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The Rosett Report

Monthly Archives: July 2009

No, it’s not Iraq we’re talking about here. It’s the U.S. State Department. In an editorial on “Banishing Our Friends,” The Wall Street Journal reports that the State Department has revoked the diplomatic visas of a number of officials from Honduras, where the interim government is part of a struggle to defend democratic institutions against the Hugo Chavez-style aspirations of the ousted president, Manual Zelaya.

Meanwhile, urged on by the United Nations, the same State Department has been quietly busy batch-processing some 1,300 or more Palestinians in Iraq, former favored guests and beneficiaries of Saddam Hussein, for permanent resettlement in the U.S.  Basically, State is proposing to import to the U.S. almost the entire population of a refugee camp located along the Iraqi border with Syria. I’ve always been in favor of admitting as many refugees to the U.S. as safely and reasonably possible — especially refugees who have put their lives on the line to stand up for democratic values. But about these Palestinians, whose interests were long entwined with Saddam’s, may we at least hear more on why the administration believes there is no security risk?  More in my column for Forbes.com , on “Your Tired, Your Poor, Guests of Saddam.”

It’s not just the dissidents of the Middle East who are networking on the net. The First Lady (or, under the circumstances, the First Tyrantess) of Syria, Asma Al-Assad, appears to have posted high-fashion photos of herself on Facebook .

It pays to be married to Syria's dictator.
It pays to be married to Syria’s dictator.

Somehow, amid the news in recent years of Syria’s clandestine North Korean-abetted nuclear reactor project; support for the terrorists of Hezbollah and Hamas; fingerprints on the murder of Lebanon’s former prime minister; corrupt dealings with Saddam Hussein followed by support for terrorist attacks inside Iraq; horrific prisons; jailing and torture of dissidents, and whatnot, I’d missed Asma’s page — complete with her designer shoes, and handbags and fancy clothes and jewelry – on Facebook.

 But the Reform Party of Syria (or RPS), a U.S.-based private group whose members would like to see democratic rule in Syria, has just called attention to it, in an item headlined: “Marie-Antoinette Al-Assad.” RPS reports that “The issue was brought to our attention by angry Syrians inside Syria. People who work with poor families. Such as mothers who cannot afford to buy milk for their children and fathers who cannot find work and go hungry 24/7.”

RPS continues: “Syrians are poor and hungry, asphyxiated by lack of liberties and stifling oppression. While their miserable lives carry them on a day-by-day basis, whether it comes to food or a roof over their heads, our own Marie-Antoinette is having none of that.”

I went looking for some more background on Asma Al-Assad, born and educated in London, with a career in merchant banking before she married Bashar Al-Assad in 2000 — the year he took over from his father, longtime and brutal dictator of Syria, Hafez Al-Assad. Having in short order googled my way to a piece on the Huffington Post, I found I’ve come late to the party. Earlier this month, Asma Al-Assad told Britain’s Sky News that she would like to welcome the Obamas to Damascus. Excited about the idea, Huffington recently featured a spread of “our favorite Asma looks,” enthusing about ”her love for Christian Louboutin platforms, sunglasses, and her signature wavy hair.” (Note to Michelle Obama: Whatever the fashion thrills this might portend, don’t do it!).

All told, Asma Al-Assad has better taste than Imelda Marcos in shoes, but much worse taste in regimes to go with them. As tyrants go, Bashar leaves the Philippines’ late Ferdinand in the dust (that’s safe to say, even with no love lost for Marcos). You can find more of Asma’s fashion looks here (with Bashar in Paris) and a gardening episode here.  You can read about Syria’s “ties to the world’s most notorious terrorists” and strengthening ties with “fellow state sponsor of terrorism, Iran,” in this 2008 State Department report on State Sponsors of Terrorism.  You can read more about Syria as one of the world’s most repressive regimes here and here.

