PARDON ME, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, BUT ISN'T YOUR POLICY ON FIRE?
by Barry Rubin (This article is over a month old but is still very much to the point)
The story of the U.S. engagement with Syria and the sanctions issue regarding Iran's nuclear program are fascinating. Each day there's some new development showing how the Obama Administration is acting like a deer standing in the middle of a busy highway admiring the pretty automobile headlights.
Or to put it a different way, it is like watching the monster sneak up behind someone. Even though you know he's not going to turn around, you can't help but watch in fascinated horror and yelling out: "Look out!" But he pays no attention.
So I'm not just writing about these two issues in isolation but as very appropriate symbols of everything wrong with Western perceptions of the Middle East (and everywhere else) and the debates over foreign policy (and everything else) nowadays.
On Syria, for the most recent episodes of the story see here  and here but, briefly, the Syrian government keeps punching the United States in the face as Washington ignores it.
But now, on March 1, a new record is set. The place: State Department daily press conference; the main character, departmental spokesman Philip J. Crowley. A reporter wants to know how the administration views the fact that the moment the U.S. delegation left after urging Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to move away from Iran and stop supporting Hizballah, Syria's dictator invited in Iran's dictator along with Hizballah's leader and Damascus moved closer to Iran and Hizballah. Indeed, Asad said regarding Hizballah, "To support the resistance is a moral, patriotic and legal duty."
In other words, the exact opposite of what the United States requested. Is the government annoyed, does it want to express some anger or threat? Let's listen:
Well, I would point it in a slightly different direction. It came several days after an important visit to Damascus by Under Secretary Bill Burns....We want to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region. We also want - to the extent that it has the ability to talk to Iran directly, we want to make sure that Syria's communicating to Iran its concerns about its role in the region and the direction, the nature of its nuclear ambitions...."
In other words, I'm going to ignore the fact that the first thing that Asad did after Burns' visit was a love fest with Iran and Hizballah. But even more amazing, what Crowley said is that the U.S. government thinks Syria, Iran's partner and ally, is upset that Iran is being aggressive and expansionist. And it actually expects the Syrians to urge Iran not to build nuclear weapons!
One Lebanese observer called this approach, "Living in an alternate universe."
Meanwhile, as the administration congratulates itself on explaining to Syria that it should reduce support for Hizballah, Israeli military intelligence releases an assessment that Syria is giving Hizballah more and better arms than ever before.
Oh wait! Now it's March 3 so time for something new. The ófficial Syrian press agency reports that Syria's government opposed an Arab League proposal to support indirect Palestinian Authority-Israel negotiations. Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem asserted that Syria is "no way part" of the consensus supporting the plan.
But guess what? First, Senator John Kerry opened a meeting of his Senate Foreign Relations Committee by erroneously praising Syria as supporting the plan, giving this as an example of Damascus's moderation. The New York Times quoted from the Syrian report, making it sound like Moallem is praising the United States, but left out the paragraphs attacking the U.S.-backed plan! And the State Department circulated the Times article as proof of its success in winning over Syria when in fact Syrian behavior proved the exact opposite!
Oh, and that's not all! Not only did Syria oppose the plan but it attacked the Arab states that supported the U.S. effort and blasted the Palestinian Authority for not following the path of resistance, that is urged it to carry out terrorist violence against Israel.
Hey, that's not all either. Syria also issued a statement accusing Israel of "framing" it by dropping uranium particles from the air to make it seem that Syria had been building a nuclear reactor for making nuclear weapons. Not exactly evidence of rational moderation I'd say.
Meanwhile, on the Iran front, it is now March 2010 and still-six months after the first administration deadline and three months after the second deadline-there are no additional sanctions on Iran yet. In fact, the process has barely started.
Even former Democratic presidential candidate and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry has taken a stronger stance than the administration.
