The Rosett Report

The Rosett Report

Chinese Journalist Jailed for Exposing Ban on Free Speech

April 18th, 2015 - 1:20 am

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.

It’s not only at the nuclear talks that Iran is goose-stepping right over those polite U.S. diplomats to grab all it can get. At the United Nations, Iran has just won a seat on the governing board of — what else? — UN Women.

Yes, you read that right. On Friday, at the UN, Iran won a three-year term, starting Jan. 1, 2016, on the board of UN Women — the UN’s self-described agency “for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.” Never mind that the UN’s own special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, reported last month that under President Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s oppression of women is worse than ever.

How did this happen? In procedural terms, it was the latest product of the toxic UN system in which seats on governing boards are allocated to geographic blocs. Each bloc gets a quota of seats to fill, and puts forward a slate of candidates. Iran belongs to the Asia-Pacific States, which in this case avoided such awkward democratic customs as competition by putting forward five candidates for five seats: Samoa, United Arab Emirates, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Iran.

The U.S. made a feeble gesture to do something about this, calling for a vote on this slate, instead of the usual “election” by acclamation. Under rules of the 54-member Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which elects the governing board of UN Women, this translated into a secret ballot on which voting members had to write in the names of the countries they favored. Iran got the lowest number of votes: 36 (compared to 53 each for Samoa and the UAE, 52 for Turkmenistan and 49 for Pakistan). But it was still a classic UN no-contest election. Iran won a seat. Let’s run those numbers again. Yes, among the 54 members of ECOSOC — which claims broad responsibility for some 70% of the UN’s resources, some 22% of which are bankrolled by U.S. tax dollars — there are 36 members who wrote in “Iran” as one of their picks to guide UN policy toward women.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power described herself as “deeply disappointed” by the result. That’s a slight variation on the wording she used last year, when Iran won a slew of seats on various UN bodies, including reelection to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women. Last year Power said the U.S. was “very disappointed.”

Among those who should be even more deeply disappointed are American citizens, whose money not only pays for a big share of the UN, but who also maintain in high style a massive  U.S. Mission to the UN in New York, appended to a huge State Department that operates as part of a lavishly funded gargantuan federal government — which right now appears unable to achieve even the modest goal of keeping Iran’s misogynist regime off the governing board of the UN program set up with great fanfare in 2010 as the UN’s flagship for fostering decent treatment of women.

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Never mind whether the U.S. can keep track of Iran’s nuclear program — that’s next week’s problem. The question at the Iran nuclear talks, in full frenzy right now amid the chocolate shops of Lausanne, Switzerland, is how Secretary of State John Kerry can even keep track of his own meetings.

With a looming March 31 deadline for reaching an amorphous arrangement that U.S. senior officials describe as “a political framework that addresses all of the major elements of a comprehensive deal,” the talks have become a whirligig of high-level bilaterals, trilaterals, etc.  (or, as the talk-weary retinue of reporters have come to know them, bilats, trilats, etc.) among Iran and the P5+1 negotiating partners (U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany), hosted by European Union high representative Federica Mogherini.

Each meeting involving the U.S. is duly announced to the press by the State Department in detail that provides no information other than the names and timing:  an hour and five minutes with a bevy of Iranians, 44 minutes with the EU high representative, 30 minutes with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, 40 minutes with the French, Germans and EU high representative, 59 minutes with the Chinese foreign minister… with additional permutations, this has been going on since Kerry arrived Thursday in Switzerland for the current round.

The only major player missing from the scene has been Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, reportedly due to arrive at the talks today [Sunday afternoon update: Lavrov has now arrived]. Perhaps he decided, reasonably enough, that the U.S. is digging itself into a hole so large that there is no need for Russia at this stage to pitch in. It’s been quite enough for the Kremlin to watch from afar. In any event, Kerry has already found time amid the bilats and trilats, etc., to phone Lavrov — one of the stipulations of the P5+1 negotiations being that no deal gets done unless it is acceptable not only to the U.S., Britain, France and Germany, but also to China (a major hub of illicit procurement for Iran’s nuclear program) and Russia (which despite what were once vociferous U.S. objections built Iran its nuclear reactor at Bushehr, and during the current Iran talks has itself come under targeted U.S. sanctions for chewing off pieces of Ukraine).

