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Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Hurricane, and the Gathering Storm

October 29th, 2012 - 10:16 pm
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With the Atlantic spilling over its shores, and the lights out in lower Manhattan, most of us are undoubtedly transfixed this evening by news of Hurricane Sandy. Our thoughts are with the folks caught in the storm,  including friends in places from the inlets of the Chesapeake to the row houses and high-rise canyons of New York.

But if you tune in to only one other story tonight, the one to watch is Sean Hannity’s latest interview with Charles Woods, father of Tyrone Woods, one of the two former Navy SEALs murdered in the Sept. 11 terrorist assault on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya. Charles Woods appeared on air, with three of his children, to ask, once again, that the Obama administration provide a full accounting of who made the decision to deny the help reportedly requested by the embattled Americans. That is a big and important question, and one to which all Americans deserve an answer before they go to the polls next week.  You can watch the interview here, and in the video embedded above.

Right now, the lights are out in lower Manhattan due to a massive act of nature. That’s beyond the power of any administration to prevent — even the administration of a president who believed that his own advent could slow the rise of the oceans. Presumably the authorities will deal swiftly with the damage of the storm, and get the lights switched back on. But if we want to ensure that the lights of New York do not go out again due to an act of terrorism, it is vital that America’s leaders acknowledge the real threats to this country, stand by those who put their lives on the line to defend it, and deal honestly with the American public about what transpires in the process. If you missed the earlier interview on Hannity with Charles Woods, making the same plea, still unanswered — this one phoned in a few days ago — you can listen here.

Romney on Iran’s ‘Route to the Sea’

October 23rd, 2012 - 2:34 pm

Why focus on the realities of terror-sponsoring rogue regimes, when you can mock Gov. Mitt Romney instead? After Monday night’s Obama-Romney foreign policy debate, the Washington Post’s Al Kamen is having fun deriding Romney’s description of Syria as Iran’s “route to the sea.” In commentary posted beneath a map of the Middle East, Kamen writes that “the fact-checkers went wild.” He notes, more in derision than in sorrow, that Romney has said this before, and “We had tried ever so hard back in February to get Romney to stop saying that.”

Kamen points out that Iran has direct access to waterways, with its own long coastline along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, that it doesn’t share a border with Syria, and that Iranians making the overland journey would have to travel through northern Iraq to get to Syria, “and once the Iranians get there, they’ll find Syria has only a measly 111 miles of coastline.”

All correct, as far as it goes. Which isn’t very far. To be fair to Kamen, what Romney might more fastidiously have said is that Syria is Iran’s beachhead on the Mediterranean Sea. Which it is. Syria is right up the short coastline from Hezbollah-infested Lebanon, and the state of Israel, which Iran’s regime would like wiped off the map. But  Kamen and his fact-checkers-gone-wild have neglected to mention that, or to note Romney’s additional remarks that Syria has been used by Iran as a “route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally, Israel.”

Yes, it is something of an expedition to shuttle between Iran and Syria, but that has not daunted decades of traffic in weapons and personnel between Iran and the Iranian-spawned, trained, and supported terrorists of Hezbollah in Lebanon, plenty of that traffic running via Syria. Nor, during Syria’s tumult of the past 19 months, has the journey discouraged Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from hustling to the aid of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Just last month, Reuters reported that according to a Western intelligence report, provided by a United Nations diplomatic source, Iran was “continuing to assist the regime in Damascus by sending trucks overland via Iraq.” According to the same report, Iran has also been making heavy use of those modern contraptions (referenced Monday night by President Obama, while lecturing Romney on the modern world)  called airplanes. Reuters quotes further from the leaked intelligence report: “Planes are flying from Iran to Syria on an almost daily basis, carrying IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) personnel and tens of tons of weapons to arm the Syrian security forces and militias… .”

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Portents of the EU Nobel Peace Prize…

October 13th, 2012 - 12:48 am

Commentators have been struggling to make sense of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, which went to the quarreling, rioting, and crisis-ridden multilateral morass that is the European Union. The Nobel commendation praised the EU “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”

Among the saner responses to this was a column by former State Department adviser Christian Whiton, who asked “Is this a joke?”  And, with a degree of lucidity that routinely eludes the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, speaking on Fox News (about 5 minutes into this clip), noted that if Europe has had peace “It’s not because of the European Union. It’s because of American power,” which, he pointed out, has sheltered Europeans for decades, and given them a chance to work out their differences.

But, with the EU enterprise lurching from one crisis to the next, with the Greeks and Spanish rioting over austerity, with the French and Germans bickering over bailouts (and with American power, perhaps not so coincidentally, in decline), much of the reaction to this prize defaulted to the rationale that the Nobel Committee was trying to give the EU a nudge away from the precipice. Or, as the the New York Times summed it up: ”The decision sounded at times like a plea to support the endangered institution at a difficult hour.”

