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Monthly Archives: July 2010

You’ve read about the plans of a small foundation called the Cordoba Initiative to build a  whopping $100 million Islamic center near Ground Zero. There are many reasons to question whether this project for a “Cordoba House” should go forward. Some involve the symbolism of the plan, and the aims of the imam carrying the standard for this project, Feisal Abdul Rauf — Imam Feisal, to his followers — a man of Egyptian descent, born in Kuwait, with offices in New York and Malaysia.

For a good rundown on why New York authorities might want to rethink their approval of this project, here’s a recent article by my colleague, Andrew McCarthy, former prosecutor in the case of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Andy writes on “Rauf’s Dawa from the World Trade Center Rubble,” including a look at a “special non-commercial” version of Rauf’s book on America and Islam, with Muslim Brotherhood connections that Rauf probably did not advertise to the Manhattan community board that approved his Cordoba House project.

New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come out in favor of building this Islamic center (well, the Cordoba Initiative is describing it as an Islamic center with “prayer space”; some are describing it as a mosque with a lot of amenities attached). But it’s not clear that Bloomberg has done his homework. For questions Hizzoner really ought to get answers to, another of my colleagues, Cliff May, has written a column framed as an open letter to Bloomberg — it’s summarized and linked on Powerline. There’s plenty more that makes interesting reading, including a PJ Media piece posted in March by Alyssa A. Lappen, on “The Ground Zero Mosque Developer: Muslim Brotherhood Roots, Radical Dreams.”

I’m a latecomer among reporters looking into this story, but I recently took a closer look at the amounts of money involved, and the media reports that Rauf keeps stonewalling questions about his funding. On Thursday morning, I called Rauf’s New York office, at the Cordoba Initiative, and was told that until at least the end of August he was “traveling,” that he was “out of the country,” that he was “unavailable,” and that he was “not feeling well.”

I asked for a phone number, and was told that Imam Feisal simply could not be reached — which, in an era of global mobile phones, seemed a pretty neat trick.

So, on a hunch about the erstwhile ailing, traveling, unavailable imam, I picked up the phone Thursday night — morning in Malaysia — and called his office in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. Not to leave you in suspense, but if you want to read more about it, here’s my column on “Where in the World is Imam Feisal?” One thing’s for sure. The more one looks, the more the questions just keep multiplying.

Did British Prime Minister David Cameron have some special reason for pandering to Ankara? Or is he simply clueless on Islamist terrorism and the Middle East?

Speaking Tuesday in the Turkish capital, Cameron called Gaza a “prison camp.” 

No, Prime Minister. Gaza is not a prison camp. It is a terrorist camp.

Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an Iranian-backed terrorist group, whose leaders seized all power in the enclave in a bloody coup in 2007 – slaughtering Palestinian rivals. Hamas is dedicated in its charter to obliterating the sovereign state of Israel, hostile generally to the values of free societies, and dedicated on its current turf in Gaza to imposing strict Islamic law. Hamas has launched thousands of rockets into neighboring Israel. The reason for the Israeli blockade is to keep weapons out of Gaza — from which Israel withdrew entirely in 2005, trusting that the “international community” would help ensure a future there of peaceful coexistence. Instead, what’s emerged is a terrorist enclave, its staple needs sustained by enormous handouts from the U.S. and European Union, while Hamas spends resources on propaganda and weapons.

The real answer for Gaza is an end to Hamas, and an end to Iran’s tyrannical regime and its toxic influence both in the Middle East and beyond — extending, apparently, to such places as London.  Whatever constituency Cameron is playing to, he’s kidding himself if he fails to understand that with utterances such as this latest in Turkey, he is giving a nod to Islamist terrorism. That is all too likely to come home to roost.

A Wish List for WikiLeaks

July 26th, 2010 - 9:41 am

In case Al Qaeda, its cohorts, and their sponsors lack for summer reading, WikiLeaks — as we all know by now — has just tipped out onto the web a trove of classified U.S. military documents on the war in Afghanistan. As far as there’s an upside to this, some of the concerns described in the documents may help focus attention on the problem of nuclear-armed Pakistan’s double-dealing in fostering Islamist terrorism, while receiving huge handouts from the U.S. in its role as an ally. Tunku Varadarajan has an impassioned piece on this in the Daily Beast, and the New York Times weighs in on the same theme.