What is this all for? The real deadline for the Iran nuclear talks is not March 31, but June 30. Is that even really a deadline? The initial framework for these talks was announced in Nov., 2013, with a time frame of six months for nuclear talks to reach a comprehensive and permanent deal. The talks did not begin until Feb., 2014, almost three months later. Then the deadline was extended, twice. The aim at the moment is for a political framework to be agreed by the end of this month (this coming Tuesday), and then the “technical” details are to be hammered out by the end of June.

Except, senior U.S. officials have been repeating in background briefings since at least last February that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” — or variations on that theme. Presumably this means that Iran could agree to a political framework now, and then spend the next three months creating havoc with those irritating “technical” details. That approach worked out well for North Korea — which agreed at the Six-Party Talks in 2007 to a nuclear climbdown deal, and enjoyed a welter of rewards and U.S. concessions even as it began to come clear that Pyongyang disagreed with the U.S. over such technicalities as disclosing its full nuclear program and permitting actual verification. That deal collapsed at the end of 2008, followed in 2009 and 2013 by North Korea’s second and third nuclear tests.

Then there’s the problem of what the U.S. is by now aiming for. The catch-phrase of Obama administration officials, repeated endlessly, with slight variations, since the start of these nuclear talks, has been that the U.S. and its partners are seeking a deal that will prove to “the international community” that Iran’s nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful.” You can find seven repetitions of that basic line in this March 16, 2015 State Department background briefing alone (just search on the keyword “peaceful”).

The absurdity here is, of course, that Iran’s nuclear program is patently not exclusively peaceful. In these nuclear talks, Iran has reportedly been demanding terms, such as the “right” to uranium enrichment, which are not remotely necessary for a peaceful nuclear program. The Obama administration is now touting it as a desirable goal to try to keep Iran just a year away from a breakout to nuclear weapons. In the context of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s terror-sponsoring messianic tyranny, already expanding its reach across the Middle East, that is not a peaceful setup. Nor does it sound particularly reliable, given Iran’s long record of nuclear deceit, smuggling and lying about its nuclear program, compounded by errors and lags in western detection of the same.

But to judge by the frantic behavior of Kerry and U.S. envoy Wendy Sherman (U.S. point person at the talks since they began), President Obama apparently wants a nuclear deal with Iran, whatever that means, and whatever it takes. So let’s focus for a moment on the wiggle-room afforded by the term “international community” —  as in, the international community that is supposed to end up satisfied that Iran’s nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful.”

What is that “international community”? Who belongs to this apparently select crowd? Evidently it consists of the diplomats at the talks, and the politicians behind them. It includes Obama, Kerry, Putin, Lavrov, China’s President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It includes the British, German and French (who reportedly have not been entirely satisfied so far that Iran’s intentions are exclusively peaceful, but maybe with enough bilats and trilats Kerry will wear them down, if only by way of sheer exhaustion).

Anyone else who might have doubts about any deal (or quasi deal) emerging from the current talks  is apparently not part of the “international community.” If they are not satisfied, their concerns are less important than Iran’s demands. This crowd of non-members of the international community evidently includes a great many members of the U.S. Congress, Israel, Saudi Arabia, me, maybe you, and anyone else prone to wondering whether Tehran just might have plans to do something beyond powering the electric grid — with all that nuclear infrastructure which, along with its ballistic missile program, the Iranian regime is refusing to give up.

Are these talks by now really about stopping Iran from getting the bomb? Or are they preparing the way for U.S. administration officials and their select “international community” cohorts to start telling us, not so far down the road, that it’s really all right for Iran to get nuclear weapons, as long as the bombs are for purposes that Iran assures us are — what’s that phrase again? — “exclusively peaceful”?

 

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Click to watch online trailer.

 

Among the most colossal shifts of our time has been the rise of China, from the black hole of Mao’s ruinous communism,  to a  power increasingly to be reckoned with around the globe.

But what is today’s China? Is it still communist? Capitalist? Is it friend or foe to the U.S.? Should we fear China’s rise? Resist it? Welcome it? What lies ahead?

