Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009: The Year of Lost opportunity in Iran

by Charles Krauthammer

On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not just reject President Obama's latest feckless floating nuclear deadline. He spat on it, declaring that Iran "will continue resisting" until the U.S. has gotten rid of its 8,000 nuclear warheads.

So ends 2009, the year of "engagement," of the extended hand, of the gratuitous apology -- and of spinning centrifuges, two-stage rockets and a secret enrichment facility that brought Iran materially closer to becoming a nuclear power.

We lost a year. But it was not just any year. It was a year of spectacularly squandered opportunity. In Iran, it was a year of revolution, beginning with a contested election and culminating this week in huge demonstrations mourning the death of the dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri -- and demanding no longer a recount of the stolen election but the overthrow of the clerical dictatorship.

Obama responded by distancing himself from this new birth of freedom. First, scandalous silence. Then, a few grudging words. Then relentless engagement with the murderous regime. With offer after offer, gesture after gesture -- to not Iran, but the "Islamic Republic of Iran," as Obama ever so respectfully called these clerical fascists -- the U.S. conferred legitimacy on a regime desperate to regain it.

Why is this so important? Because revolutions succeed at that singular moment, that imperceptible historical inflection, when the people, and particularly those in power, realize that the regime has lost the mandate of heaven. With this weakening dictatorship desperate for affirmation, why is the U.S. repeatedly offering just such affirmation?

Apart from ostracizing and delegitimizing these gangsters, we should be encouraging and reinforcing the demonstrators. This is no trivial matter. When pursued, beaten, arrested and imprisoned, dissidents can easily succumb to feelings of despair and isolation. Natan Sharansky testifies to the electric effect Ronald Reagan's Evil Empire speech had on lifting spirits in the Gulag. The news was spread cell to cell in code tapped on the walls. They knew they weren't alone, that America was committed to their cause.

Yet so aloof has Obama been that on Hate America Day (Nov. 4, the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran), pro-American counter-demonstrators chanted "Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them," i.e., their oppressors.

Such cool indifference is more than a betrayal of our values. It's a strategic blunder of the first order.

Forget about human rights. Assume you care only about the nuclear issue. How to defuse it? Negotiations are going nowhere, and whatever U.N. sanctions we might get will be weak, partial, grudging and late. The only real hope is regime change. The revered and widely supported Montazeri had actually issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons.

And even if a successor government were to act otherwise, the nuclear threat would be highly attenuated because it's not the weapon but the regime that creates the danger. (Think India or Britain, for example.) Any proliferation is troubling, but a nonaggressive pro-Western Tehran would completely change the strategic equation and make the threat minimal and manageable.

What should we do? Pressure from without -- cutting off gasoline supplies, for example -- to complement and reinforce pressure from within. The pressure should be aimed not at changing the current regime's nuclear policy -- that will never happen -- but at helping change the regime itself.

Give the kind of covert support to assist dissident communication and circumvent censorship that, for example, we gave Solidarity in Poland during the 1980s. (In those days that meant broadcasting equipment and copying machines.) But of equal importance is robust rhetorical and diplomatic support from the very highest level: full-throated denunciation of the regime's savagery and persecution. In detail -- highlighting cases, the way Western leaders adopted the causes of Sharansky and Andrei Sakharov during the rise of the dissident movement that helped bring down the Soviet empire.

Will this revolution succeed? The odds are long but the reward immense. Its ripple effects would extend from Afghanistan to Iraq (in both conflicts, Iran actively supports insurgents who have long been killing Americans and their allies) to Lebanon and Gaza where Iran's proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, are arming for war.

One way or the other, Iran will dominate 2010. Either there will be an Israeli attack or Iran will arrive at -- or cross -- the nuclear threshold. Unless revolution intervenes. Which is why to fail to do everything in our power to support this popular revolt is unforgivable.



