The Rosett Report

The Rosett Report

Thirteen years ago, Samantha Power made a name for herself with her Pulitzer prize-winning book, “‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide.” In this book, she explored the history of America’s reluctance to intervene to stop or prevent genocides. Prescribing American intervention as justified on grounds both “moral” and in service of “enlightened self-interest,” Power asked how something so clear in retrospect as the need to stop genocide could “become so muddled at the time by rationalization, institutional constraints, and a lack of imagination.”

It appears that on Monday morning, Power herself is going to demonstrate exactly how such muddling takes place.

Power is now President Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations. On Monday morning, the UN Security Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution endorsing the Iran nuclear deal announced July 14 in Vienna, and adopting the terms of this deal, including the lifting of UN sanctions on Iran, sunset clauses for the main restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, and so forth.  This deal, a byzantine tome officially titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is a gift to Iran’s terror-sponsoring tyranny, crammed with concessions offered up by Secretary of State John Kerry and lead negotiator Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, in their desperate quest to satisfy President Obama’s desire for an agreement with Tehran. Columnist Charles Krauthammer sums up some of the worst of it in his latest column: “Worse than we could have imagined.” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday warned yet again that this agreement “paves Iran’s way to arm itself with nuclear weapons within a decade, if Iran decides to honor the agreement, and before then if it decides to violate it, as it usually does.”

By law, Congress gets 60 days to review this deal. But Obama is not waiting for Congress before taking it to the UN Security Council.  Protests from Congress notwithstanding, the U.S. began circulating a draft UN resolution as soon as the deal was announced last week. When negotiator Wendy Sherman was asked at a press briefing last Thursday whether the administration might hold off on a UN resolution long enough to give Congress its promised say, Sherman dismissed the idea — putting the UN ahead of  the elected representatives of the American people.  Here’s how Sherman put it:

UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, the way that the UN Security Council resolution is structured, there is an interim period of 60 to 90 days that I think will accommodate the congressional review. And it would have been a little difficult when all of the members of the P5+1 wanted to go to the United Nations to get an endorsement of this since it is a product of the United Nations process, for us to say, “Well, excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress.”

As the New York Sun responded, in a terrific editorial, why the blazes shouldn’t the UN wait on the U.S. Congress? It’s time Sherman got a reminder that she works for the U.S., not the UN.

As it is, the UN Security Council will vote on a resolution which its members have had a chance to read, but the Obama administration has not deigned to share the draft with the American public. Instead, for a window on what kind of Iran nuclear project our tax dollars will be bankrolling at the UN, we can be grateful to UN reporter Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press, who got hold of a leaked copy of the draft resolution, crammed in all its convoluted complexity with concessions to Iran,  which he has posted online.

Presumably Power will be the diplomat occupying the U.S. seat on the Security Council when this resolution is taken up for adoption (Kerry will be busy on Monday welcoming Cuba’s foreign minister to Washington, and it looks like Sherman will be busy further pressuring Congress). This is a resolution that represents an end-run around the U.S. Congress, to enshrine at the UN a deal that delivers Iran multiple pathways to nuclear weapons, and starts by delivering to Iran some $100 billion in unfrozen oil revenues followed by market access to earn hundreds of billions more, under the approving gaze of a UN not known for enforcing complex deals meant to contain rogue tyrannies. This is a windfall for Iran’s nuclear ventures, terrorist ventures and ambitions of “Death to Israel” — which those concerned about genocide would be wise to take seriously. Given the weapons, including ballistic missiles, that this deal by year eight would permit Iran, it might even be a good idea to for American envoys to take seriously Iran’s threats of “Death to America.”

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We are about to hear plenty of celebratory remarks about the “historic” Iran nuclear deal reached in Vienna.

For those inclined to celebrate, this is supposed to be the big payola, the grand finale of the diplomatic extravaganza that stretched on through half a dozen missed deadlines, across continents, with the American secretary of State finally parking himself for more than two solid weeks at the negotiating table in Vienna — determined to close a deal, whatever concessions that might take.

By President Obama’s calculus, this deal is supposed to mark the moment when the nuclear threat of Iran starts to seriously recede… a proposition akin to his claims in 2012 that the tide of war was receding.  Worse, actually, because we have here the makings of a nuclear arms race, not only in the Middle East, but likely to spill well beyond.