These are the big questions tackled by PJTV in a special in-depth series of video reports: “Made in China.” Hosted by PJTV’s Bill Whittle, with Scott Ott, this is a three-part exploration of what China has become, where it came from, and what might lie ahead. You can watch a trailer, and purchase it here.

This is not your standard MSM China debate. For insights, PJTV enlisted people who have both firsthand experience with China, and great respect for the principles of freedom and free markets; who proceed from the understanding that China’s model of a quasi-market economy coupled with continuing repression by China’s Communist Party is not — as some would have it — a recipe for stability. It is profoundly unstable.

In the first segment, PJTV  focuses on “China: Still Communist, or Have They Gone Capitalist?” Hillsdale College economics professor Charles Steele explains that China is still trying to walk a line between the two: it certainly has markets, but they are hugely subject to government intervention. Coming from utter destitution under Mao’s communism, the result of even limited freedom to do business and own property has been to lift more people out of poverty than has ever happened before, anywhere in the history of mankind. But China’s continuing political repression has left it with enormous and potentially explosive problems, yet to be solved. Terry Jones of Investors Business Daily jumps in to explain why China’s economy is running into growing difficulties, a shrinking work force, and why he believes “What has been called the China Miracle is officially over.”

The second segment addresses the implications of the raw repression with which China’s Communist Party keeps power: “From Mao to Tiananmen Square: Chinese Communists are Murderers.” For a clear-eyed reminder of the real character of communism and its role in shaping the government of today’s China, PJTV turns to Marion Smith, of the Victims of Communism Foundation. More insight comes from Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute, who argues that China today is more fascist than communist, and who along the way explains why evil comes of a system in which the imperative is not equality of rights, but equality of outcome.

Full disclosure: I’m also one of the commentators for this segment on Chinese communism. In 1989, I covered the massive Chinese uprising centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and its bloody suppression on June 4. I witnessed both the tremendous yearning of China’s people for the kind of freedom that made America great (in Tiananmen they built their own Statue of Liberty), and I saw some of the killing with which they were silenced. This PJTV special was a chance to share some thoughts on what America, today, could or should do to address the continuing repression.

In the final segment, Bill Whittle asks: “Made in China: Will They Attack Us?” He gets disturbing answers from experts Gordon Chang, Yaron Brook and the Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano. Some things depend on what America does next, and with China — as its ruling Communist Party tries to navigate the instabilities and domestic discontent it has wrought — we are entering a dangerous passage.

What comes next in China could greatly affect us all. There’s a lot more I could tell you about this PJTV special, in which Bill Whittle asks all the right questions, and gets answers that take into account the basic principles that shape the course of human events. But even better, you can watch this “Made in China” special for yourself, available here.

At the Iran nuclear talks, U.S. negotiators have been aiming for a deal that would involve a so-called breakout time of one year — meaning a deal structured so that the Tehran regime, should it cheat, would still need at least a year to be able to produce nuclear weapons. The idea is that this would be a period long enough for inspectors to detect the cheating, and the international community — presumably the “world powers” now negotiating with Iran — to do something about it.

At a background press briefing, held Monday in Switzerland on the sidelines of these nuclear talks, an American senior administration official was asked by a reporter, “Why did you pick one year, instead of nine months, or 15 months?… What’s the reasoning behind that?”

The senior official replied that the U.S. arrived at this goal of a one-year breakout time by using a secret, proprietary model to run “very complicated calculations, which have been validated by our labs and by outside opinion leaders with security clearances because these calculations are based on classified information.” This model, and the information, and the calculations, are all so secret that according to this official the U.S. has not discussed the details with its P5+1 negotiating partners — Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. They all have their own models, and they negotiate with each other over how to haggle with Iran over arrangements that could yield some collectively acceptable margin of breakout time.

All this secrecy is disquieting, in an era when trust is not the first thing that springs to mind regarding complex government deals designed to be signed and sealed before we find out what’s in them. (If, indeed, we ever discover in full what’s in them. The full terms of the Nov. 2013 Joint Plan of Action that ushered in the now twice-extended Iran nuclear talks have yet to be disclosed by the Obama administration).