But in the larger picture, such leaks are routinely cherry-picked by the U.S. media, and in turn by the world media, for anything damning to the U.S. Never mind the context, or the terrorist assaults and continuing threats that have impelled America into this war. Not only will America’s enemies now enjoy a chance to cull the leaked documents for any useful intelligence, but odds are that this huge data dump will become the latest ammo in the hands of the Blame-America-First contingent.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is right now all over the media, explaining that this posting of tens of thousands of classified U.S. documents is all about “transparency” and ending the abuses of war. In a video clip posted on the web site of the Guardian, Assange pats himself on the back that “It is the work of good journalism to take on powerful abusers.”

Amen, Mr. Assange. So when does WikiLeaks get serious about that noble mission? Leaking American secrets is no great trick – it’s a regular event; staple fare at The New Yorker, The New York Times, or pick-your-source. America is where the in-house conversations of Gen. Stanley McChrystal are reported in Rolling Stone, and “Top Secret America” is featured on page one — with interactive search functions — by the Washington Post.

What’s rather more difficult, for those aspiring to confer transparency upon abuses of power, is to get hold of the document troves of America’s enemies – a collection of tyrants and terrorists who respond to unwanted leaks not simply by trying to spin, deny, or appease, but by threatening, jailing or murdering anyone discovered disclosing secrets to the world public. That makes it a lot more difficult to pry documents from their archives; but it also means that any success could be of extraordinary value.

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The UN’s Deplorable Revolution of Decay

July 20th, 2010 - 11:31 pm

Five years ago, with the United Nations deep in the muck of Oil-for-Food, peacekeeper rape, and other scandals, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the UN to “launch a lasting revolution of reform.” What followed instead was a lasting revolution of decay.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out the note sent recently to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon by the departing head of the UN’s own internal oversight division, Swedish auditor Inga-Britt Ahlenius. Having served these past five years as Under-Secretary-General in charge of the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, Ahlenius turned in an End-of-Assignment Report in which she called Ban Ki-Moon’s leadership “deplorable,” “seriously reprehensible,” and charged that “The secretariat is now in a process of decay.”

In case anyone thought the Secretariat could hardly decay further than it had already done by 2005 under former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Ahlenius summed up that “There is no transparency, there is lack of accountability,” and “I do not see any signs of reform in the Organization.” Lots more in this vein can be found in a Washington Post story by reporter Colum Lynch, who obtained a copy of what he desribes as Ahlenius’s 50-page, confidential  ”stinging rebuke” of Ban Ki-Moon — who has led the UN since 2007. Lynch did not provide a copy of the full memo with his story, but he quoted from it, and his online piece does include a copy of Ahlenius’s three-page cover note to Ban. In that alone, she says that the UN under Ban’s leadership has seen “decline over a broad scale — from small things to more important” … “no more any congruity between responsibility and authority”…and calls today’s UN an “adhocracy” in which “disintegrated and ill thought through ‘reforms’ are launched without adequate analysis and with lack of understanding.” 

There’s lots more, on UN internal power struggles, Ban compromising the integrity of the UN’s anti-corruption arrangements and whatnot. But you get the idea. The question now is, will anyone do anything about it?

Don’t bet on the Obama administration stepping up to the plate. At the U.S. Mission to the UN, headed by Ambassador Susan Rice, the Obama administration has not yet filled the post of envoy for UN Management and Reform. For the past 18 months, this slot has been filled by an acting representative — a clear message to the UN that for Washington, which provides roughly one-quarter of the UN’s entire budget, oversight of what the UN does with such resources is a very low priority.

As for the “deplorable” Ban Ki-Moon — he availed himself of the considerable public relations machinery within his office (almost one-quarter of it funded, of course, by U.S. taxpayers) to send Lynch a 6-page reply, also linked in Lynch’s piece. It was signed by Ban’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, who described Ban as having provided “genuine visionary leadership on important isses,” and noted that “We are living in a dramatically changing, constantly evolving world.”

Yes, we are. Maybe it’s time we evolved some functional institutions to replace the UN.

