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Monthly Archives: June 2009

“Silliness,” is how a Pentagon spokesman has just dismissed North Korea’s recent threats to wipe America off the globe and drench South Korea in “A fire shower of nuclear retaliation.”

Think again. For starters, let’s ask whether it’s really a good idea for America to treat lightly — even for p.r. puposes — a rogue regime testing nuclear weapons, testing long-range missiles and making direct threats of nuclear war. The world is watching this stuff, and it gives Kim’s pals in places from Venezuela to Iran all sorts of ideas about how far they can go in threatening and pushing around America and America’s allies. That line is moving right now almost by the day — and not in a good direction.

The list of North Korean outrages, transgressions and rank barbarisms is by now so long, and much of it so familiar, that it should hardly need repeating. The missile proliferation into the Middle East; the nuclear proliferation networks, including the secret reactor built by Syria in cahoots with North Korea (destroyed by an Israeli air strike in 2007); the gulag inside North Korea in which people are starved, worked to death, or executed outright for “disloyalty” to the regime. North Korea’s counterfeiting of U.S. currency (which should be taken, in itself, as an act of war); the narcotics peddled over the years out of North Korean legations around the world; the kidnapping of Japanese citizens; the kangaroo trial and sentencing to 12 years at hard labor of two American journalists this spring; the raw threats, the nuclear extortion, the broken promises, the failed Agreed Framework nuclear freeze of the 1990s, the failed Six-Party Talks of the Bush administration, the impotent flailings to date of the Obama adminstration (“Words must mean something” … oh really?). 

Houston — or, rather, Washington — we have a problem. A big problem. And even if you believe that Kim Jong Il is  much too fond of his pleasure-women and French cognac to actually sacrifice himself to the rigors of genuine nuclear war, we still have an enormous problem. That problem is the North Korean regime, which has been in the business of inflicting mayhem and misery on its own citizens, and the wider world, since Stalin installed Kim’s father as the tyrannical Great Leader (does that remind anyone of Iran’s “Supreme Leader?” — it should) at the end of World War II.

One of the mantras we’re now hearing is that North Korea’s uptick in threats, nuclear and missiles tests, and whatnot, are all just part of the preparations for the evidently ailing Kim Jong Il to hand over control to one of his sons — at the moment the designated heir seems to be Kim Jong Un. If so, this is — as the State Department might put it — an unhelpful succession process. The civilized world cannot afford a global scheme in which tyrants ensure dynastic continuation of their regimes by waving around nuclear weapons and threatening to rain nuclear fire on places such as South Korea, or the United States.

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While Iranians Bleed, Where is the UN?

June 25th, 2009 - 12:35 pm

Mostly AWOL. It seems that for top UN officials, it has been more urgent these past two weeks to focus on almost anything else – accepting awards, holding conferences and providing a stage for Zimbabwe’s prescriptions for global financial stability, and the UN’s own politicized projections of weather patterns by the year 2050. But Iran?

Since Iranians took to the streets en masse after their June 12th “election,” and had their calls for freedom answered by the Iranian regime with beatings, shootings, and killings, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called not a single press conference to address the crisis. Apart from mentioning it last night (he could hardly avoid it) as part of a long interview with Charlie Rose, Ban has limited himself to three public utterances, on June 15, 16 and 22. In the first two comments, he told reporters he was “closely watching” Iran. Almost a week later he had progressed to expressing “growing concern,” urging the Iranian protesters and regime to just talk out their differences (no doubt that is being done inside places like Iran’s Evin prison right now) and describing himself, in language that might just as well apply to getting soup on his tie, as  ”dismayed.”

Compare that with Ban’s frenzy of impassioned pronouncements (“outrageous, shocking and alarming), activity and demands when Israel went into terrorist-run Gaza this past December and January. Or with the otherwise chronic impulses emanating from the UN by now to meddle at every level in lives worldwide, from regulating the air you breathe, to recommending a prohibition on plastic bags. But Iran? More in my column this week for Forbes.com , on “Where’s the U.N. on Iran?”

 The UN Security Council has been doing… nothing.

Shooting in Tehran

June 20th, 2009 - 2:34 pm

The world may be watching, as President Obama keeps repeating, but that is not protecting the protesters in Iran. From a link on Twitter, John Wohlstetter forwards this BBC feed – people trying to man burning barricades. They are fired upon. Gunshot after gunshot. They seek shelter but with incredible determination try to hold their ground.