He supports the congressional call for tough sanctions to block Iran's energy industry which easily passed both houses. "I believe that the most biting and important sanctions would be those on the energy side." But the Obama administration wants far more limited sanctions focused on a small group in the regime elite.
Yet sanctions are getting further away rather than closer. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted at this by pulling back from her early prediction of sanctions by April, now saying it might be "some time in the next several months."
At the same time, we have endless evidence that the claim the Russians (and Chinese and others) are coming, to support sanctions, is nonsense. Just before meeting with Clinton to discuss the issue, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (or Lula for short) explained, "Peace in the world does not mean isolating someone." (Quick, invite him to explain this to the anti-Israel forces in Europe and elsewhere).
But it's outright amusing to see the efforts to spin the Russian and Chinese position. In this regard, the prize for this week should be won by an AP dispatch. The headline is: "Russia moves closer to Iran sanctions over nukes."
And what is the basis for this claim that there has just been "the strongest sign to date that the Kremlin was prepared to drop traditional opposition to such penalties if Tehran remain obstinate?" This statement from President Dmitry Medvedev:
"We believe that [engagement with Iran is] not over yet, that we can still reach an agreement," he said. "But if we don't succeed, Russia is ready - along with our partners...to consider the question of adopting sanctions."
Get it? When Russia decides that talking with Iran won't work, then at that point-how long from now would that be?-it will "consider" sanctions. Actually, he said the same thing last August, a statement trumpeted in September by the New York Times as proving Obama's policy was working.
There is more clarity with the Chinese, sort of, though the pretense is also made that they might do something. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang put it this way: "We believe there is still room for diplomatic efforts and the parties concerned should intensify those efforts." At most, the optimists suggest, in the words of this Reuters dispatch:
"China will resist any proposed sanctions that threaten flows of oil and Chinese investments, but most believe it will accept a more narrowly cast resolution that has more symbolic than practical impact."
Yes, that's the kind of thing that already existed four years ago. Some progress. Is it too much to ask policymakers to pay attention to what's going on occasionally?
So let's leave it to Ahmadinejad to sum up how things seem to Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and lots of Arabs both pro- and anti-American:
The Americans, Ahmadinejad said, "not only have failed to gain any power, but also are forced to leave the region. They are leaving their reputation, image, and power behind in order to escape....The [American] government has no influence [to stop]....the expansion of Iran-Syria ties, Syria-Turkey ties, and Iran-Turkey ties--God willing, Iraq too will join the circle...."
In other words, Obama Administration policy isn't making the radicals more moderate but rather--by feeding their arrogance and belief in American weakness--making them more aggressive.
Rand Paul roundup
Everybody loves Rand: "Even if he doesn’t presage a major change in how electoral party politics works, [Rand] Paul’s appeal goes beyond even state-shrinkers of any inclination. He inspired lefty journalist Robert Scheer to cheer Paul — in language that ought to appeal to principled progressives of all sorts — as a ‘principled libertarian in the mold of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and we need more of that impulse in the Congress. What’s wrong with cutting back big government that mostly exists to serve the interests of big corporations? Surely it would be better if that challenge came from populist progressives of the left, in the Bernie Sanders mold, but this is Kentucky we’re talking about.’ At the same time, and equally encouraging for Paul’s bonafides as a political good guy, he earned the obloquy of staunch defenders of the Radical Middle: From the right side, David Frum found Paul’s victory ‘depressing’ and ‘ominous,’ while on the left, Matthew Yglesias dubbed Paul, without explanation, a ‘lunatic.’”
The media’s new villain: Rand Paul: "Want to know what media outlets journalists follow? Watch as they copy from one another. That truism has seldom been more obvious than the liberal feeding frenzy we’ve seen this week over Kentucky Republican senatorial candidate Rand Paul. Paul is something rarely seen now. He’s a principled candidate that will say things the liberal media don’t want to hear. So they are working hand-in-hand with the left to destroy him. His appearance on ‘Rachel Maddow’ Wednesday led to an on-air interrogation about Paul’s views on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul made it clear he emphatically opposes discrimination, but also dislikes the far-reaching implications of the Civil Rights Act. Even then, he doesn’t support getting rid of the act. He was merely making a principled stand about the size and influence of government.”
