombed the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and killed countless American troops in Iraq (and probably also in Afghanistan) over the past decade. Even the discovery of links between al Qaeda and the Iranian government — first disclosed by the 9/11 commission — and the discovery of Iran’s nuclear weapons program have not changed the American habit of turning the other cheek in response to Iranian transgressions. …

Iran continues to grow more dangerous. If it acts so recklessly while it is without nuclear weapons, imagine how it will behave if it becomes a nuclear-armed state. It is still not too late to head off such an eventuality, but it will require us to drop all illusions about the possibility of “moderate” mullahs coming to the fore or of a diplomatic breakthrough. The only thing the regime in Tehran understands is superior force, despite Khamenei’s show of bravado on Sunday. Unless we can induce some healthy fear in Tehran, expect more outrages and provocations in the future.

More here.
 
Bret Stephens reminds us that

policy analysts, military officials and even a few columnists have been warning for years about Iran’s infiltration of Latin America. The story begins with the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, an example of the way Tehran uses proxies such as Hezbollah to carry out its aims while giving it plausible deniability. Iran later got a boost when Hugo Chávez came to power in Venezuela and began seeding the top ranks of his government with Iranian sympathizers. In October 2006, a group called Hezbollah América Latina took responsibility for an attempted bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, Iran has increased the number of its embassies in Latin America to 11 from six.

All this has served a variety of purposes. Powerful evidence suggests that Iran has used Venezuelan banks, airliners and port facilities to circumvent international sanctions. Good relations between Tehran and various Latin American capitals—not just Caracas but also Managua, Quito, La Paz and Brasilia—increase Tehran’s diplomatic leverage. Hezbollah’s ties to Latin American drug traffickers serve as a major source of funding for its operations world-wide. Hezbollah has sought and found recruits among Latin America’s estimated population of five million Muslims, as well as Hispanic converts to Islam.

And then there is the detail that Latin America is the soft underbelly of the United States. …

Until now, the idea of terrorist infiltration along our southern border has been the stuff of Tom Clancy novels. Not anymore. And unless Tehran is made to understand that the consequences for such infiltration will be harder than an Obama wrist slap, we can expect more, and worse, to come.

More here.  
 
Arthur Herman adds that

anyone who has deluded themselves into thinking that Iran would never be so reckless as to use a nuclear weapon if it acquired one should have no more doubts. …

There are … several steps the United States can take, right now, short of military action — and more forceful than another round of toothless sanctions.

More here.  
 
The Washington Post reports:

Iran’s nuclear program, which stumbled badly after a reported cyberattack last year, appears beset by poorly performing equipment, shortages of parts and other woes as global sanctions exert a mounting toll, Western diplomats and nuclear experts say. …

“Without question, they have been set back,” said David Albright, president of the institute and a former inspector for the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Although the problems are not fatal for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they have “hurt Iran’s ability to break out quickly” into the ranks of the world’s nuclear powers, Albright said.

More here.  
 
FDD senior fellow Emanuele Ottolenghi, author of a new book on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, asks:

So why did Iran choose to escalate its decades-long confrontation with the US in such a way? ...

There are good reasons why decision-makers in Tehran may have chosen to take such a risk. In their view - one also voiced by Iranian politicians, clerics and military commanders - US influence in the region is wane ...

The plot’s perpetrators may be rogue, but that is only because Iran is a rogue regime, not because this was an act of entrepreneurship by a loose cannonball inside the system.

And the fact that right now in Washington, both pundits and government officials seem bent on finding ways to exculpate Iran’s top leadership by suggesting the rogue theory of responsibility, indicates Iran’s reading of America’s weakness may be spot on.

More here. More on Emanuele’s book here
 
THE LIBYAN FRONT: FDD Senior Fellow John Hannah writes that Qaddafi’s death

marks an important milestone — not just for Libya’s transition to a more decent order, but for America’s strategic interests in seeing the Great Arab Rebellions of 2011 resume a more benign trajectory. In the wake of the rapid collapse of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, it was Qaddafi’s ability to hold on to power by declaring war on his own people that signaled that the “Revenge of the Tyrants” was on, and that the region’s worst totalitarians had no intention of going gently into that good night — the will of their own people and the condemnation of the world be damned. Most destructively for U.S. interests, Iran’s handmaiden in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, quickly followed suit, and has been massacring thousands of his own citizens ever since in cahoots with the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards.