Obama's year of falling swiftly

Reality bites

As Barack and Michelle Obama prepare for their first Christmas in the White House, they might wonder why he has fallen so swiftly from being virtually a national icon to the unhappy status as among the least popular occupants of the Oval Office since modern polling began.

Regardless of what happens during the balance of his presidential tenure, Obama will always be a national treasure because he proved for all time that America truly is the place where any child, including one whose skin is not lily white, can be elected to the most powerful office on Earth.

But, just as Americans can elect whomever they choose to be their commander-in-chief, they can also decide they made a serious mistake in their choice. There is an especially bitter cast to that realization when it involves a recognition that they were lied to by somebody in whom they invested a historic trust.

To grasp the depth of the gathering disappointment with Obama, consider this fact: He is less popular today, not quite a year into his first term, than the battered and bruised George W. Bush was at the end of his eight years in office.

Here are the numbers: Scott Rasmussen's latest survey of likely voters -- the most reliable predictor of future election results -- finds 56 percent of those questioned either disapprove or strongly disapprove of Obama's performance, with 46 percent falling in the latter category. When Bush left office, 43 percent strongly disapproved of his performance.

In the Gallup Poll, only one in four Americans is satisfied with the direction in which Obama and the Democratic Congress are leading the country. Rasmussen's tracking finds Republicans with their biggest lead of the year in the generic congressional party balloting, leading Democrats by 44 percent to 36 percent. Only one in four Americans approves of the job Congress is doing, according to Gallup.

It's not hard to see why Obama and the Democratic Congress have sunk so low in the public esteem. Obama's signature issue, for example, is health care reform, and his solution is to create a government-run health care system.

Whatever the merits of Obama's proposed solution, health care reform is an odd choice for a signature issue. As Gallup puts it, "the perception that healthcare is the nation's top problem was fairly scarce during most of the decade, reaching a low point of 1% in October 2001 (as terrorism overrode other concerns)."

When Obama and congressional leaders turned their attention away from economic recovery to the campaign to enact Obamacare, "the public's mentioning of healthcare as the country's top problem began to rise again, reaching 26% by late August/early September," according to Gallup.

But now, "at decade's end, concerns over healthcare had drifted back to 16%."

In other words, the smartest guy in the room ran a slick presidential campaigns, capitalizing on public disgust with his predecessor by portraying himself as a tax cutter who would deliver "a net spending reduction," and benefiting from a generational yearning to make history by electing the country's first black president.

It was a brilliant strategy, but, once in office, Obama lost his touch. He and his advisers believed their own hubristic press releases about solving the nation's problems by doing what Washington Democrats have been doing since FDR -- throwing tax dollars and bureaucrats at them -- only doing it more spectacularly than ever before.

So they've done pretty much what I predicted they would do in a Feb. 11 column: Obama has spent 2009 "making himself the symbol of what's wrong with Washington rather than being the agent of change in Washington."

The title of that column was "Obama headed to a one-term strategy." He still is.



Detroit terror attack is a major intelligence and security failure

The fact that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to trigger his home-made incendiary device on board a US airliner represents an intelligence and security failure of staggering proportions. Tough questions need to be asked of not just the US security agencies – such as the CIA and the FBI – but also of Britain's MI6, MI5 and the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorist unit.

How can a Muslim student, whose name appears on a US law enforcement database, be granted a visa to travel to America, allegedly acquire an explosive device from Yemen, a country awash with al-Qaeda terrorists, and avoid detection from the world's most sophisticated spy agencies?

Every intelligence agency across the world is fully aware that the targets of choice for al-Qaeda and its numerous affiliates and sympathisers are airliners – preferably those flying to the US. Yet Abdulmutallab seems to have avoided detection in both Nigeria and Holland when he passed through the various security checks at Lagos and Schiphol airports respectively. Embarrassingly for Washington, Lagos airport had recently been given the "all clear" by the US's Transportation Security Administration, an agency established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks which was supposed to improve the security on American airliners.