Next Up in Washington, a Media Czar?

July 14th, 2010 - 2:33 am

You think there are problems now with the mainstream media? Just wait. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger joins the drumbeat of those proposing fixes that are guaranteed to make the MSM much, much worse — and he wants to do it with your tax dollars.

In a July 14th op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Bollinger argues that the time has come to rescue the declining fortunes of newspapers and broadcast news with “enhanced public funding for journalism.” He envisions the future of American journalism as a “mixed system,” part public, part private. Otherwise, worries Bollinger, Americans might not get the news they need. Absent a pipeline of government money, he fears the Fourth Estate cannot continue to perform its fabled function as a watchdog, prowling the globe and speaking truth to power.

But wouldn’t public money compromise the independence and impair the integrity of American journalism? Not to worry, says Bollinger, who believes the mission in mixing public money with news reporting is simply “to get the balance right.” As examples of what he considers terrific balance, he points to American public universities, and the British taxpayer-supported BBC. That’s a hoot, because both are notorious hotbeds of leftist bias. Maybe he should check out the 2007 report that  the BBC commissioned to look into itself — which concluded, as summarized in the UK by the Sunday Times — that the BBC “is an organization with a liberal, anti-American bias and an almost teen-age fascination with fashionable causes.” Or has Bollinger not worked around to reading any of the multiple private news sources that might have enlightened him on the rot at the BBC?

Behind Bollinger’s tender concern for the welfare of the Fourth Estate is a gross disregard for another institution vital to both the freedom and prosperity of American society: the free market. The most pernicious sentence in Bollinger’s article sounds weirdly akin to statements I heard in Russia 15 years ago from the dinosaur leftovers of the Soviet Communist Party, as they lamented the days when all truth was handed down by the Communist Party’s Central Committee newspaper, Pravda (this was during the brief window before the Russian government got back into the business of controlling the media).

Bollinger writes: “Trusting the market alone to provide all the news coverage we need would mean venturing into the unknown — a risky proposition with a vital public institution hanging in the balance.”

Yikes! Venturing into the unknown! Perhaps it is a truth undiscovered in the ivied turrets of Morningside Heights, but it is precisely in venturing into the unknown that private enterprise tends to excel. Markets give people the latitude to invent, take risks, pay for their own mistakes, and strive to make profits by producing things people will value. That’s why capitalist America has led the modern world in invention. Advances in technology have led to a shakeout in recent years in the handling of news coverage. (Anyone in pajamas with a laptop can now broadcast to the world.) The industry is now grappling with the question of how to make money in a far more fast-paced, multi-tiered competitive scene than anything we knew in the days of three TV channels, a couple of major newspapers, and no internet. But if the government simply refrains from sticking its clammy hands any deeper into the market, it’s a very good bet that people will devise ways to profit and prosper by competing to deliver the news people need (and want). Competition will do far more than any Washington media czar to preserve the institution of a healthy free press (or internet, or what-have-you). Fox News seems to be doing all right, via the amazing feat of recognizing that there’s a national audience for coverage that does not automatically tilt to the left.

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As part of his public reconciliation with Israel, Obama for the first time in the almost 18 months since he became president just gave an interview to an Israeli TV station (this from the same American president who gave his first interview in office to Al-Arabiya — remember that ?). Speaking Wednesday to Israel’s Channel 2 News, Obama struck a friendly tone.

And yet, as if he can’t quite help himself, out comes this astonishingly crude remark. As reported in the New York Times, he was asked about “the anxiety of many Israelis who feel that he does not have a special bond with Israel.” Obama replied — get ready for it: “Some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion.”

Come again? There are Americans who have wondered about that middle name, less because it is “Hussein” than because it has lived a strange life of its own, fading in and out depending on the audience – disappearing during Obama’s 2008 election campaign, reappearing during his outreach to the “Muslim world,” coming and going as if it mattered in some malleable way to Obama himself. Has he ever considered that public worry about his middle name might have more to do with the slippery nature of its use, and the too often disturbing policies of its owner, than with the name itself?