Qaddafi’s inglorious end sends a belated message that this gambit, too, will ultimately fail … Assad’s head will rest far less easy tonight. The morale of the Syrian people will receive a much-needed boost to endure the difficult days that no doubt still lie ahead. And perhaps most importantly, the hard men around Assad who have continued to do his dirty work, will have new cause to save their own skins by reassessing their misguided loyalties to a leader who is dragging them and their community ever closer to catastrophe. With a strategic stake in Syria’s fate that dwarfs our interests in Libya, the United States would be well advised to exploit the openings created by Qaddafi’s terminus to re-energize the effort to depose Assad, short-circuit the civil war that he is struggling mightily to ignite, and deliver a crippling blow to the Iranian terror machine that so threatens our interests and those of our allies.

More here.  
 
I ask:

With Qaddafi gone, will Libyans put down their arms, clear the rubble, organize a decent government, and use the oil wealth that lies under the desert sands to rebuild? One can hope. Few bookmakers would give odds.

Qaddafi was not America’s friend, but the vision of U.S. troops pulling Saddam Hussein from a spider hole in Iraq did persuade him that having America as an enemy was not smart. So he gave up his drive to develop nuclear weapons and coughed up useful intelligence on how that project had been organized. He stopped financing terrorism — as far as we’re aware. He did continue oppressing his own people. Both the Bush and the Obama administrations pretty much gave him a pass on that.

If the Great Arab Revolt — “Arab Spring” is a hopeful, not descriptive term — ends up only removing Qaddafi and, from neighboring Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, a despot who was, nonetheless, a reasonably pliant client of the U.S., and if Iran’s theocrats remain in power and manage to save the Assad dynasty in Syria while continuing to use Hezbollah to control Lebanon and sponsoring Hamas in Gaza, the lesson will be clear: It is more dangerous to be America’s ally than its enemy.

More here.  
 
Daniel Pipes recalls that whereas Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser

dreamed of a single Arab nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf as an end in itself, Qaddafi saw Arab unity as the first step to Muslim unity. …

Qaddafi kicked off what was then known as the Islamic revival and also still continues. At a time when no one else was ready to do so, he proudly and provocatively advanced Islamic causes by applying aspects of Islamic law, calling on Muslims worldwide to do likewise, and assisting any Muslims in conflict with non-Muslims.

More here.  
 
THE ALGERIAN FRONT: FDD senior fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht writes about Algeria, where, on top of a corrupt socialist economy,

the regime has built a masterpiece of crony capitalism. The dissident historian Mohammed Harbi, who once championed the rebellion against France and now lives in exile in Paris, put it succinctly: “The regime has nothing to offer for the long term. It is not interested in asking where Algeria and Algerians will be in twenty years.”

Nothing really works in the country, except the oil and natural-gas industries, which fuel the police state. Hundreds of thousands have emigrated from the poverty, boredom and brutality of the security services.

In France and Belgium, expatriates have developed a pro-democracy virtual world on the Internet. …

If Algeria starts to rumble again, it will be because pro-democracy Algerian secularists detest the military dictatorship more than they fear Islamists. …

Since 1990, Algeria has been a volcano waiting to explode again. The revolts in Libya and Tunisia have probably brought that day closer. The coming shock to energy markets and America’s role in the region may not be small.

More here.  
 
IMMORAL EQUIVALENCE: UN Watch notes that the head of the UN cannot distinguish between a kidnapped hostage denied the most basic rights theoretically guaranteed by international law and terrorists convicted in a court of law and granted all rights and due process:

“I am very encouraged by the prisoner exchange today after many, many years of negotiation,” Secretary-General Ban told Reuters today. “The United Nations has been calling for (an end to) the unacceptable detention of Gilad Shalit and also the release of all Palestinians whose human rights have been abused all the time.”

More here.  
 
FDD’s Jonathan Schanzer worries that the trade of hostage Gilat Schalit for hundreds of Palestinian terrorists

could pave the road for an elusive unity deal between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah faction, and ultimately force Washington to reconsider its diplomacy and aid package to a Palestinian government constituted in part by an unrepentant terrorist group.

More here.  
 
Additional commentary on the exchange by Daniel Gordis here, Jeff Jacoby here, Daniel Pipes here, Walter Reich here, Andy McCarthy here.  
 