So, yes indeed, this deal is historic. It is historic in ways that, for instance, President Obama’s 2009 chairing of a United Nations Security Council meeting on freeing the world of nuclear weapons was not (does anyone even remember that UN summit? It was the first time an American  president had stooped to chair a meeting of the UN Security Council; it did absolutely nothing to stop nuclear proliferation).

This deal is an historic disaster. Not only does it legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, but it goes far to confer legitimacy on Iran’s regime — the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. For the U.S., it’s a variation of running up massive U.S. government debt, and leaving the next American president — as well as America’s people, and our allies — to face the real cost. Which in this case involves nuclear weapons.

Congress will now get its chance to weigh in. So will the UN Security Council. How those might mesh is a troubling question — we may soon learn more.

For the immediate big picture, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, gave a terrific speech on Monday on the Iran negotiations, addressing an organization called Christians United for Israel. He’s posted it, and it is worth reading in full. He makes a lot of vital points, including his observation that those most immediately endangered by Iran — Israel and America’s Arab allies — were not included at the bargaining table. (Russia and China were there, along with France, Britain, Germany and the U.S.).

There are so many flaws to this deal that even though Dermer lists them in brief, it’s a long list. I’ve culled out a few excerpts, on the next page (boldface mine, on an item that should be of particular interest even to the most tuned-out Americans) …

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At the Iran nuclear talks, one of the chief fixtures has been Iran’s foreign minister and chief negotiator, Javad Zarif. He’s the bearded fellow you’ve seen in the endless photo-ops of the murk-shrouded talks. He usually shows up flanked by dignitaries, in various permutations, of the six world powers, including the U.S., who in the current incarnation of the nuclear talks have been haggling with Iran over its nuclear program since cutting an interim deal in Nov. 2013. That was more than 19 months ago, which in terms of the amnesiac modern 24-hour news cycle means they have been talking since pretty much the beginning of recorded time. Zarif does a lot of the talking.

Zarif has kept up with his other chores by jetting back and forth between the nuclear talks, in venues such as Vienna and Geneva, and his appointments elsewhere — such as his pilgrimage early last year to the grave in Lebanon of the late Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imad Mugniyah, or his chipper meeting in Tehran with an envoy of North Korea (you can read more about some of his travels, to Syria, Moscow, etc., here). Educated in the U.S., Zarif was based for many years in New York as one of Iran’s former ambassadors to the United Nations (where along with his activities at the UN, he secretly abused his diplomatic privileges by overseeing a sanctions-violating multi-million-dollar money-laundering operation in Manhattan for the Iranian government, per orders of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei).

Zarif speaks fluent English — as buttery smooth as Viennese chocolate, but wrapped around an astounding collection of demands and lies. Zarif peddles statements as warped, in their way, as the buffoonish fictions of Saddam Hussein’s old spokesman, Baghdad Bob. Except where Baghdad Bob was patently ridiculous, Zarif is far more dangerous. His statements come with slick packaging, the polished veneer of a regime that has been repeatedly discovered building illicit nuclear facilities and indisputably sponsors terrorism and harbors terrorists. His statements also come framed these days by the eager attentions of  U.S. top diplomats, who appear desperate to cajole Iran into a deal, whatever it takes.

Zarif is now in Vienna, where Secretary of State John Kerry has been parked since June 26, trying to entice Iran to close a nuclear  bargain. Having over-run three self-imposed deadlines since last July, the Iran nuclear talks are nearing a fourth deadline this Tuesday, July 7.  From the negotiators at Vienna’s Palais Coburg, there are hints that this time they might just clinch the deal.

And what kind of a deal might that turn out to be?

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While the Iran nuclear talks drag on in Vienna past the third missed deadline, spare a thought for the luxurious surroundings in which these talks are taking place.

The venue, where Iran’s chief negotiator Javad Zarif and sundry other negotiators have been bunking down during these talks, is the Palais Coburg, formerly a palace, now an ornate hotel, rich in beautifully restored old stonework, polished wood, plush furnishings, crystal chandeliers, golden bathroom fixtures, gourmet restaurants, and three tiers of magnificent front terraces. Here’s a view of the Palais, and here’s a rundown on the rooms and suites, which go for anywhere from about $660 to almost $3,000 per night. The Coburg Suite, at the high end of this scale, is a 1,299 square foot duplex, decorated in the Empire style, with kitchenette, terrace, jacuzzi, sauna, plump pillows and fresh flowers.

We are not told who is staying in which rooms. But we do know that Austria has been treating Iran’s envoy, Zarif, as an honored guest. When I inquired about the arrangements back in March, 2014 (early in the talks, when the deadline was supposed to be July 20, 2014), I was told that Tehran did not have to spring for a hotel bill  in Vienna. Austria was paying for Zarif’s accommodations at the Palais.