You can learn strange things, poring over transcripts of remarks made by U.S. officials traveling abroad (we do this so you don’t have to). And so it was when I pulled up a transcript of remarks made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last weekend in Mumbai, India. These were the remarks in which, to the Obama administration’s growing list of apologies for the United States, Clinton added a U.S. apology to India for the climate of the planet:

“Our point is very simple: That we acknowledge, now with President Obama, that we have made mistakes — the United States — and we along with other developed countries, have contributed most significantly to the problems that we face with climate change.” (The main thing Clinton got for her pains was a demand from India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the West fork over almost $200 billion per year to the developing world to offset costs of cutting emissions).

Come again, Madame Secretary? You don’t have to love carbon to understand that there are tradeoffs in this world. While America’s free enterprise system has been emitting all that now-reviled carbon dioxide, it has also served as the world’s liveliest source of inventions for improving quality of life around the globe. The verdict of real science (as opposed to United Nations “consensus”) is still out on what causes climate change, or whether carbon dioxide has anything much to do with it. But in coping with a global climate that has been changing since before our ancestors crawled out of the primal soup, the best hope of mankind for adapting to the weather is not a global web of UN-driven caps and regulations, but precisely the kind of creativity and flexibility that has been the hallmark of the American system. It’s a terrible idea to constrain that, and it’s dangerously absurd to apologize for it. More on this in my column this week for Forbes.com , “Stop the Apologizing.”

In further remarks, Clinton responded to a press question about her meeting earlier in the day with a number of influential Indian business executives, include the head of Reliance Petroleum, which has served in the past as a major supplier to Iran of gasoline — a product for which Iran does not have enough refining capacity to meet its own domestic demands. Clinton was asked if she had discussed with these Indian executives the possibility of using gas exports as a lever against Iran. (Interest in such leverage has been simmering on Capitol Hill, and in response to this, Reliance recently halted gas exports to Iran. But the Obama administration, rather than talking up this example, or leaning on other suppliers to stop as well,  keeps skirting the issue, while trying to extend that hand to Tehran).

Clinton’s answer: A big shrug. She did not discuss it, and this is something ”we will look at later.” 

That’s one mixed up set of priorities. What America really ought to be sorry about is a foreign policy that apologizes for the weather, while ignoring a last, best hope for peacefully stopping the Iranian march toward nuclear crisis in the Middle East.

Kim Jong… Ill?

July 16th, 2009 - 9:50 pm

Photos of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il have drawn attention over the years for many reasons, one of the more memorable snapshots having turned up on the cover of the Economist about nine years ago, showing a rotund Kim, with his trademark bouffant hairdo, raising his hand in a half salute. In that case, the best part was the caption: ”Greetings, Earthlings.”

But recent footage, aired by North Korean state television, has been getting more attention than anything yet — showing, or so it seems, Kim Jong Il near death’s door. The once round Kim is gaunt, his once-thick hair is thin. He is reported to walk with a limp, and believed to have had a stroke last summer. This past Monday, South Korean media began reporting that according to unnamed Chinese and South Korean intelligence sources, Kim is suffering from pancreatic cancer.

With a possible transition of power in North Korea as context, I’ve put down some thoughts about this in my column this week for Forbes.com, “Dear Leader, Dead Leader?” — urging, and not for the first time, that America’s best bet for coping with North Korea’s murderous, WMD-loving, global racketeering, nuclear extortionist regime is to stop trying to negotiate with these guys, and undermine them entirely. We used to call it “regime change,” and as a policy for coping with predatory totalitarian governments, it has an excellent record — from World War II, to the Soviet collapse, to — yes — Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

One of the great weaknesses of totalitarian governments is that they have no clear procedure for handing off power. Because the rules morph with the whim of the ruler, transitions happen by way of power struggles, fraught with internal instability. Will Kim be succeeded by his 26-year-old son, Kim Jong Un? By his 63-year-old brother-in-law, Chang Song Taek? By a North Korean variation on Burma’s junta? These are some of the guesses topping the list. But chances are that even Kim’s hairdresser doesn’t know for sure.