And for Obama to impute Israeli anxiety to his Cheshire Cat of a middle name is grossly dismissive and insulting to the Israelis. Does he really believe they are such bigots as to judge him — other things equal — by his middle name? Does he have any evidence for that? Or was he drawing on his own stereotype of Israelis? How exactly was he judging them, when he tossed out that remark?

I’ll venture a wild guess that the problem for Israelis is not Obama’s name — first, last, or middle — but his flim-flam fictions and negligence regarding too many hard and dangerous realities in the Middle East. Since becoming commander-in-chief of Israel’s most important ally, America, Obama has repeatedly bypassed or undermined Israel’s very real concerns about self-defense. He has been content to leave Israel in the impossible position of being constrained to wait upon his own feckless policy of apologies and “outreach” toward the “Muslim world,” while Iran races toward nuclear weapons and its leaders trumpet their desire to wipe Israel off the map, in concert with the goals of Iran’s terrorist allies Hamas and Hezbollah — bordering Israel out of Gaza and Lebanon.

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Freedom and A Happy Fourth of July

July 4th, 2010 - 4:35 pm

On the Fourth of July, one wants an inspiring message — a reminder of the love of freedom which has made America great, and can make it greater yet. Finding that in Washington these days is quite a challenge, as Roger Simon notes in his post on Happy Unbirthday America. There’s nothing to celebrate in profligate spending, in self-serving politicians bent on entrenching an entitlement culture, in the downgrading of America abroad and proliferating tomes of legislation and regulations fettering individual freedom at home. And yet — this is America. The spirit of freedom runs deep, and in the 234 years since Independence, one doesn’t have to reach that far to find a wealth of inspiration.

A quick look back at President Ronald Reagan’s speeches pulls up his remarks in New York, July 4, 1986. It was the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, newly refurbished. I remember that 4th of July. I was in New York at the time, working for the Wall Street Journal, which had just moved into new downtown offices, with windows looking out on the Hudson and Lady Liberty. There were ships, and fireworks. Reagan was leading America, and the world, toward better days, greater prosperity, and the end of the long Cold War. It was one heck of a party that July, and from a president who saw America as a shining city on a hill, we had the following address — worth the replay – “We pledge ourselves to each other and the cause of human freedom.” That’s who we were, and that’s who we still are, if we so choose. Happy Independence Day!

If there’s one thing you can count on the United Nations to do, it is to endlessly expand. Thus has the UN, after the thrill of “intense eleventh hour negotiations,” cleared the last remaining “political hurdles” for the creation of what the Inter Press Service describes as a  ”New Gender Entity.”

Officially this new outfit will be known as “U.N. Women,” with the extended subtitle of UN Gravy Train for Yet More Bureaucrats and Politically Warped Agendas (excuse me–) “The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.”

Offhand, I can’t think of any initiative in human history in which something with “entity” anywhere in its official title has worked wonders for the emancipation of anyone — male, female, or transgendered. (Though UN characters like to tag Israel — freest state in the Middle East — with the unofficial label of “entity,” so perhaps the UN in some strange contortion of the subconscious is trying to confer a promising name on its new outfit).

Apparently there is some aim here of giving big donor countries (a.k.a. wealthy democracies) slightly more clout than usual — but not much. The new Gender Entity is to have a 41 member board, in which four seats are reserved for top donors to the UN core budget and two seats are reserved for developing countries. The rest – as in, most of them — are to be allocated on the UN’s usual basis of geographic group — which is how countries like Iran, Libya, Cuba and Saudi Arabia get so many seats on UN governing boards.

Though a cynical interpretation of reserving a couple of seats for big donor countries (that usually means YOU, America, Japan, plus 1) is that the new Gender Entity now must clear the hurdle of eliciting a flood of money. The new Entity is expected to absorb a couple of the UN’s current smaller gender entities, and then require double the amount of money these sub-entities had been receiving — for a total annual budget of $500 million. Though that’s just to start … already there are calls for an annual budget of $1 billion.

Will any of this take do much to encourage the real forces for gender equality? Those begin not with billions more in opaque and politically compromised UN programs, but with political systems that support and enhance liberty for all — male or female — otherwise known as free-market democracies. Don’t hold your breath. The real question here is, how long before the likes of Iran, Sudan, Libya and Saudi Arabia plunk themselves down in seats on the new Gender Entity board?