Yes, the world is watching. So now what?

The crucial question is whether, in the face of demonstrators willing to die for their cause, Iran’s security forces will flip, and go over to the side of the demonstrators. For that, it does not help at all to have Obama referring to Ali Khamenei as “the Supreme Leader,” or doing anything else that holds out any mantle of legitimacy to the Iranian regime (see post below).

Nothing to Do With Us?

June 20th, 2009 - 2:08 pm

President Obama spoke up Friday on Iran to say, again, that the massive rebellion there “is not something that has to do with the outside world.”

On Saturday, Obama sort of reversed that, by saying that “the universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected,” and “the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.” Except he also sort of reversed his reversal, by illustrating the U.S. role as basically a spectator part, sitting around to bear witness, while Obama assures us that in what Martin Luther King called ”the arc of the moral universe,” somewhere out there, justice awaits.

So, to translate Obamaspeak into plain English: The current havoc and terror being inflicted on Iranian demonstrators is, for the U.S., still really nothing to do with us. And don’t worry, in the long-run, it will all work out.

Ummmm…. OK. And in the long-run, said Keynes, we’re all dead. This crisis, with the deaths and beatings and arrests of protesters in Iran, is pretty firmly located right now – in the short-run.    

And if the goal for Obama is a better, safer future, if not for the people of Iran, then at least for the “outside world,” a.k.a. the United States of America, then this rebellion in Iran, with its courageous protesters fighting armed security forces, has plenty to do with us. For an America apparently unwilling to use military force to deter Iran’s regime from its malignant and terror-based ambitions on the global stage, this rebellion is the best chance that has come along in the 30 years since the Islamic revolution to see the Iranian regime collapse. Which could be a genuine game-changer for peace and progress in the Middle East, in a way that no amount of Obama’s speechifying and respect-offering and nuclear-haggling could possibly achieve.

For such a collapse to happen would almost certainly require that Iran’s pervasive and armed security forces flip sides, and go over to the demonstrators. That is far less likely to happen as long as major powers, especially the U.S., are busy offering or showing “respect” — to borrow one of Obama’s favorite words — to the current regime.

For Obama to refer — as he did this week – to Iranian tyrant Ali Khamenei by his own preferred title of “Supreme Leader” is to reinforce the very regime that is the source of the problem. For Obama to say, as he did on Friday and again on Saturday, that “I think ultimately the Iranian people will obtain justice,” is to address a real and immensely important crisis with words out of la-la land.

This would actually be a very good time for Obama to talk about Ali Khamenei, but by way of scrapping the grotesque titles and offering Ali, with a grand gesture of American magnanimity, a small compound to which he might retire in exile, like Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Since Guantanamo is apparently out (and relocating its current inmates to Bermuda and Palau is already costing U.S. taxpayers multiple millions)  – maybe someplace like Hawaii?

If Obama’s aim is to make sure that America is not demonized by the Iranian regime, someone needs to get the message through to him that America has been, is being, and will be demonized by Khamenei & Co. in any event. One of the marks of such tyrannies is that they need to invoke enemies, and — like North Korea’s Kim Jong Il & Co. —  will find ways to do that no matter how zealously Obama might wish them happy new year or stand around with his hand extended. And why is America such a favorite target? Because as long as America is a democracy, especially a democracy prone to defend its creed, and its allies, America is, de facto, a threat to tyrannical regimes. Precisely by way of its virtues, and unless its own freedoms are eroded and blasted away beyond all recognition, America IS their enemy.

An excerpt below from my recent Forbes.com column on “The Green Rebellion,” listing just a small sample of the ways in which Iran’s government is not only a horror to the Iranians now rebelling in the streets, but — even before we get to the issue of nuclear weapons — a broad, deep threat to the U.S.:

Contrary to Obama’s current line, Iran’s politics are not a strictly internal affair. Iran is run by a malignant and murderous regime, which since its inception in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 has been in the business not only of ruling by terror at home, but of exporting its despotic creed and tactics abroad.

The full record extends across the decades, from the taking of U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1979 to bombings in Beirut, Argentina, and beyond. But for a handy summary of the problem in very recent times–and this is before we even get to the matter of Iran’s pursuit of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons–Obama could turn to the latest report of his own State Department on “State Sponsors of Terrorism.”