Even more disturbing, however, was the initial response of this senior U.S. official to the breakout-time question, before the official got down to such brass tacks as secret proprietary models and complex calculations. The first thing the official said was that the one-year breakout goal had been decided so early in the negotiating process that it was hard to remember: “I actually would have to go back, because it’s so — such a long time now.”

Yes, it is rather a long time. And that is a very important detail. The issue here is not only how long it might take Iran to break out to a bomb, but how long it might take the U.S. and those other world powers to genuinely face up to any such effort (and cheating is likely — Iran’s record to date has been an epic tale of nuclear deceit). Then they would probably need time to gin up the nerve to genuinely do something. Call it the necessary Diplomatic Breakout Time — the time needed for the rest of the world, or the P5+1 world powers cutting this deal, to take decisive action.

Here’s a nonproprietary, non-secret guide to how that might work. Look at the time spent already on these Iran talks. After years of European talks with Iran, and haggling over terms of broader talks… after assorted discoveries of smuggling and global front networks and secret Iranian nuclear facilities (remember Qom, 2009)… after failed talks and back channel talks and talks about talks, there eventually came the Joint Plan of Action in November, 2013, setting the framework for the current talks. Those were supposed to be wrapped up in six months with a permanent and comprehensive deal. But following the announcement of the Joint Plan, it took almost two months to get the talks started (Iran’s lead negotiator, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, took advantage of the break to go lay a wreath in Lebanon on the grave of the late Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyah). By the July deadline, Iranian officials were having a good time declaring their “right” to enrich uranium. The talks were extended through November, 2014. Then they were extended again, with a current deadline of June 30, 2015, and plans to reach a framework agreement for a permanent deal by the end of this month.

During the many rounds of talks, there have by now been countless (OK, I could probably count them, but it could take days) hours of bilateral, trilateral and full court meetings. There have been working dinners, and discussions in capitals. There have been rounds of meetings in Geneva, Vienna, New York, Geneva again, and now the Swiss city of Lausanne. With Iran plus the countries of the P5+1 engaging each other during well over a year of acrobatic permutations, these talks have been a seven-ring circus. Senior U.S. officials have compared the process to doing a puzzle, solving a Rubik’s cube, and at one giddy and perhaps sleep-deprived moment invoked the metaphor of “an amoeba that sort of moves in and out until all of the pieces lock into place.”

That’s how this deal is taking shape. So, if an agreement is actually reached, with a built-in buffer — as calculated by secret models — of a one-year breakout time for Iran, how does the diplomatic decision process work for the U.S. and its P5+1 partners? Presumably they would all first have to be persuaded that Iran was really cheating, and how, and how much, by whatever standards are set when the amoeba pieces lock into place. Presumably they would then have to debate and decide exactly what action to take, and — since Iran might use its talents to devise a form of cheating that such a deal has not fully anticipated and planned for — the logistics of the when, and the whom and the where and the how.

If, as the Obama administration has been considering, the deal is turned over to the UN Security Council, where Russia and China wield permanent vetoes, how long might it take to authorize and launch decisive action?

Here’s some unclassified information to help model an answer to that question. North Korea has been under UN sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs since 2006, when it conducted its first illicit nuclear test. North Korea is still building missiles and nuclear weapons, and the diplomats of the P5 are still brooding over what to do about it. So in that case there’s already been a diplomatic breakout time of almost nine years, and they haven’t broken out yet. If the P5+1 consummate the nuclear deal now taking shape with Iran, and Iran cheats (as it almost certainly will) what, realistically, would be the diplomatic breakout time for dealing with that? Factor in your own best guess, but all the signs suggest it would take a lot more than one year.

 

UN Jobs for North Korean Spies

February 27th, 2015 - 11:17 am

North Korea is a sinkhole so destructive, in so many ways, that even the United Nations has taken to producing some good reports on the myriad abuses of the Kim regime — going way beyond the UN’s usual diplospeak (“deeply disappointed”) to detail some of the appalling specifics.  The latest such report comes from the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea sanctions, a small group of specialists appointed to monitor global compliance with UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea.

The UN has not yet officially released the panel’s new report (that waits upon the agreement of members of the Security Council), but copies have leaked to the press — 76 pages jammed with disturbing information on North Korea’s continuing ballistic missile and nuclear programs, and the smuggling, fronts and falsehoods with which North Korea slithers around sanctions.