THE IRAQ FRONT: Max Boot observes:

If there is one constant of American military history it is that the longer our troops stay in a country the better the prospects of a successful outcome. Think of Germany, Italy, Japan or South Korea. Conversely when U.S. troops rush for the exits hard-won wartime gains can quickly evaporate. Think of the post-Civil War South, post-World War I Germany, post-1933 (and post-1995) Haiti, post-1972 Vietnam, or, more recently, post-1983 Lebanon and post-1993 Somalia. …

Far from being cause for celebration, Obama’s announcement that we will keep only 150 U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of the year–down from nearly 50,000 today–represents a shameful failure of American foreign policy that risks undoing all the gains that so many Americans, Iraqis, and other allies have sacrificed so much to achieve. The risks of a catastrophic failure in Iraq now rise appreciably. The Iranian Quds Force must be licking its chops because we are now leaving Iraq essentially defenseless against its machinations. Conversely the broad majority of Iraqis who fear Iranian influence and who want their country to become a democracy will come to rue this day, however big a victory it might appear in the short term for the cause of Iraqi nationalism. …

The failure to reach a deal now does not, however, mean that no deal can ever be reached. Once U.S. forces pull out by December 31, negotiations could and should be reopened to bring back a sizable contingent–I would argue for a bare minimum of 10,000 troops–to conduct counter-terrorist operations, support the Iraqi Security Forces, and act as a peacekeeping force along the ill-defined border between Iraq proper and the Kurdish Regional Government. By showing our willingness to pull out our troops, the U.S. can show the Iraqis that we are serious about respecting their sovereignty and not bent on a long-term occupation of their country. But of course pulling out all U.S. troops and then bringing some back would be costlier than simply keeping them there.

And any such agreement would run into the same obstacle that has already scuttled the current U.S.-Iraq talks: President Obama appears more determined to gain credit for “ending the war” than for ensuring Iraq’s long-term future as a democratic American ally.

More here.  
 
WOULD AL-AWLAKI RATHER BE WATERBOARDING? Bill McGurn on the former Yale Law dean who calls using enhanced interrogations methods to elicit life-saving information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad a crime but defends the legality of the using a drone to eliminate the American al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki.

For trying to define what was and what was not permitted under relevant domestic and international laws, [former Bush Justice Department attorney John] Yoo’s writings were labeled the “torture memos.” In a March 2010 speech to the American Society of International Law, [State Department legal advisor Harold] Koh did the same with the drone strikes. Should this be remembered as the “execution speech”?

As it happens, drone strikes and other Obama war decisions can be legally and morally justified. The problem, however, is that they are hard to justify based on the principles Mr. Koh so loudly advanced before he joined the Obama administration. The legal contortions Mr. Koh introduces in his defenses today as much as admit that.

It is eminently possible that a war might look one way from Yale and another way from Foggy Bottom. A public servant facing that reality has two honorable choices. If he found himself embracing authority he had once denounced others for defending, he would apologize to them. If he still believed his original positions, he would resign.

An honest man might at least acknowledge the contradiction.

More here.  
 
The Los Angeles Times reports:

The American son of Al Qaeda militant Anwar Awlaki was only 16 when he was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen weeks after a similar strike killed his father, the youth’s family says, raising fresh questions about the Obama administration’s use of targeted killings as a counterterrorism tool. …

“Needless to say, the incident only deepens our concern about the targeted-killing program,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has disputed the administration’s efforts to kill U.S. citizens without due process or judicial review.

More here.  
 
NOT DEFENDING THE HOMELAND: Missile defense experts Henry Cooper and Robert Pfaltzgraff conclude that Iran’s strategy

includes a central role for nuclear weapons. …

Iran has been collaborating with North Korea on nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile technology and is sharing ballistic-missile technology with Venezuela. If these missiles are armed with nuclear warheads, Venezuela may threaten the United States in a 21st-century version of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. …

[E]ffective defensive capabilities are needed to counter Tehran’s aggressive programs, including nuclear-armed-missile threats to Israel and our other allies in the Middle East and Europe and a nuclear-armed-ICBM threat to the United States by as early as 2015, according to official U.S. estimates.