There, one finds not only that Iran in 2008 “remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism,” but that “Iran’s involvement in the planning and financial support of terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia had a direct impact on international efforts to promote peace, threatened economic stability in the Gulf, and undermined the growth of democracy.”

The same State Department report notes that Iran has been bankrolling, training and arming Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas, “that are implacably opposed to the Middle East peace process.” Further, the report states, in 2008, Iran provided the terrorist group Hezbollah with over $200 million in funding and trained over 3,000 Hezbollah fighters at camps in Iran.

The report also cites aid provided by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force to the Taliban in Afghanistan, including training, and the provision to “select Taliban members,” over the past two years alone, of small arms, “rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107-mm rockets, and plastic explosives.” Plus, there’s Iran’s responsibility for a long series of lethal terrorist attacks in Iraq.

And then there’s Iran’s special relationship with al-Qaida, in which “State Sponsors of Terrorism” reports the fascinating nugget that “Iran also continued to fail to control the activities of some [al-Qaida] members who fled to Iran following the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.”

 

The pattern now being established is that North Korea tests a nuclear device, and the “international community,” in response, tests… a UN resolution.

If that idea fills you with hope, then this should be the moment to kick back and relax about those North Korean nukes. Problem solved!

 The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution #1874 on Friday condemning “in the strongest terms” North Korea’s May 25th nuclear test. Devotees of such stuff will note that this sure-as-shootin’ sounds stronger than UN Security Council Resolution #1718, adopted in 2006 in response to the previous North Korean nuclear test. In that case, the Security Council, instead of condemning “in the strongest terms,” contented itself merely with “Expressing the gravest concern.”

 This latest UN resolution, #1874, demands that North Korea “not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology.” Or rather, this new resolution makes the demand again, since the previous resolution, three years ago, made the same demand. (Well, with one small difference — the previous resolution demanded no more nukes or ballistic missiles. The new resolution demands no more nukes and no more launches using ballistic missile “technology” — a fine distinction perhaps meant to address the problem that two months ago North Korea tested a ballistic missile, but described it as a satellite launch).

Anyway, the UN’s new resolution #1874 doesn’t stop there. It contains 34 articles demanding, deploring, deciding, calling, requiring and requesting, plus a coda in which the Council decides to “remain actively seized of the matter” (which may sound like what happens to an engine block without oil,  but at the UN, it means they plan to keep fussing about it).

Some of these articles spell out plans that could be interesting, especially the calls for UN member states to inspect ships and seize cargoes if they have information that gives “reasonable grounds” to think that items pertaining to Kim Jong Il’s missile and nuclear bomb projects are aboard. More broadly, there is a list of actions the UN Security Council has (again) decided North Korea should take – which boil down to abandoning its nuclear and long-range missile programs, allowing complete and verifiable inspections and not trashing the world’s non-proliferation deals. (Seems like the Security Council, while on this roll, might just as well have tossed in a few demands for Kim Jong Il to disband his military, open his gulag and move to Hawaii — but maybe Russia and China wouldn’t have gone along with that).

No doubt there will be lots of debate about all this in coming days. But on a warm Friday evening — a few points, some lighter than others.

1) The new resolution calls for North Korea to return immediately to the Six-Party Talks. But the point of the Six-Party Talks was to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. So if North Korea complies with the rest of this new resolution, and gives up its nuclear and long-range missile habits, then there should be no need for any more Six-Party Talks. One might wonder if even the authors of this resolution find most of its text hard to take seriously.

2) Six-Party Talks! Give us a break. The Six-Party Talks were an abysmal and costly failure. In Feb., 2007, President Bush’s main man for the Six-Party Talks, Chris Hill (now President Obama’s ambassador to Iraq) triumphantly announced that a denuclearization deal had been struck. North Korea then redefined the terms, extorted, demanded, cheated and reneged. By the time the Six-Party Talks collapsed in late 2008, North Korea had raked in massive amounts of free food, free fuel and hard cash; had haggled its way off the U.S. list of terror-sponsoring states, and had managed to avoid any penalty for the mind-boggling act of helping Syria build a copy-Yongbyon reactor on the Euphrates (destroyed in Sept., 2007 by an Israeli air strike). The U.S. got… another North Korean nuclear test. And Iran and cohorts got… the message that nuclear extortion has all the makings of a growth industry.

