Tags: Arab Spring

Are Hezbollah/Qods the New Top U.S. Terror Threat?


From the report that spurred one of the headlines below:

In July 2012, NCTC director Matthew Olsen warned that while Iran and Hizballah had not yet hit targets in the United States, U.S. officials worry that could soon change. “We’re seeing a general uptick in the level of activity around the world,” he noted, adding that “both Hezbollah and the Qods Force have demonstrated an ability to operate essentially globally.” In fact, the Hizballah–Qods Force threat has sometimes eclipsed that of al-Qaeda. Olsen continued: “There are times when we are briefing the White House [on terror threats and] at the top of the list are Hezbollah or Iran.”

That comment comes from a July 2012 Wired article, which elaborated:

The al-Qaeda network of Sunni extremists is still America’s undisputed Public Enemy #1. But for the first time in a long time, there’s competition, at least week-to-week.

So, this is the same Qods force that Hagel voted against labeling a terrorist organization back in 2007.

And this is the same Hezbollah that Hagel did not feel the European Union should label a terrorist organization back in 2006. Of course, Hagel is now telling folks like Chuck Schumer he’s always seen Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Tags: Arab Spring , Hezbollah , Qods Force

Schumer Jumps on Board the Chuck Wagon


The midweek edition of the Morning Jolt looks at The Atlantic’s troublesome new advertiser, how the media chooses to cover the NRA, and then this development, sapping a confirmation fight of some of its drama . . .

Chuck Schumer Saves Chuck Hagel

With Chuck Schumer on board, you can probably expect “Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel” to become reality in the near future.

Jen Rubin: “It is no mystery what happened. As I reported this morning, the letter from Chuck Hagel to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) trying to pretty up his record was so haphazardly done and so poorly received that the White House had to do something. So the Hagel handlers prevailed upon Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) not to wait to voice a view informed by the confirmation hearings as he previously said he would do, but to rush forth with a partial nod after a meeting with Hagel. He didn’t say how Hagel cleared up his record or what he possibly could have done to explain such slurs as his declaration he is not the senator for Israel. But Schumer feels better, he now tells us.”

ADDENDA: Syrian government forces may have used chemical weapons on December 23 . . .

If you didn’t see it yesterday, I had the first interview with former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, now that he’s officially running for the U.S. House of Representatives

Finally, the Galactic Empire issues a press release in response to yesterday’s news that the Obama administration will not build a Death Star, despite 34,435 people signing an official White House petition calling for the massive construction project.

IMPERIAL CENTER, CORUSCANT — The overwhelming military superiority of the Galactic Empire has been confirmed once again by the recent announcement by the President of the United States that his nation would not attempt to build a Death Star, despite the bellicose demands of the people of his tiny, aggressive planet. “It is doubtless that such a technological terror in the hands of so primitive a world would be used to upset the peace and sanctity of the citizens of the Galactic Empire,“ said Governor Wilhuff Tarkin of the Outer Rim Territories. “Such destructive power can only be wielded to protect and defend by so enlightened a leader as Emperor Palpatine.”

Tags: Arab Spring , Chuck Schumer

What’s ‘The Very Best Thing’ About the Hagel Pick?


Because the subscribers seem to enjoy it, one more bit from today’s Morning Jolt:

Richard Cohen, hits the Washington Post op-ed page this morning with a heaping serving of conventional wisdom and gobbledygook on the president’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense:

The very best thing about Obama’s choice of Hagel for the Pentagon is that the president did not back down, as he did with Susan Rice.

Really? That’s the very best thing about him? Not his qualifications, or his intellect, or his sterling record of good judgment or his innovative approach to ensuring the security of the American people? Really? The very best thing about this nomination is that it makes Obama and his fans feel good about themselves, about their willingness to disregard contrary voices and criticism? When you think about it, isn’t that just about the most damning thing you can say about the Hagel pick? That he’s really good for the feelings of everyone in the administration? That he helps repair all of that self-esteem that was bruised by the Susan Rice mess?

With defenders like these, Chuck Hagel doesn’t need critics.

Tags: Barack Obama , Arab Spring

Chuck Hagel, the Conditional Secretary of Defense?


One simple question for the upcoming Hagel hearings: would a Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel be willing to order U.S. forces to either assist Israel in a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, or order U.S. forces to execute that strike directly?

(I foresee in the comments section many folks arguing the merits of the idea, but the point is separate from that debate; the point is whether or not Hagel is able to enact options that the president himself has repeatedly stated are “on the table.” Or is the president announcing, with Hagel, that those options are no longer on the table?)

If the answer to either of those is “no” – that Hagel’s conscience and personal policy beliefs mean he could not, in good conscience, give either of those orders, and that he would resign rather than carry out an order from the president to do that — then we have a Secretary of Defense who is going to have to be replaced in the event of a crisis along these lines. It’s a bad idea to have a Secretary of Defense who can only serve the president as long as the president forecloses certain already-discussed options.

