February 26, 2010

Must We Waste Another Year?

The United States is re-establishing ties with Damascus and hoping to lure Syria away from Iran, but Lebanese scholar Tony Badran warns the Obama administration that Syria’s President Bashar Assad is laying a trap. The U.S., he writes in NOW Lebanon, needs to avoid making concessions until Assad “makes verifiable and substantial concessions on key Washington demands, not least surrendering Syrian support for Hamas and Hezbollah. Otherwise, Assad may dictate the avenues, conditions and aims of the engagement process.”

Syria has been cunningly outwitting Americans and Europeans for decades, and most Western leaders seem entirely incapable of learning from or even noticing the mistakes of their predecessors. Assad is so sure of himself this time around — and, frankly, he’s right to be — that he’s already announced the failure of President Obama’s outreach program. Yesterday he openly ridiculed the administration’s policy in a joint press conference with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Syria will not abandon its alliance with Iran, nor will it cease and desist its support for terrorist groups, until at least one of the two governments in question has been replaced. The alliance works for both parties. While Assad’s secular Arab Socialist Baath Party ideology differs markedly from Ali Khamenei’s Velayat-e Faqih, “resistance” is at the molten core of each one. Syria’s and Iran’s lists of enemies — Sunni Arabs, Israel, and the United States — are identical.

Understand the lay of the land. Syria is no more likely to join the de facto American-French-Egyptian-Saudi-Israeli coalition than the U.S. is likely to defect to the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis. It’s as if the U.S. were trying to pry East Germany out of the Communist bloc during the Cold War before the Berlin Wall was destroyed.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:44 AM | Permalink | 34 Comments »

February 25, 2010

Quote of the Day

People who came to the [World Trade Center] site in those early days often had the same first sensation, of leaving the city and walking into a dream. Many also felt when they saw the extent of the destruction that they had stumbled into a war zone. "It's like something you'd see in the movies," people said. Probably so, but my own reaction was different when I first went in, soon after the attacks. After years of traveling through the back corners of the world, I had an unexpected sense not of the strangeness of this scene, but of its familiarity. Wading through the debris on the streets, climbing through the newly torn landscapes, breathing in the mixture of smoke and dust, it was as if I had wandered again into the special havoc that failing societies tend to visit on themselves. This time they had visited it upon us. The message seemed to be "Here's a sample of our political science." I was impressed by how faithfully the effects had been reproduced on the ground.

From American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center by William Langewiesche.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:17 AM | Permalink | 4 Comments »

February 23, 2010

More Like This Please

I can understand why Dubai authorities aren’t happy about the killing of Hamas senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, presumably by Israeli Mossad agents, in one of the city-state’s hotel rooms last month. More than most countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has stayed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and would rather it not wash up on the beach.

Even as European Union officials perfunctorily squawk about the use of forged passports by the assassins, few others have grounds to complain. Al-Mabhouh was a terrorist commander on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game. He would have been fair game for even an air strike if he were in Gaza. As he was, instead, in Dubai, he was taken out quietly without even alerting, let alone harming, any of the civilians around him.

If only Israel could fight all its battles this way. It would be the cleanest and least-deadly war in the history of warfare. Even some of Israel’s harshest critics should understand that.

“The Goldstone Report,” Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.”

Hamas and Hezbollah use civilians as human shields. Hezbollah uses an entire country as a vast human shield. Some critics, for various reasons, are more interested in lambasting Israel than the terrorist organizations it’s fighting. That’s easy when you live in New York or Brussels. People in the Middle East have to live with (or die because of) what happens. How Middle Easterners fight wars isn’t political or academic to me. I’ve never been inside Gaza, but I once lived in Lebanon, I travel there regularly, and there’s a real chance I’ll be there when the next war pops off. I’d rather not be used as a human shield if that’s OK with those who give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass. And I’d much rather read about Hezbollah leaders getting whacked by mysterious assassins with forged passports than dive into a Beirut bomb shelter during Israeli air raids.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:20 AM | Permalink | 76 Comments »

February 21, 2010

I’ll Be Back Shortly

Sorry for the slow blogging. Will be back here in a day or so. I'm getting kinda sorta near the end of my book, but I'm not there yet.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:19 PM | Permalink | 1 Comment »

February 18, 2010

An Attack on Israel is an Attack on Canada?