Now, the entire gang on the Security Council, from the U.S. to Burkina Faso, want to give Kim another crack at this extortion racket.

3) In the statements by Security Council members explaining their positions on this new North Korea resolution, China offered a fascinating caveat on the issue of inspections of suspect cargo. As summed up by the UN: “Under no circumstances should there be the use of force or threat of the use of force.” … So, if force is forbidden, then how do these inspections work? If a ship’s crew refuses to cooperate, do the would-be inspectors just go away? Hang around and look plaintive? Or maybe ring up some of those mobile-phone-equipped Somali pirates and ask for a bit of off-the-books help? The only way inspections can work without any threat of force is if any vessel involved in North Korean proliferation traffic just cheerfully volunteers to open its hatches and let inspectors have a look. I have my doubts about this approach.

4) Time for some fun. Libya, also a member of the UN Security Council, ought to win the Miss Venality Award for most flagrantly self-interested party to the proceedings.

According to the UN record of the discussion, Libya’s Ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam noted that his country had renounced its own WMD programs. He went on to lament, as the UN information department paraphrased it, that “Unfortunately the international community had failed to take advantage of Libya’s actions and reward it with development assistance in a way that would have helped further the case for non-proliferation.”

… One might well wonder if Muammar Gaddafi is miffed that Kim Jong Il has so far proved more adept at raking in payoffs while hanging on to his nuclear bomb projects. Though in the pay-off department, Gaddafi can hardly complain. Not only did the U.S. reward him by nodding Libya onto the UN Security Council. Libya’s former foreign minister Ali Treki was just “elected” at the UN to chair the 2009-2010 General Assembly.

Anyway, that’s a taste of the scene at the UN on Friday. For some, this is all supposed to be part of the solution to the nuclear ventures of totalitarian North Korea. I’d say it’s part of the problem.

Under the headline — incredible, but there it is — “U.S. government seeks to rein in executive pay,” the AP reports that “Democrats and administration officials agreed that companies across the private sector need to adjust compensation practices to avoid damaging the economy.”

This is the government — the outfit that runs the IRS, the post office and the Environmental Protection Agency (which is about to commandeer your entire life, on the theory that every time you do anything requiring energy — including exhale to stay alive — you are “polluting” the planet).  Apparently, this is not just the Obama adminstration dictating the size of bonuses at bailed out companies. This is the Obama administration deciding that folks like Tim Geithner, tax wizard, know best how to allocate executive pay across the entire private sector.

This used to be called central planning. It has been a disaster everywhere it’s been tried, and it is not a formula for a healthy economy; it is how you end up with people queuing for toilet paper. As it is, we have Obama and Ted Kennedy — almost certainly kept alive thanks to free-market America’s medical innovations — pushing for a self-stunting system in which the rest of us will end up forced to rely on state-rationed medical care. We have Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid celebrating the bleeding of trillions into public works, while anyone who works for a living faces the prospect of sky-high taxes, and we all sit waiting for inflation to hit.

And now we’re hearing that the government knows best how much to pay the folks who run businesses across  America.

It gets more jaw-dropping by the day (and that’s before we turn to foreign policy — some thoughts on that in my Forbes.com column this week, “Living on Obama Beach“).

Until last  fall, it had been 30 years since I’d read “Atlas Shrugged.” When I picked up a copy last year, it was not with the U.S. in mind, but as a sort of spare-time antidote to exploring the bilges of the UN — which also worships at the shrine of state command-and-control, and in great part on the U.S. taxpayers’ dime is relentlessly busy preaching and living that gospel in the developing world (For the UN’s beloved “Millennium Development Goals,” just substitute the old Soviet phrase, Five-year plans, and with the slight difference that the UN favors 10 or 15 or 25-year plans, you’ve got the idea).

These days, it’s the news about the U.S. itself that sends me looking for an antidote. Or at least a refuge. The lights aren’t out yet — except on Earth Day, whose acolytes have found for themselves the perfect symbol of spreading darkness — but they are, by official order, dimming at speed.

North Korea Ramps Up the Shakedown

June 8th, 2009 - 2:18 am

Twelve years of hard labor is the “sentence” just handed by a North Korean “court” to the two American journalists snatched in March by North Korean soldiers along the Chinese border.