OK, but so what? Why should anyone care? There’s a long tradition of diplomats enjoying all sorts of luxuries, especially when they are engaged in high affairs of state. It’s part of the symbolism, meant to dignify the emissaries and the nations they represent. No one expects an Iran nuclear deal to be signed at a roadside motel accessorized with cheap towels, plastic flowers and soda-vending machines.

But if we may step outside the habitual mindset for a moment, a roadside motel would be a much more appropriate setting for these talks. At the very least, it might restore a touch of reality to a scene in which Iran’s envoys have acquired an aura of jet-set celebrity, framed in one photo-op after another by the movie-star trappings of upmarket Western Europe.

Come to think of it, maybe they should be holding these nuclear talks in a meeting room at Iran’s Evin Prison — a setting rather more rife with information about the real character of Iran’s regime. Not least, Evin is the prison where Iran has been holding as de facto hostages American citizens Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian and Saeed Abedin — in quarters and on rations considerably less pleasant than Zarif’s accommodations at the Palais Coburg.

I’m not suggesting that Iran imprison Secretary of State John Kerry and throw lead negotiator Wendy Sherman into the cell next to him, while Zarif drops by to bargain over Tehran’s nuclear program. But a neutral room on the Evin grounds might well be instructive, for a great many of those concerned — and for a world watching these negotiations — in ways that the meeting chambers of Vienna are not.

It will never happen. But sometimes it’s worth imagining things that will never happen. It’s a scene that deserves to be transposed onto those photos in which Iran’s Zarif, honored guest at the Palais, focus of attention by six world powers, sits sanitized and smiling under the crystal chandeliers of Vienna.

Sure, an Iran nuclear deal might work as envisioned by the White House — as long as it’s enforced by some power more functional than the crew that is concocting this deal in the first place.

If a deal finally emerges from the latest diplomatic hoopla in Vienna, maybe the Obama administration should farm out the monitoring and enforcement to an outfit that actually keeps its promises and meets its deadlines. Say, Federal Express. Or the Bombay lunchbox delivery system. As it is, the Iran nuclear deal reportedly taking shape is one that, instead of dismantling Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, would aim merely to keep Iran at least a year away from nuclear breakout.

This would require rapid detection of any cheating by Iran, swift confirmation of the problem, and decisive response — one timely and effective enough to stop Iran in its tracks.

In whose fantasies would it really work that way?

The negotiations themselves tell us plenty about the problem. Consistent features of the talks have been delays and missed deadlines, as Iran has wrangled, balked, equivocated, and contradicted in public what U.S. officials have described as “agreed upon” in private. More than 19 months have passed since an interim deal was struck in Geneva, the Nov. 24, 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) that set out terms for the talks. Under the JPOA, the time frame envisioned for the talks was six months. But it took a while to get things organized, so the talks actually began on Feb. 18, 2014, with a July 20, 2014 deadline for a final, comprehensive deal.

There was no deal by that July deadline. So a new deadline was set, for Nov. 24, 2014. There was no deal by that deadline, so another deadline was set for June 30, 2015.

That’s today. And while we can’t rule out a surprise announcement of a done deal, the negotiators have been saying they have more work to do. They need more time.

And small wonder. In order to produce a deal that defers to Iran’s insistence on such dangerous absurdities as the “inalienable right” to enrich uranium, the U.S. and its P5+1 negotiating partners (Russia, China, France, the U.K., and Germany) have been haggling with the Iranians over an agreement with so many moving parts that it takes relays of technical experts working around the clock to keep track of what’s being agreed to.

Here’s how a senior U.S. administration official described the condition of the draft agreement on Monday in a background briefing to the press:

… a many, many page document, a main text and several annexes. It takes a long time, a lot of — huge amounts of detail, all of which has to be checked. And then our lawyers have to look at it all, for heaven’s sakes.

And that’s the easy part. For the nuclear inspectors of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, U.S. officials are now talking about “managed access” to Iranian facilities.

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To the colossal compost heap of anti-Israel screeds churned out by the United Nations, we can now add the so-called Schabas Report on the 2014 summer war between Gaza and Israel.

Not that the eponymous William Schabas saw the production of this report right through to the end. Appointed last summer as chair of this UN inquiry, Schabas was forced to resign this past February when news emerged that he had served as a paid adviser to the Palestinian Authority. (This UN report notes that he resigned – but does not say why.)