Canada's junior foreign minister Peter Kent says, "Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada."

Okay. That's not something I ever thought I'd read, but okay.

Now what's Canada going to actually do about it if Iran attacks Israel? And will Canada treat rocket attacks out of Gaza as though Hamas just shot at Toronto?

I doubt anything will ever come of this, but I'd sure like to know what Barack Obama thought when he heard it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:51 PM | Permalink | 30 Comments »

February 17, 2010

No More Mr. Nice Guy

If anyone out there still believes President Barack Obama will negotiate a durable "grand bargain" with the tyrants ruling Iran, read what Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei said today after a year of deferential American outreach.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:38 PM | Permalink | 21 Comments »

February 16, 2010

Quote of the Day

Daytime Israel makes a tremendous effort to create the impression of the determined, tough, simple, uncomplicated society ready to fight back, ready to hit back twice as hard, courageous, and so on. Nocturnal Israel is a refugee camp with more nightmares per square mile I guess than any other place in the world. Almost everyone has seen the devil.

Amos Oz, author of A Tale of Love and Darkness.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:41 PM | Permalink | 39 Comments »

February 12, 2010

Cut the Gordion Knot, Already

Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to deliver a “telling blow” against “global powers” on Feb. 11, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, and yesterday, right on schedule, we found out what that blow was. Iran, he boasted before a bussed-in crowd, is now a “nuclear state.” He and his Revolutionary Guards have not yet built a nuclear weapon, but they have — assuming they’re telling the truth — made enormous progress by enriching uranium at the crucial 20 percent threshold.

Yet while millions of Iranians are in open rebellion against their own hated government, the United States is still making policy as if they did not exist. Obama administration officials are ready to impose sanctions, but they’re doing it for the wrong reason. Sanctions, a senior official said, are “about driving them back to negotiations because the real goal here is to avoid war.”

All of us — Left, Right, and Center — worry about war with Iran. “Doves” hope to skirt a small- or medium-sized conflict, while “hawks” dwell on the threat of nuclear war. Doves would rather Iran get the bomb than go to war, while hawks would back anti-government demonstrators or destroy the weapons facilities outright. Every approach is risky, and I don’t know which is best, but this much is all but certain: we won’t be in the clear until the leadership, and perhaps the whole state, is replaced.

Sanctions might help at this point, but negotiations — which the unnamed official hopes to return to — will not. Resistance is at the core of the regime’s ideology. Expecting Ahmadinejad and Khamenei to give that up is like asking Fidel Castro to scrap socialism or Benjamin Netanyahu to let go of Zionism. The odds of it happening are near zero. If that was unclear a year ago, it shouldn’t be now.

No one can know if Iran’s opposition will topple the government, but the odds of it happening are well above zero. If Ahmadinejad and Khamenei bolt the country next month, will anybody really be all that surprised? It would look obvious and inevitable in hindsight. Pessimists say the regime is durable, and maybe it is, but communist governments in Europe looked that way, too, and they weren’t. CIA analysts said it about Iran’s shah in 1979, and they were wrong.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:53 AM | Permalink | 32 Comments »

February 11, 2010

On the 31st Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution


MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD declares Iran a nuclear state and that Israel will be destroyed once and for all if it initiates an attack.


THE WHITE HOUSE dismisses Ahmadinejad's claim as based on politics rather than physics.


AT THE SAME TIME, the U.S. targets the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps with sanctions.


PROTESTERS clash with security forces.


THE IRANIAN GOVERNMENT, like the Chinese government, is now at war with Google.


FINLAND'S FOREIGN MINISTER says European Union sanctions against Iran are only weeks or even days away.


GREEN MOVEMENT LEADER Mir Hossein Mousavi's wife, who is 65 years old, was beaten in the streets by the Basij militia with clubs.


REUEL MARC GERECHT wonders aloud in the New York Times if Iran will at some point become a beacon of liberty.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:25 PM | Permalink | 11 Comments »
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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