This punishment has nothing to do with justice. There is no system of justice in North Korea. The two reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, have become hostages in the latest round of North Korea’s long-running shakedown of the U.S. and South Korea.

Though shakedown is really too simple a word for North Korea’s international three-ring circus of rackets, extortion, and WMD pursuit and proliferation. This is a totalitarian state which counterfeits U.S. currency, has a long record of its own diplomats peddling narcotics out of its embassies, and which, after signing on to a nuclear freeze deal in February, 2007, went on helping Syria build a secret nuclear reactor (destroyed in September, 2007 by an Israeli air strike, for which we should be profoundly grateful).

Just last month, North Korea conducted its second illicit nuclear test in three years. This followed a ballistic missile test in April, which North Korea described as the launch of a satellite broadcasting “immortal revolutionary paeans” … except it seems there was no such satellite.

Such tests serve the dual purpose for North Korea of advertising its munitions services and capabilities to clients such as Syria and Iran, while positioning North Korea to extort fresh bribes and concessions from the U.S. when all concerned return to the bargaining table.

Which is where the magical thinkers of both the Obama adminstration and the UN would have us believe this can all be dealt with.

North Korea is an old hand at this kind of extortion, which amounts to a big game of chicken — in which the U.S. and allies habitually flinch. Over the past 15 years, Kim has exploited this routine to mind-bending effect. First there was the Agreed Framework nuclear freeze deal, conceived in 1994 by Jimmy Carter and executed by President Clinton, in which North Korea got free fuel and food, plus the promise of two modern nuclear reactors. Those were under construction in North Korea, when Kim was caught cheating. Then there were the Six-Party Talks under President Bush, in which North Korea was removed from the U.S. list of terror-sponsoring states, got free fuel and food, plus a U.S. Fed-facilitated transfer of $25 million in allegedly crime-and proliferation-tainted cash (as a handy demonstration that the U.S. was so eager to deal with Pyongyang that Washington would over-ride its own sanctions). North Korea cheated and reneged.

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Other Way Round, in Normandy

June 6th, 2009 - 12:57 pm

“Obama honors D-Day Heroes on 65th anniversary of invasion,” says a headline today in the LA Times.

Sorry, guys, but if anything, it’s the other way round. Simply by being there for the speeches, the D-Day heroes were honoring anyone who spoke on that stage today — among them, Obama. As President of the United States, he enjoys that position of honor by virtue of his office. Whether he will now earn that honor by protecting and defending the free country those veterans fought for … that’s still a big question.

Here’s my take on his recent trip to Cairo, written just before he delivered his speech, but same difference, same worries. Where Ronald Reagan stood up to the Soviets and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” seems like the Obama approach would be, “”Let’s talk about this wall.” Or, as one reader wrote in, “Gee, you built a NICE WALL there.”

If President Obama really wants to reach out to Muslim world, here’s something he should look for ways to reach out and stop cold: Yet another round of Holocaust denial, from Iran’s Holocaust-denier-in-chief, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now running for re-anointment (as my colleague Michael Ledeen points out, “re-election” isn’t really a word that applies), Ahmadinejad repeated on Wednesday his claim that the Holocaust was a “big deception.”

This is quite horrible enough, coming from a strutting, messianic, nuclear-obsessed despot belonging to a regime that would like to blot out Israel.

But Elie Wiesel – a Nobel laureate and a survivor of the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered – offers a theory even more chilling about why Ahmadinejad, while setting the stage for a second Holocaust, finds it so compelling to keep denying that there ever was one. Speaking at a Hudson Institute luncheon in New York on April 30th, Wiesel offered his view that Ahmadinejad is after his own monstrous version of personal glory:

Wiesel said his guess is that Ahmadinejad “wants to enter the history books as the only one who destroyed the Jews.”

Ergo — according to Wiesel’s theory – in Ahmadinejad’s scheme of the universe, there is no room to admit that Hitler already set the bar.

Wiesel went on to warn that there is a chronic tendency to think such things could never happen, to believe that fanatics such as Ahmadnejad, or his patron Ayatollah Khamenei, don’t really mean what they say. Wake up, says Wiesel:  Ahmadinejad “is clear. He means it.”