Officially, this document is titled: “Report of the independent commission of inquiry established pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-21/1.”

A more fitting title would be: “A UN Field Guide to Making the Most of Human Shields.”

Of course there’s more than that to this report, which runs 34 pages, accompanied by 200 pages of “detailed findings.” There is the UN’s usual moral equivalence between the democratic state of Israel — which withdrew from Gaza in 2005 hoping for peace — and the Hamas terrorists who then came to power in Gaza, devoted in practice to terrorizing Israel and dedicated in their charter to obliterating Israel entirely.

You can find a good rundown on the overall report from Anne Bayefsky writing for Fox News, and no doubt there will be more coverage when this report is formally presented next Monday for what the UN Human Rights Council is pleased to describe as “debate.” But let’s focus here on how this report deals with the Hamas tactic of using human shields.

So pervasive is this horrifying practice that even the UN’s investigators cannot quite manage to ignore it. So they make do, instead, with embarking on a series of bizarre locutions that effectively excuse it.

Step One, in paragraph 63 (page 16) of the main report, is to suggest uncertainty that any such thing might have happened (boldface mine):

Palestinian armed groups allegedly often operated from densely populated neighborhoods, including by firing rockets, mortars and other weapons from built-up areas. In addition, they were alleged to have frequently placed command control centers and firing positions in residential buildings and to have stockpiled weapons and located tunnel entrances in prima facie civilian buildings.

“Allegedly”? “Alleged”? The report goes on in this vein, beset by existential doubts.

Step Two, in paragraph 64, is to excuse this use of human shields just in case it really did happen:

The commission recognizes that the obligation to avoid locating military objectives within densely populated areas is not absolute. The small size of Gaza and its population density make it difficult for armed groups to comply with this requirement.

Really?

Beyond the technical point that even in densely populated Gaza there are open areas, this UN locution reduces the use of human shields to an accident of bad urban planning — as if the solution were to provide Hamas with more acceptable locations from which to launch its attacks.

The real problem is that instead of providing civilized government in Gaza, Hamas and its brethren “armed groups” devote themselves to firing rockets and mortars and digging attack tunnels into Israel. Those were the prolific bombardments and threats that triggered the 2014 conflict. And when Israel finally acted in its own defense, the horrifying use by Hamas of human shields provided the expected grist for propaganda aimed at damaging Israel, including this report.

But the UN investigators are not done with this topic.

Step Three: just in case the “alleged” use of human shields was not entirely a function of inconvenient geography, they slather on the kind of bureaucratic language that would have captivated George Orwell (boldface mine):

While the commission was unable to verify independently the specific incidents alleged by Israel, the frequency of Palestinian armed groups carrying out military operations in the immediate vicinity of civilian objects and specially protected objects suggests that such conduct could have been avoided on a number of occasions. In those instances, Palestinian armed groups may not have complied to the maximum extent feasible with their obligations.

Civilian “objects”?

The problem was not that Hamas and its fellow terrorists used “objects” as protection, but that these terrorists used other human beings as shields. And the grave abuse here was not that that Hamas “could have” avoided such conduct, but that it didn’t.

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Tiananmen and China’s Long March

June 3rd, 2015 - 11:11 pm

In the 66 years since Mao Tse-tung founded the People’s Republic of China, there has been just one brief spell in which the people of China escaped the chains of their rulers, enough to speak freely to each other and to the world. That was the uprising we remember as Tiananmen Square. The name does not do it justice. The uprising was centered in Beijing’s vast Tiananmen Square, and it was the student protests there that are most remembered. But the protests spread to other cities in China: Shanghai, Canton, Chengdu. Millions joined these protests — not only students, but laborers. People of all ages. Some came from other parts of China to Beijing for the chance to take part, though after 40 years of communist government brutality, they surely knew the risks.