There’s lots to absorb, including the failure by 94 of the UN’s 194 member states even to minimally comply with UN requirements that they file reports detailing whatever measures they are taking to enforce UN sanctions on North Korea. (You will no doubt be shocked! shocked! to learn that neither Iran nor Syria — big among Pyongyang’s partners of record in, respectively, missile and nuclear proliferation — has ever submitted any such report.)

But let’s focus here on what the UN’s own Panel of Experts unearthed about North Korea’s exploitation of the UN itself. Top-notch North Korea analyst Joshua Stanton broke this piece of news Thursday on his One Free Korea blog, reporting on the Panel of Expert findings: “North Korean spies infiltratred UNESCO, World Food Program.” As Joshua points out, and documents with an excerpt from the UN Panel’s report, officials of North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau  – basically a Pyongyang clandestine intelligence outfit– ended up working at UNESCO in Paris and the UN’s World Food Program in Rome. More details in the Telegraph, which the next day picked up the story.

The prime problem here is North Korea. But a big dollop of blame should go to the UN as well, for promising culture and food to the world and then hiring nominees of the North Korean government to help make that happen.

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Now that North Korea is no longer interfering with the release of a Hollywood comedy, Pyongyang’s capers have dropped low in the news — eclipsed by Islamist shootings in Europe, ISIS beheadings and the immolation of a Jordanian pilot, Russian-sponsored carnage in Ukraine and the U.S. administration’s desperate quest for an Iran nuclear deal.

But North Korea has not gone away. The totalitarians of Pyongyang are busy testing more missiles, committing their regime-sustaining human rights atrocities, and issuing more threats to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S. — including,  in case you missed it, the threat released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Feb. 4, under the headline “U.S. Imperialists Will Face Final Doom.”

This threat was spelled out in a paragraph devoted to assorted specifics of North Korea’s arsenal, including, along with cyber warfare, North Korea’s claim to have miniaturized nuclear warheads, which would allow for delivery with ballistic missiles. The language is a bit convoluted, but that is what they are talking about (boldface is mine):

The United States had better clearly know that the smaller, precision and diversified nuclear striking means and ground, naval, underwater, air and cyberwarfare means of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will be used by the service personnel and through the people’s display of the strongest mental power and indomitable ideology and will, which the gangster-like United States imperialists can never think of, and by the Juche-oriented strategy and tactics and unique war methods unprecedented in human wars.

This would be comic, in a sort of ghastly propaganda-speak way, except that while the U.S. administration is practicing “strategic patience” and reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, North Korea is working on nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

In theory, North Korea is supposed to be deterred from this by multiple layers of United Nations sanctions. That makes it all the more interesting that North Korea did not simply issue its recent threat via a state propaganda organ and leave it at that. North Korea took its threat to the UN, loading the same language wholesale into a letter to the president of the UN Security Council from North Korea’s UN ambassador Ja Song Nam, who submitted this letter to be circulated “as a document of the Security Council.”

In other words, North Korea, while under UN sanctions, has just used  this letter, within the UN system, to threaten the U.S. with nuclear annihilation. This follows threats issued by North Korea at the UN last March and November, to conduct a fourth nuclear test — never mind UN sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear program.

Why would North Korea, in flagrant defiance of UN sanctions, dare bring such threats to the UN?

One likelihood is that North Korea is seeking, in its own perverse way, to achieve de facto international legitimacy for its nuclear weapons program, by trotting it out on the UN stage — via these threats. North Korea wants to be recognized by the U.S. as a nuclear power, which the U.S. refuses to do. So North Korea is pressing the issue, by threatening a nuclear attack on America.

That might sound ridiculous. But North Korea is also testing the limits of what it can get away with, and for Pyongyang that has so far been working out pretty well. North Korea has so far encountered no penalty for these threats. They simply enter the record. At a UN Security Council debate last December on North Korea’s monstrous human rights abuses, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power noted, accurately, that “The DPRK is already shockingly cavalier about dishing out threats of staging nuclear attacks, and has routinely flouted the prohibitions on proliferation imposed by the Security Council.”