Tags: Barack Obama , Arab Spring , Iran , Israel

A Growing Consensus to Ground Chuck?


From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

The Anti-Bagel Hagel

Resolved: if confirmed, Chuck Hagel is going to make a lot of decisions that will irritate conservatives, Republicans, and friends of Israel.

And maybe some folks outside those groups as well. The editors of the Washington Post surprise us this morning by opposing Hagel strongly for his views on defense cuts and Iran: “Mr. Hagel’s stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him… Mr. Hagel was similarly isolated in his views about Iran during his time in the Senate. He repeatedly voted against sanctions, opposing even those aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which at the time was orchestrating devastating bomb attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. Mr. Hagel argued that direct negotiations, rather than sanctions, were the best means to alter Iran’s behavior. The Obama administration offered diplomacy but has turned to tough sanctions as the only way to compel Iran to negotiate seriously.”

Bret Stephens kicked off the debate over Hagel in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday:

Prejudice—like cooking, wine-tasting and other consummations—has an olfactory element. When Chuck Hagel, the former GOP senator from Nebraska who is now a front-runner to be the next secretary of Defense, carries on about how “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” the odor is especially ripe.

Ripe because a “Jewish lobby,” as far as I’m aware, doesn’t exist. No lesser authorities on the subject than John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of “The Israel Lobby,” have insisted the term Jewish lobby is “inaccurate and misleading, both because the [Israel] lobby includes non-Jews like Christian Zionists and because many Jewish Americans do not support the hard-line policies favored by its most powerful elements.”

Ripe because, whatever other political pressures Mr. Hagel might have had to endure during his years representing the Cornhusker state, winning over the state’s Jewish voters—there are an estimated 6,100 Jewish Nebraskans in a state of 1.8 million people—was probably not a major political concern for Mr. Hagel compared to, say, the ethanol lobby.

Alana Goodman: “Obama wouldn’t just be burning his pro-Israel voters by nominating Hagel. The reputations of pro-Israel Democratic leaders–who took to the op-ed pages to reassure Jewish voters that, despite evidence to the contrary, Obama would get serious on Iran in a second term–are also riding on this.”

Why do I get the feeling that Obama would not lose much sleep about burning the reputations of pro-Israel Democratic leaders who reassured Jewish voters? Hey, guys look out for that bus!

Jen Rubin sends along word from Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, on the potential for Chuck Hagel to be picked as secretary of Defense: “Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel.  His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling.   The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former president Jimmy Carter.”

For some readers, Hagel’s invocation of the sinister-sounding “Jewish lobby” will be enough to urge Senate Republicans to strongly oppose his confirmation; for others, it will be his longtime interest in reaching out to unsavory characters in Hamas and the regime of Iran.

Still, there’s this nagging point – none of this is anything new, and neither a critical mass of American Jews or the electorate as a whole seem to care. The Obama administration’s persistent desire to hold talks with Iran were mentioned, time and again, in the campaigns of 2008 and 2012. Mitt Romney pointed out the spinning of Iran’s centrifuges over the past four years again and again on the campaign trail. Hagel’s been so pro-Obama, he was mentioned as a possible running mate in 2008, and has been mentioned for the Secretary of Defense job every time it was opened up under Obama. The unlikelihood that negotiations would advance any U.S. interest, and instead amount to a propaganda win for regimes and groups hostile to us, is pretty clear. And yet America elected and reelected the guy proposing it. And he carried the Jewish vote by a healthy majority both times.

How many times are we required to save the American people from the consequences of their actions, dragging them kicking and screaming from a bad outcome they keep trying to run towards? If only a small portion of the American Jewish community is willing to loudly oppose Hagel over his “Jewish lobby” comments, how vehemently should those of us outside that community fight a battle that we are quite likely to lose?

Also among those who also got the ball rolling on this: Jeff Dunetz.

Tags: Barack Obama , Arab Spring

Obama Regretted His ‘Muted’ Early Stance on Iran


This morning, The New York Times offers a lengthy look at President Obama’s relationship with leaders in the Arab world, full of revealing detail. It never quite comes out and explicitly says the president’s approach has failed, but the overall picture is withering and bleak.