It was a signal moment in the history of the 20th century, bedeviled for generations by Russia’s 1917 communist revolution, and its spawn around the globe. In the spring of 1989, the Soviet Union was on its way to implosion, but it had not yet collapsed — nor was its collapse clearly foreseen. Eastern Europe was about to break free, but that, too, was not a given. The Berlin Wall still stood. In Romania, the Ceausescus still ruled. And then, in China, the world’s most populous communist country, came the great tremor that was Tiananmen. For more than two weeks, in the run-up to June 4th, China’s government lost control of its capital city. It lost control to people who were peacefully demanding justice, liberty, and some way to hold their rulers accountable. These protesters built their own statue of liberty, facing the huge portrait of Mao, in Tiananmen Square. They quoted the Gettysburg address, with Lincoln’s closing line about government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

It was the most moving story I have ever covered. I was working at the time out of Hong Kong for the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page in Asia, and my editors — newsmen of the old school — told me to head to Beijing and stay there awhile. In the sleepless weeks that spanned the protests, the June 4th pre-dawn onslaught with which China’s army reclaimed Tiananmen, and the terrible aftermath of continued shootings and arrests, the word I heard from many people, the word that stays with me to this day, is “truth.” China’s people wanted the truth. They wanted a government that would no longer lie to them to justify its chokehold on power. They wanted the world to hear this truth. “Tell the truth about China” is what they said, over and over.

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Reports out of southern Lebanon tell us that the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah  continues to expand its network of tunnels along the border with Israel, preparing for another war. That’s not an accusation by Israeli sources, but a boast by Hezbollah, detailed in a series of recent articles in a Hezbollah-linked newspaper, As-Safir. As summed up by The Times of Israel, Hezbollah provided As-Safir reporters with a tour of its tunnel network, which they duly described as vast, advanced, reinforced, equipped with a 24-hour power supply, a ventilation system, and webs of escape shafts — connected to bunkers and surveillance posts.

While building this maze, Hezbollah has also been restocking its arsenal, following the 2006 summer war it launched against Israel. The Times of Israel story goes on to cite the estimates of a senior Israeli intelligence official that Hezbollah now has, as they sum it up, some “100,000 short-range rockets capable of striking northern Israel, several thousand missiles that can reach Tel Aviv and central Israel and hundreds more that can strike the entire country.” Most of these weapons have come from Syria and Iran. This adds up to much more firepower than Hezbollah had when it triggered the 2006 war by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers — whom Hezbollah murdered, while the UN assured Israel that it was negotiating their safe release.

So, where in this alarming picture are the United Nations peacekeepers? Recall that the UN keeps thousands of them in southern Lebanon: the blue berets of UNIFIL (the UN Interim Force in Lebanon). Prior to the 2006 summer war, the UNIFIL troops apparently failed to notice the labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers that Hezbollah was then building right under their noses, and the arsenal of weapons Hezbollah was trucking in. Or maybe they noticed, but felt it would be awkward to interfere. In any event, UNIFIL’s troops not only failed to keep the peace, but had to be rescued from the 2006 war that broke out under them.

The UN, with then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan leading the charge, proposed to remedy that peacekeeping disaster by providing yet more peacekeepers.The UN Security Council passed  Resolution 1701, which entailed plans to completely disarm all non-governmental forces in Lebanon. The UN beefed up UNIFIL. This UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon currently fields well over 10,000 troops, from 38 countries, operating on a budget of roughly $500 million per year (more than 28% of that funded by U.S. taxpayers).

And while Hezbollah today is building its new, improved, huge labyrinth of war tunnels, bragging about them, and stocking its arsenal with weapons to terrorize and kill Israelis, what are UNIFIL’s peacekeepers doing? Evidently they are not busy disarming Hezbollah. Nor have these blue berets been sounding a public alarm that they are failing abysmally in a mission that by now amounts to a costly panacea — prelude to worse war than the conflict that so shocked UNIFIL in 2006.

But they do keep busy. A glance at their web site finds that that they have been providing students in southern Lebanon with lessons in road safety. Earlier this month they took part in a half marathon in Beirut.  Last month they performed folkloric dances at a spring festival in the southern Lebanese town of Sultaniyeh. They’ve hosted visits by the president of Ireland and the king of Spain. They’ve celebrated the 37th anniversary of UNIFIL’s establishment in southern Lebanon. They’ve hosted a handicrafts exhibition.

And on May 15th, they organized a clown show, for children with special needs, featuring a “team of highly trained professionals specialized in clown therapy to promote messages of hope and peace.” We need not doubt the kindly impulse behind that exercise, or the pleasures of entertaining children. But if that’s how UNIFIL is spending its time and resources, while once again, under the noses of it dancing peacekeepers, Hezbollah turns southern Lebanon into a vast ant farm of war tunnels and bunkers stuffed with weapons, then the entire UNIFIL mission has become a clown show. And it’s not funny.

steineim_north_korea_5-20-15-2

“Artist’s” simulation of visit.