For that matter, it isn’t even confirmed that Kim has cancer. North Korea is a country in which even the ruler’s birth date isn’t clear. Officially, Kim is 67 years old, born in 1942 on the sacred Mount Paektu. Unofficially, he is believed to be 68, born in 1941 in Russia. He rules over a system which tested a ballistic missile in April, but advertised it as the launch of a satellite which had gone into orbit broadcasting tunes of glory about Kim and his late father — which was all very interesting, except there was no satellite. 

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The Last Thing Honduras Needs

July 5th, 2009 - 2:21 pm

As I write this, the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, is reportedly aboard a plane, trying to return home. The Honduran military has reportedly been ordered to stop him. Zelaya was ejected by his fellow Hondurans after he made a shady play to revise his country’s constitution to keep himself in power. Appropriately, for someone who already belongs to the thuggish club of pals of Venezuela’s would-be president-for-life, Hugo Chavez, Zelaya — according to the AP – is traveling in a Venezuelan jet. And accompanying him is the last thing Honduras, or any other other embattled democracy needs: The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockman.

D’Escoto sums up just about everything wrong with the United Nations. As head of the 192-member-state General Assembly for its 2008-2009 session, he has been empowered to swan around the world, swaddled in the UN flag and purporting to speak for the poor, the oppressed, and the “international community.” In truth, d”Escoto is a Nicaraguan Sandinista retread, oozing hard-left dogma, praising some of the world’s worst despotisms and agitating from his plush UN offices in midtown Manhattan for massive transfers of wealth from the world’s leading democracies to his pals in tyrants’ cockpits of places such as Iran.

I mention Iran in particular because d’Escoto made a five-day visit there in March, with his expenses apparently paid by the Iranian government. He  returned to New York to hold a press conference trashing free countries such as the U.S., and praising Iran’s regime as one enjoying “great respect.” For more detail, here’s a link to my column at the time for Forbes.com , covering D’Escoto’s performance on that occasion.

D’Escoto took special pains to denounce the U.S. for having “demonized” his buddy, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – whose rigged “relection” as president on June 12th, as we all know, has inspired massive protests inside Iran itself.

Wielding the credentials of president of the UN General Assembly, D’Escoto enjoys the pernicious position of being a prominent official who is responsible in theory to everyone, but in practice is accountable to almost no one — while serving at the pleasure of a General Assembly which is dominated by unfree states. The GA’s most powerful voting bloc is the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, which overlaps with the so-called Group of 77 — a UN caucus organization which actually includes 130 members, who chose as their chairman for 2009 … wait for it… Sudan. That’s the kind of crowd behind d’Escoto.

Whatever the perils and complexities ahead for Honduras, as its people try to defy the despotic shadows spreading out of places such as Venezuela, Iran, and the UN itself, the last thing any democrat anywhere needs to see, especially in a moment of crisis such as Honduras now faces, is the bulky figure of Miguel D’Escoto Brockman, disembarking from a plane, and offering his own variation on one of the world’s most terrifying sentences: I’m from the UN, and I’m here to help you.

“Not Helpful”

July 4th, 2009 - 1:04 pm

The above phrase — “not helpful” — is from a U.S. State Department Spokesman, describing:

a) A staffer who forgot to turn off the coffeepot

b) A staffer who spelled Secretary of State Clinton’s first name with only one ‘l”

c) A cloakroom attendant who lost the spokesman’s coat.

d) North Korea’s in-America’s-face test-firing, on July 4th, of  yet another round of missiles, following illicit missile tests earlier this week, in May and in April (in that case a long-range rocket), plus a sanctions-busting nuclear test in May.

… I wish we could rule out (d), but it’s the only choice above that goes without saying. The State Department, both under Condoleezza Rice, and now under Hillary Clinton, has for some time now been in the habit of chiding rogue regimes in lingo usually reserved for naughty children.

It is way past time for the State Department to stop producing such twaddle, and address North Korea’s brazen threats in terms a lot more hair-raising and a lot less “helpful” to North Korea.