But shorter-range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles could pose a threat to the United States even sooner — and recent declarations by Iranian officials make clear they are at least aware of this possibility. For example, the head of Iran’s navy, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, made the startling assertion in September that the Iranian navy could operate near U.S. “maritime borders.” According to the Iranian press, “top Iranian officials” later clarified this claim to include specifically ships that may go as far as the Gulf of Mexico. …

[T]the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission Report on the ballistic-missile threat to the United States pointed out that ships off our coasts could launch ballistic missiles toward our coastal cities. More ominously, the authors of the 2004 Commission on the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) report to Congress testified that Iran had launched a ballistic missile from a vessel in the Caspian Sea to high altitude, and that other tests implied an interest in “triggering” warheads at an altitude that could create an EMP. That could have devastating, long-lasting effects over a very large part of the United States, if not the entire country, depending on the size and point of detonation of an EMP device. …

[A]n EMP attack could disable telecommunications and transportation systems, the electric-power grid, and other critical infrastructure. With an indefinite severing of current “just-in-time” supply chains of food, drugs, and other critical items, two-thirds of the U.S. population might not survive. Such an attack might be mounted with a single nuclear warhead launched by terrorists (whether agents of al-Qaeda or Iran) on a SCUD-type short-range missile from a vessel off the U.S. coast.

What is most notable about the recent Iranian statements about deploying their ships to the U.S. coasts is the focus on the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Navy’s ballistic-missile-defense Aegis ships can shoot down such missiles if they are cruising near the launching ship. Today we have Aegis ships operating off our west and east coasts. However, they do not normally operate in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, this area is vulnerable to the threat of missile attack.

Happily, there is an affordable near-term response to this EMP threat from the south … a homeland-defense version of the Aegis Ashore component of the U.S. program for building comparable capabilities in Central Europe. (Aegis Ashore is essentially a land-based version of the ballistic-missile-defense system currently based on Aegis ships.)…

A quick fix to our current vulnerability to a near-term threat is necessary but not sufficient. Also needed is a comprehensive, increasingly robust missile-defense system to defend all Americans and our overseas troops, friends, and allies from likely greater numbers of more capable future ballistic missiles.

More here.  
 
THE SYRIAN FRONT: Robert Satloff notes that according to reports from

Beirut, Syria dispatched troops into neighboring Lebanon to chase down and shoot eight defecting soldiers and other protestors in the border town of Masharee al-Qaa. Additional reports say that Syrian troops went into the Lebanese town of al-Doura, kidnapped two, killed one, and wounded a child. Through these actions, the Asad regime once again reminded the world that its brutal repression of its citizens is not a domestic issue but a threat to (in UN language) “international peace and security.” …

It is time for the Obama administration to take the lead in organizing international protection for the embattled Syrian people. Already, more Syrians have died at the hands of their despotic ruler than was the case in Libya when the United States endorsed the call for humanitarian intervention in that country. This fact -- not the absence of Arab League endorsement or the inability to overcome Russian and Chinese vetoes at the Security Council -- should govern the direction of U.S. policy. And when this fact is combined with the strategic opportunity of contributing to the demise of Iran’s premier Arab ally, Washington should be working overtime to act in defense of the Syrian people.

More here.  
 
THE EGYPTIAN FRONT: Dina Guirguis writes:

As the United States government receives a delegation of Egypt’s ruling military junta, Egyptians mourn the tragic and heinous murder of 26 of their sons and daughters, most of whom are Coptic Christians, at the hands of that very junta. On October 9, as peaceful protesters marched toward Egypt’s radio and television building known as Maspero to object to the latest in a long history and pattern of sectarian attacks targeting Egypt’s Christian minority, they were greeted with live ammunition and mowing by armored personnel carriers (AMC’s).

The New York Times reported that according to initial autopsy reports, at least seven of the dead were killed by live ammunition and 10 were crushed to death by vehicles. As the massacre was ongoing, Egyptian state media was reporting that “Coptic sectors were attacking the military, and had killed three soldiers,” an allegation later refuted by media and unconfirmed by the military, which until now refuses to release the names of its alleged dead soldiers.

State television further called upon “honorable citizens to come to the defense of Egypt’s military, which is facing attacks by the Copts,” in a manner, according to one anchorwoman, “not even the Israelis would dare.” As a result, the tragedy was further exacerbated when roving mobs went searching for Christians to avenge the alleged attack on the military, and some Muslim extremists took to the streets with sectarian chants and threats against Christians, which played out in random acts of vigilante violence.

More here.  
 
NORTH KOREA: So much worse than most people understand. A CBN report is here.  
 
--Cliff May