Yes, and so what? What action did the Security Council take? Basically, it did nothing. The Council decided to maybe talk some more about North Korea’s human rights record at some later date, and on North Korea’s continuing nuclear threats and sanctions violations, it appears to be patiently waiting, perhaps for something more exciting. Certainly it did nothing to deter North Korea from producing its Feb. 4 letter, presenting the Security Council directly with North Korea’s threat to launch nuclear strikes on America. Nor has the UN, or the U.S. for that matter, done anything likely to stop the next threat.

The cavalier response to this might be that North Korea, for all its nuclear endeavors, does not have the ability to annihilate America. That’s not much comfort. Neither did the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda hijackers pose an existential threat to the entire U.S., but even without nuclear weapons they wreaked horrific damage. North Korea is building weapons of mass murder, has a record of weapons trafficking that has already extended to nuclear proliferation to Syria (the clandestine Al Kibar reactor built in Syria with North Korean help and destroyed by an Israeli air strike in 2007), is adept at nuclear extortion, and consorts with a network of rogue states and terrorists who would be all too likely to dance and hand out candy should any one of them succeed in landing a devastating strike on the United States.

There is also this: In an increasingly dangerous 21st century, North Korea is pioneering the precedent that a nation, while pursuing a rogue nuclear program, can threaten to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. — it can even present this threat to the UN Security Council — and get away with it. In America, this may not be getting a lot of attention. But in places hostile to the U.S., who else is watching this intriguing development? What comes next?

When ISIS beheaded British hostage David Haines, last September, the White House released a statement by President Obama that the U.S. “strongly condemns the barbaric murder,” and — with reference to Britain — “stands shoulder to shoulder tonight with our close friend and ally in grief and resolve.”

When ISIS beheaded British hostage Alan Henning last October, the White House released a statement by President Obama that the U.S. “strongly condemns the brutal murder” and –with reference to American hostages Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff beheaded by ISIS — “standing together with our UK friends and allies, we will work to bring the perpetrators of Alan’s murder — as well as the murders of Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines — to justice.”

When ISIS beheaded Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa on January 24, the White House released a statement by President Obama that the U.S. “strongly condemns the brutal murder of Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa, and “we stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Japan and applaud its commitment to peace and development in a region far from its shores.”

When ISIS (a.k.a. ISIL) released a video on January 31 that appears to show the beheading of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, the White House released a statement by President Obama that the U.S. “condemns the heinous murder of Japanese citizen and journalist Kenji Goto,” and reiterated that the U.S., while “standing together with a broad coalition of allies and partners… will continue taking decisive action to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.” Secretary of State John Kerry provided the rest of what is by now the formulaic response: “We share the sorrow and continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our ally Japan in confronting terrorism.”

What are we to make of these statements?

There is much to be said for standing together — including shoulder to shoulder — with a broad coalition of allies and partners to stop terrorism and destroy the butchers of ISIS. But the message that comes through so far is that three of the world’s great powers — the U.S., Britain and Japan — along with other allies and partners, have been standing shoulder to shoulder for months, condemning and resolving and sharing grief and resolve. Nothing in all that standing together has been potent enough to stop these barbaric, brutal, heinous beheadings of American and British and Japanese citizens. That is a dangerous message of impotence for these great powers to be sending, shoulder to shoulder, to the rest of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uh-Oh: Kofi Annan to the Rescue

January 16th, 2015 - 1:17 am

The Islamists of Boko Haram rage through northeastern Nigeria with kidnappings, suicide bombings and last week’s mass murder in the town of Baga, acquiring turf in ways that some top-notch experts are comparing to ISIS — with which Boko Haram has a flourishing kinship. Hashtags on Twitter have done nothing to stop this horror, and it gets ever harder to see who or what will. But if there’s one thing that is assuredly not needed, it’s the advice of Kofi Annan. You remember Kofi: former secretary-general of the United Nations from 1997-2006, and joint winner with the UN of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.

Annan’s public career should have ended along with his tenure at the UN (or even earlier). But, like another of the Nobel’s more dubious Peace laureates, Jimmy Carter, Annan just keeps turning up, perpetually ready to dispense terrible advice about the next crisis. Right on cue, here he is, telling the BBC that politicians have to find a way to “reach out” to Boko Haram.