Among the highlights:

  • Obama ignored “advice from elders on his staff at the State Department and at the Pentagon” in calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
  • But by the time the Saudis were crushing democracy protests in Bahrain, Obama had changed his mind, and “largely turned a blind eye.”
  • By the time the Tunisian protests broke out in January 2011 — an angry Mr. Obama accused his staff of being caught “flat-footed.”
  • The tensions between Mr. Obama and the Gulf states, both American and Arab diplomats say, derive from an Obama character trait: he has not built many personal relationships with foreign leaders. “He’s not good with personal relationships; that’s not what interests him,” said one United States diplomat. “But in the Middle East, those relationships are essential. The lack of them deprives D.C. of the ability to influence leadership decisions.”  
  • Arab officials echo that sentiment, describing Mr. Obama as a cool, cerebral man who discounts the importance of personal chemistry in politics. “You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” said one Arab diplomat with long experience in Washington. “He doesn’t have friends who are world leaders. He doesn’t believe in patting anybody on the back, nicknames.“You can’t accomplish what you want to accomplish” with such an impersonal style, the diplomat said.
  • Perhaps most significantly, “Months later, administration officials said, Mr. Obama expressed regret about his muted stance on Iran.”

Let’s set the wayback machine to June 16, 2009: “President Obama said Tuesday that it would be counterproductive for the United States “to be seen as meddling” in the disputed Iranian presidential election, dismissing criticism from several leading Republicans that he has failed to speak out forcefully enough on behalf of the Iranian opposition.”

So the Republican critics were right, and President Obama was wrong. Now he sees it.

Obama 2012: Because he now realizes where he botched his Iran policy early on!

The article summarizes, “the stark difference between the outcomes in Cairo and Bahrain illustrates something else, too: his impatience with old-fashioned back-room diplomacy, and his corresponding failure to build close personal relationships with foreign leaders that can, especially in the Middle East, help the White House to influence decisions made abroad.”

Tags: Arab Spring , Barack Obama , Iran

Obama’s Mistake Is Much Bigger Than an ‘Ally’ Gaffe


Allow me to deviate slightly from the emerging consensus that President Obama stepped in it mightily when he said that “I don’t think we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.”

How would you characterize a regime where the security forces are unable or unwilling to protect U.S. soil, where the locals storm the embassy, trash it, remove and destroy the U.S. flag, and replace it with a black Islamist flag reading, “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet”? Does that seem like the actions of an “ally”? How do you characterize a regime that takes a day to issue any statement responding to such an attack, one whose denunciation is tepid, one that urges its embassy to attempt to take legal action in the U.S. to restrict the rights of an American to criticize Islam?

I don’t doubt that the declaration that the U.S. no longer considers the Egyptian government to be an ally will have considerable reverberations in Cairo and U.S. diplomatic circles — but those reverberations ought to pale in comparison to the storming of an embassy on 9/11, and a series of attacks on U.S. soil and personnel in the region.

Obama’s mistake is much bigger than the “ally” comment; it is his vision and approach, which we’ve seen for years. His mistake has been viewing Prime Minister Morsi, the government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, and the entire Arab Spring with rose-colored glasses.

Is the security around our embassies and consulates lax because we underestimate the anti-American currents in the driving philosophies of the Arab Spring? Can anyone argue that the Obama administration has had a realistic sense of anti-American attitudes in the region, and the dangers they present?

The Washington Post’s foreign-affairs columnist, David Ignatius, had a fascinating throwaway line in his column today:

The Salafists’ assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi at first appeared to be a “copycat” attack like the one in Cairo, but U.S. officials said it may have been planned by extremists linked to al-Qaeda. They were augmented by a well-armed Islamic militia. Their anger, again, is mixed between a baseline anti-Americanism (sadly, always a draw in the region) and a challenge to Prime Minister Abdurraheem el-Keib and the secularist parties that are the backbone of the new Libyan government.

A key goal of U.S. policy ought to be fighting, refuting, and discrediting this “baseline anti-Americanism.” The people of the United States have been the go-to scapegoat for every two-bit demagogue from Algiers, Algeria, to Lahore, Pakistan. With almost metronomic regularity, somebody with aspirations of political or religious power decides that easiest way to build up a following is to declare that the economic, political, or moral problems of their neighborhood are the fault of Americans. They and all of their buddies choose to lash out with a demonstration at the U.S. diplomatic post. On a quiet day, it’s just banners and chanting; on a bad day, good Americans get killed, just for showing up to work.

We have leverage with these regimes, none more so than Egypt, which receives enormous sums of foreign aid and is seeking billions in debt relief. If these regimes want to be considered allies, and want those wonderful American dollars to keep coming, they have to push back against knee-jerk anti-Americanism. We cannot be the all-purpose bogeyman in the political rhetoric of states that claim to want to be our friends, a convenient caricature for regime spokesmen to trot out when they need to distract from their own failures.

The demonization of America is so pervasive in Egyptian media it even percolated freely in the English-language press under Mubarak. No one’s asking foreign governments to shut down voices critical of America; just to refute the lies and stand up for our reputations, to stop letting us be the perpetual villain in all of their political discussions.

Obama’s problem isn’t one stray comment. Our problem is the policy he has pursued from Day One.

Tags: Arab Spring , Barack Obama , Egypt

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