Gloria Steinem has landed… in Pyongyang. From there she plans to head south and on Sunday lead a group of women’s rights activists in a peace march — pardon me, an “historic” peace march (have you noticed that everything done these days in the name of peace is dubbed “historic”?) — across the Demilitarized Zone, from North to South Korea.

Organized by a group called Women Demilitarize the Zone, this march is meant to help end the unresolved Korean War, reunify the peninsula, reunite divided families and nudge North and South toward peace.

As a self-serving publicity stunt, this exercise has already been something of a success. It has netted the 81-year-old Steinem more news coverage than she usually gets these days (though not quite as much as Dennis Rodman enjoyed during his Pyongyang phase). And I think we can safely assume that for the participants in the march, it will be a gratifying tour of some fascinating parts of the Korean peninsula, including the DMZ — during which they can congratulate themselves that they are not only serving the cause of peace, but providing a feminist counterpoint to all those armed men facing off across the Zone. The governments of both North and South Korea have agreed to permit the march; peace events are planned on both sides of the DMZ, and presumably the historic peace marchers will cross the DMZ  along a carefully selected route that will be misleadingly free of land mines.

As Steinem explained her DMZ project in an interview published May 1 in the Washington Post:

“There is no substitute for putting your bodies where your concerns are…in my experience conflicts are far more likely to be solved when people sit down together… you have to be together with all five senses in order to produce the oxytocin that allows us to empathize with each other.”

These are excellent points if the aim is for Gloria Steinem and her co-marchers to enjoy their visit to the Korean peninsula. But they are at best an absurd gloss on the realities of the scene, in which the nuclear-testing missile-building repressive and murderous regime of North Korea maintains one of the world’s largest standing armies, deployed chiefly along the DMZ, with artillery threatening Seoul. The problem on the Korean peninsula is not a dearth of oxytocin, but a totalitarian government in North Korea, facing off against a democratic system in the South. There are plenty of people in both North and South Korea who would like to see the peninsula reunified. The sticking points are, on what terms? Which system prevails? At what cost? Who wins?

On that score, this Sunday’s planned procession across the DMZ does plenty for Pyongyang and less than nothing for peace. It might more accurately be called a march of moral equivalency. The marchers are endeavoring to treat the governments of Pyongyang and Seoul as equals, telling the Associated Press, “There is nothing in this action that prioritizes one government over another.”

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China has just sentenced 71-year-old ace journalist Gao Yu to seven years in prison on charges of “leaking state secrets overseas.” And what are those secrets she is accused of leaking? They center on renewed efforts by the Chinese Communist Party under President Xi Jinping to suppress free speech.

We have here a sort of infinite regress of absurdities. If China’s authorities consider it a state secret that their policies are to smother free speech and punish dissent, then they themselves are broadcasting this secret by jailing a journalist for exposing it. Presumably, any Chinese journalist who might dare to delve into this could be accused of exposing the exposure of this secret — which is actually no secret at all.

But that’s the very point: To shut up other Chinese journalists, and chill discussion more broadly among those who cover China. Censorship is easier to practice when people are afraid even to suggest that it exists.

According to China’s Xinhua state news agency, Gao Yu was arrested in May 2014 on suspicion of “illegally obtaining a highly confidential document and sending an electronic copy of it to an overseas website in June last year.” Chinese authorities have not confirmed what document this was. But the Wall Street Journal reports that according to Gao’s  lawyer, Mo Shaoping, it was an internal Communist Party directive known as “Document No. 9,” which “identified ideological trends that the party should target.” Accounts from other sources, including Radio Free Asia, the BBC and the Committee to Protect Journalists, also point to Document No. 9, which the BBC describes as calling for “aggressive restrictions on democracy, civil society and the press.”

As the Wall Street Journal further reports: “Ms. Gao had admitted to the crime and apologized in a confession aired on state television in May, but she later retracted her confession, saying it had been made under duress after police detained her son.”

This terrible scene gets worse. According to the same Journal dispatch, Gao — a veteran dissident of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising, who spent years in jail in the 1990s for activities that displeased the Party — is one of three elderly dissidents prosecuted amid “a sustained crackdown on criticism and independent political activity in which dozens of activists, lawyers, scholars and others have been detained or jailed, in some cases for unusually long periods.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that in 2008 China had 24 journalists in prison. Today it has 44. This is a testament to two phenomena: a resurgent campaign of repression by China’s ruling Communist Party, and, beneath that boot, the courage and profound desire among China’s people for something better. It is the latter that China’s regime is actually trying to keep secret.