Let’s be clear. Boko Haram is not a group of sensitive souls desperate to surrender to politicians or international bureaucrats who come bearing gifts and professing an interest in their grievances. These are terrorists who have been doing quite well for themselves with guns, bombs, abduction, invasion and slaughter. A few days ago they strapped a bomb vest to a girl who may have been as young as 10, and sent her as a suicide bomber into a busy market, to die in an explosion that killed some 20 others. Like ISIS, they are carving out turf for themselves in ways that suggest ambitions unlikely to be addressed by diplomatic group therapy.

Reaching out is not cost free. There may be circumstances in which it will work — but there are also circumstances in which it can be a disaster. It chews up time and entails concessions that can make a horrific problem even worse. Annan’s record in dealing with matters of mortal crisis suggests his advice is probably an excellent guide for what not to do. Recall that way back in early 2012, as the carnage mounted in Syria, Annan was dispatched by the UN-Arab League as a joint special envoy to sort things out. That was clearly a doomed project — as seemed obvious to some of us at the time. Annan’s period of reaching out provided an excuse for the U.S. and others to hang back in hope of some sort of politically brokered settlement. After much high-profile diplomacy — now largely forgotten — Annan finally stepped aside, one of his former UN lieutenants gave it a try and also failed, and events rolled on to staggering death tolls, chemical weapons, and the rise of ISIS. Nor did Annan’s instincts serve humanity well in such instances as his bureaucratically complacent failure while head of UN peacekeeping to heed the warning of impending genocide in Rwanda, or his administration of the UN’s profoundly corrupt Oil-for-Food program in Iraq.

If Kofi Annan feels a need these days for publicity, he could better serve humanity by confining himself to topics far removed from the realms of such mortal threats as Boko Haram. He’d still have plenty to talk about, if he chose. I’d bet he could still generate a headline or two if he ever reached out with some real answers to a host of lingering questions about his role in Oil-for-Food. But please, enough with the Elder Statesman. There are lives at stake.

 

On Friday, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabian authorities began carrying out their sentence of 1,000 lashes for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, co-founder of a web site, now banned, called the Liberal Saudi Network. The whipping began with 50 lashes, a process which according to various reports will be repeatedly roughly weekly until all 1,000 lashes have been inflicted — some 50 lashes per week, over the next 20 weeks. That’s just part of his sentence. As Amnesty International summarizes the case:

Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of 1 million Saudi Arabian riyals (about US$266,000) last year for creating an online forum for public debate and accusations that he insulted Islam.

Reporters without Borders, which has been calling for Badawi’s sentence to be overturned, released a statement that his “only crime was to start a public debate about the way Saudi society is evolving.” The BBC, drawing on AFP eye-witness quotes, summarizes the scene of the lashing in Jeddah:

Mr. Badawi arrived at the mosque in a police car and had the charges read out to him in front of a crowd.

He was then made to stand with his back to onlookers and whipped, though he remained silent, the witnesses said.

This first bout of the lashing  of Badawi has been greatly overshadowed in the news by the Islamist rampage of terror and slaughter in Paris. But it is also something the free world must reckon with. It is part of the omerta that in so many variations, in so many places, hangs over free speech and open debate about Islam.

Last year, Saudi Arabia won election to a three-year seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council — for the third time since 2006. When the Saudi government filed a Note Verbale with the UN in October, 2013, transmitting the voluntary pledges and commitments that were part of its candidacy, that document included such statements as:

The Islamic sharia, from which Saudi Arabia derives its regulations, stresses the protection of human rights and prohibits the violations thereof.

There are seven pages of this sort of material, with 43 items, culminating in Saudi Arabia’s pledge that it will:

Continue to shoulder its humanitarian responsibility to protect and promote human rights at the national level by enacting legislation and establishing mechanisms that strengthen the institutional framework for human rights, and by adopting best practices in the field of human rights.

Evidently, by these lights, “best practices” include the public whipping every week, for 20 consecutive weeks, of a blogger who tried to exercise what is ever more quaintly known in the West as free speech.

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