Attacking airlines is not exactly new territory for al-Qaeda. After 9/11, Richard Reid, a British Muslim convert, tried to blow up a transatlantic airliner by detonating explosives hidden in his shoes. More recently, Britain was the base for the so-called liquid bomb plot when a group of British Islamists plotted to destroy up to 10 US bound airliners in a series of attacks designed to kill thousands. As 9/11 showed, for a relatively cheap outlay- the cost of the operation was estimated at round £300,000 – the impact of an airline attack can be global: the desired conclusion for every al-Qaeda mission.

Yet Abdulmutallab, a 23-year Nigerian, who US officials said studied mechanical engineering at University College in London, came frighteningly close to committing a terrorist atrocity undetected. MI5, Britain's security service, will be spending the next few weeks frantically trying to discover whether Abdulmutallab had, at any time, appeared on their radar. The service will want to know whether he was a complete unknown or if he was one of the 2,000-plus "persons of interest" MI5 currently has on its books and who are believed to be associated with al-Qaeda in some capacity.

There will be further concern and some embarrassment within MI5 and the British government if it emerges that Abdulmutallab entered the country with a student visa. There is a belief within some quarters of Whitehall that the visa offer potential terrorists easy access into the UK where they can recruit support and plot attacks. If it is established for definite that the suspect did study in the UK, MI5 will be keen to discover if he was a terrorist before he entered Britain in 2005 or whether he was radicalised in the UK.

Any Yemen connection brings an international dimension to the plot and suggests that this "near miss" was a conspiracy and not the work of one man acting alone. Such a notion will prove hugely worrying for the US and Britain because it would suggest that al-Qaeda have managed to create another international, and as yet unknown, network capable of planning and mounting attacks.

The US has an important and sensitive relationship with Yemen, a rare western ally in the Gulf region and a country fighting an insurgency against Islamist radicals. CIA drones have killed al-Qaeda operatives based in the country and just last week two terrorist leaders were reported to have been died in a Yemeni air force attack.

The simplicity of the latest plot – another al-Qaeda hallmark – could also lead to changes into the way passengers are body searched in the future. Reports suggest that Abdulmutallab was able to carry the powdery substance undetected by concealing it on the inside of his upper thigh, close to his groin – an area likely to avoid detection even by the most conscientious of security officials. It would appear that he was allowed to take a syringe containing a liquid on board the aircraft by apparently taking advantage of airlines' policy of allowing diabetics to inject themselves during flight. Changes of some sort to passenger travel would seem to be a certainty. British Airways has already announced that hand baggage has been reduced to one item following the attack.

Whether Abdulmutallab was directed by al-Qaeda – as he initially claimed to US investigators but later denied – or whether his connections were more "aspirational" remains to be seen.

But what this incident demonstrates is that despite all the improvements in security since 9/11, determined terrorists can and will continue to mount terrorists attacks against western targets – and one day they will succeed.




China's 245mph train service is the world's fastest... and it was completed in just FOUR years: "In the week that Britain's high speed rail link closed down because the wrong sort of snow interfered with the engine's electronics, China unveiled the world's fastest train service on one of the coldest days of the year. Days after thousands of passengers were left stranded when Eurostar services were cancelled, China's new system connects the modern cities of Guangzhou and Wuhan at an average speed of 217mph - and it took just four years to build. The super-high-speed train reduces the 664-mile journey to just a three-hour ride and cuts the previous journey time by more than seven-and-a-half hours, the official Xinhua news agency said. Work on the project began in 2005 as part of plans to expand a high-speed network aimed at eventually linking Guangzhou, a business hub in southern China near Hong Kong, with the capital Beijing, Xinhua added. 'The train can go 245mph, it's the fastest train in operation in the world,' said Zhang Shuguang, head of the transport bureau at the railways ministry. By comparison, the average for high-speed trains in Japan was 150mph while in France it was 172mph, said Xu Fangliang, general engineer in charge of designing the link."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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