Rand Paul, civil rights, and more liberal hypocrisy on race: "This week, thanks to Rand Paul’s win in the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, we are treated to another grand spectacle of liberal hypocrisy when it comes to race. The liberal community has gone into emotional hyper-drive over Paul’s opposition to the section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that banned racial discrimination by private businesses. The liberals are just shocked and outraged that anyone would honestly suggest that private businesses should be free to discriminate"
On private discrimination: "It’s true that a strict libertarian or free-market perspective might prevent the government from interfering when individuals choose to act in a discriminatory fashion. This may make people uncomfortable. But, as Mr. Paul pointed out, the very idea of freedom requires us to tolerate certain decisions that we might find distasteful, in order to ensure that we have the liberty to make decisions that others might find distasteful. For example: Our nation prizes freedom of expression so much that our constitutions deny governments the authority to restrict or punish speech, even if the ideas expressed are almost universally regarded as offensive. Respect for this form of freedom is so ingrained in our culture that its wisdom is only rarely challenged. Mr. Paul was trying to help Ms. Maddow understand that, similarly, if one believes in individual liberty then one must necessarily be prepared to tolerate the fact that some individuals will use that liberty in ways that others might find offensive.”
A problem like Paul: "How do you solve a problem like Rand Paul? The Kentucky Republican and son of libertarian icon Ron had hardly won his party’s nomination for U.S. Senate before getting embroiled in a controversy over the 1964 Civil Rights Act, apparently in the belief that it’s never too late to re-litigate 40-year-old historic milestones. Paul doesn’t like that the law forced private businesses to serve blacks, a violation of his libertarian principles. Paul said that he supported the parts of the law that ended state discrimination and he abhors racism. None of which prevented him from getting smeared as a mild-mannered George Wallace. It turns out that a Senate campaign does not offer the same friendly confines for the discussion of libertarian doctrine as a seminar at the Ayn Rand Institute.”
HI: Republican wins US House seat in Obama’s home district: "Republicans won a Democratic-held congressional seat in Hawaii in the district where President Barack Obama grew up — the latest triumph for the party as it looks to take back control of Congress in the November national election. But Democrats believe the success in Hawaii will be short-lived. The Republican winner will only serve through the remainder of 2010, and another election will be held in November for the next term. Democrats are confident they can win the seat back in November because their vote won’t be split among several candidates, as it was in the special election.”
Dodd’s do-nothing financial “reform”: "Wall Street is heaving a quiet sigh of relief: All Washington is going to give us for ‘financial reform’ in the wake of the collapse of 2008 is a law based on Sen. Chris Dodd’s bill. That thin semblance of reform will let Congress and the Obama administration claim they brought Wall Street to heel. But by dodging all the hard issues, this ‘reform’ makes it likely that the next crisis will put the last one to shame.”
What’s big, risky … and losing billions?: "This week, the Senate rejected a $400 billion cap on the taxpayer bailout of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation and the Federal National Mortgage Association, better known as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The decision may ensure that the two firms’ collapse will be the most costly event of the economic downturn. Their old model — private companies with an implicit public guarantee — created behemoths that gambled trillions of dollars and lost billions in taxpayers’ money. This old system was unacceptable, but what shall we put in its place? Let’s start with the basic question: Why should Fannie and Freddie exist at all?”
Enough money: "One of the many shallow statements that sound good — if you don’t stop and think about it — is that ‘at some point, you have made enough money.’ The key word in this statement, made by President Barack Obama recently, is ‘you.’ There is nothing wrong with my deciding how much money is enough for me or your deciding how much money is enough for you, but when politicians think that they should be deciding how much money is enough for other people, that is starting down a very slippery slope.”
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.
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