Does that bode well for the EU?

While the Nobel Peace Prize has had its good moments — Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi — it also has a record that suggests it can be something of a portent to be feared. Here are just a few highlights, or maybe lowlights, of the laureates over the years, and events subsequent to the prize:

1973: Jointly awarded to Henry Kissinger and Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, for the Paris peace agreement on Vietnam. Tho refused the prize, and two years later South Vietnam fell to the guns, ravages, and reeducation camps of the communist North.

1990: Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the USSR. A year later, the USSR imploded, and Gorbachev was president of nothing (this was not actually part of the peace plan for which Gorbachev won his prize).

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Congressional investigators of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs are pressing ahead with their inquiry into one of the flashier United Nations scandals of recent times — call it Tech for Tyrants — involving the quiet transfer of computers and related technology to Iran and North Korea by the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), headquartered in Geneva. In a letter today to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, HCFA Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) detailed their expectation that key witnesses from the WIPO staff will at last be allowed to testify, and that “we will soon be sending our investigative staff to Geneva to review documents and interview witnesses as the next step in our investigation.”

In their letter, the two lawmakers further detailed that  while they acknowledge that the UN Sanctions Committee on Iran found these transfers did not violate sanctions of the UN itself, they remain concerned “that a UN agency was used as a conduit to possibly circumvent U.S. sanctions designed to prevent the transfer of U.S. technology to North Korea and Iran.”

These transfers of sensitive technology by WIPO have been the object of considerable wrangling between congressional investigators and WIPO’s Australian chief, Francis Gurry, since George Russell of Fox News broke the story this past April. When the committee invited three WIPO senior staffers to testify at a briefing in July, Gurry refused permission to two of them: his senior adviser Miranda Brown; and WIPO Deputy Director General James Pooley, an American lawyer specializing in intellectual property law, and the highest-ranking American currently employed at WIPO. The third potential witness, Moncef Kateb, head of the WIPO Staff Association, received Gurry’s permission to testify, but declined, with his attorney citing fear of retaliation by WIPO.

As Ros-Lehtinen and Berman note in their Oct. 12 letter , WIPO commissioned its own “external review” of these transfers, which despite “a limited mandate and 30 day deadline” produced a “scathing report that corroborates this Committee’s concerns.” Following a meeting on Sept. 25 between the HCFA investigative staff and Gurry, then visiting Washington, the two lawmakers are requesting written assurances from Gurry that witnesses from the WIPO staff will be able to testify “without fear of reprisal of any kind.” The committee is also asking Gurry to provide by Oct. 22, subject to any reasonable restrictions, “all documents detailing the scope, history, and justification for WIPO’s technology transfers to North Korea and Iran.”

Stay tuned. The WIPO dual-use transfers to Iran and North Korea follow the 2007-2008 Cash for Kim scandal, in which the UN Development Program was caught transferring cash and dual use technology to the government of North Korea. That followed the Oil-for-Food scandal, in which the UN, in that case on a scale of billions of dollars, became a de facto collaborator and partner with Iraq’s late Saddam Hussein in violating the UN’s own sanctions. As far as the UN’s privileges and immunities providing cover for aiding and abetting rogue regimes, whether in violation of U.S. sanctions, or on occasion the sanctions of the UN itself, we have a pattern here that just doesn’t quit.

The Wreckage of Benghazi

October 5th, 2012 - 2:10 am

On Thursday, an FBI team finally arrived in Benghazi, Libya, to visit the sites of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. It took the FBI more than three weeks to get there. During that time, the ruined consulate remained only minimally secured, if that. A few days after the attack, a CNN crew went through the wreckage and found the ambassador’s handwritten journal. As late as this past Wednesday, Washington Post correspondent Michael Birnbaum, together with his interpreter, easily gained access, and reported finding that

Documents detailing weapons collections efforts, emergency evacuation protocols, the full internal itinerary of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s trip and the personnel records of Libyans who were contracted to secure the mission were among the items scattered across the floors of the looted compound.

Big questions surround this scene. Why was security so light, given the cascade of attacks and threats that preceded the Sept. 11 onslaught? Why did the Obama administration go to such lengths early on to portray the attacks as “spontaneous”? What documents might have been taken from the compound? Why did it take more than three weeks for U.S. investigators to reach the scene? For that matter, since the FBI team reportedly spent only about 12 hours on the ground in Benghazi, how much is being done to find out exactly what happened?

Perhaps we will find out more when the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform convenes a hearing now scheduled for Oct. 10, on “The Security Failures of Benghazi.” Committee investigators have already compiled a list of attacks and events in the months before Sept. 11, detailed in a letter from Reps. Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, alleging that “the U.S. Mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi” but “was denied these resources by officials in Washington.” There are plenty of questions that need answering.

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