The Rosett Report

The Rosett Report

Capitalism and the Yearning for Freedom in Hong Kong

October 8th, 2014 - 3:00 am

The New York Sun proposes awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Hong Kong, where demonstrators have been defying Beijing in order to demand their promised democratic rights. Great idea — but it is Hong Kong that would dignify the prize, not the other way around. Hong Kong’s people have acted with courage and grace in the face of one of the world’s most powerful dictatorships.

Their grievances are quite real. These demonstrations cap 30 years of betrayal, first by Britain and then by China. As I recount in an article for the Weekly Standard, in a post-colonial era that saw other British colonies gain independence, Hong Kong was turned over in 1997 to China. The people of Hong Kong never had a say. This was supposed to be mitigated by the terms of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which China — under Deng Xiaoping’s promise of “One Country, Two Systems” — agreed that Hong Kong would enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” and democratic self-rule in all matters except foreign policy and defense. But genuine democracy did not materialize. Instead, after years of evasion and delay, China this summer produced the plan: in 2017, Hong Kong’s people would be allowed to vote for their chief executive — with the cynical proviso that Beijing would, de facto, choose the candidates.

Hong Kong’s people rejected this in the only way left to them. They took to the streets. They did this in the long shadow of China’s bloody suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. They refused to kowtow to the dictates of China’s Communist Party (which keeps China’s own Nobel Peace laureate, Liu Xiabo, imprisoned). They protested peacefully. They did their best to keep order, even when pro-Beijing goons descended on some of them last Friday. They did not riot. They did not loot. They did not threaten violence. They cleaned up after themselves, and asked again and again for their rights.

What accounts for this movement? Isn’t Hong Kong supposed to be a center of crass commercialism, its people dedicated to making money, as the apolitical wards of first Britain and now China?

Obviously, there’s more to it.

The world has had little interest in recent times in the argument that capitalism helps foster democracy. Free market ideas are broadly out of fashion. But I would suggest that free markets have a great deal to do with the admirable culture on display in Hong Kong.

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With the United Nations General Assembly’s 69th annual opening about to begin its “High-Level Week” of summits and speeches in New York, the State Department has been pushing out material highlighting the UN’s core role in the Obama administration’s foreign policy. Among the most avid of these endorsements is an article released Sept. 17 by the State Department, on its official Dipnote blog, headlined: “UNGA 69: Why the UN Matters More Than Ever.”

Near breathless in its enthusiasm for the”diplomatic marvel” of the UN General Assembly opening, the article begins by reeling off a few facts and figures about this event, including a statement that: “World leaders and representatives from 194 countries will come together to work on an agenda packed with burning issues… .”

Whoa. Let’s replay that tape. Did State really mean to say “194 countries”? There are only 193 countries in the UN. So, what is this 194th country that State was referring to?

Wondering if there might be some story here of a new UN member state that even the UN did not know about, I emailed the State Department to ask what this mysterious 194th country might be.

A State Department official wrote back to say, oops, the article “should have read ’193 countries.’ ” The State official added: “The drafter of the blog put in the wrong number, and we unfortunately did not catch the error before it was posted to the web.”

Well, we all make mistakes. But this mistake is not small. For years now, under the slogan “Palestine 194,” the Palestinian Authority has been campaigning to be admitted to the UN as the 194th member state. Officially, the U.S. is opposed to any such admission, unless and until the Palestinians have kept their promise to negotiate a viable peace with Israel. But within the Obama administration there has been a lot of foot-dragging on this policy, accompanied by attempts to erode it. This has included administration pressure on Congress to waive laws that forbid U.S. funding to any multilateral body (notably, to date, UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) that admits the Palestinians to full membership before they have kept their promise of peace.

When the State Department puts out an article describing the UN General Assembly opening as bringing together “194 countries,” it looks less like a mistake than a sly attempt to rewrite official U.S. policy by referring to the Palestinians as the 194th UN member state. Especially when the State Department, instead of correcting its mistake, blasts out the same article a few days later, including the reference to “194 countries,” in a list of “Highlights of the UN 69th General Assembly High-Level Week.”

But OK, let’s give State the benefit of the doubt, and believe that it was just a bad week for taxpayer-funded diplomatic bloggers doing arithmetic. This particular mistake still looks terrible.

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Crying Need for UNRWA to Come Clean on Gaza

September 7th, 2014 - 9:22 pm

What’s worse than a United Nations agency that provides massive welfare and support services to a Palestinian enclave run by terrorists?

Well, how about having that same agency run by a loquacious Swiss national who apparently believes that UN “neutrality” consists of blaming Israel for the local mayhem, while ignoring the terrorists?

That’s pretty much the scene right now at UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Following the latest bout of war between Israel and the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza, UNRWA’s Swiss commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, has been talking and tweeting about a “crying need for financial assistance to help the people of Gaza.” Krahenbuhl has also been accusing Israel of war crimes, and calling for Israel to be immediately and thoroughly investigated and called to account (as I detailed in “The U.N.’s Grotesque Gaza Inquiry,” the UN Human Rights Council is delighted to oblige). Krahenbuhl wants to address “underlying causes” — by which he apparently means Israel’s attempts to protect itself against Hamas rocket and mortar bombardments and miles of attack tunnels that were dug (right under UNRWA’s nose) from Gaza into Israel.

It appears to have escaped Krahenbuhl’s attention that Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, and that this enclave so pervasively serviced by UNRWA is run by Palestinian terrorists — variously trained and bankrolled by the likes of Iran and Qatar. The priorities of Hamas are not the well-being of women and children, or peace and prosperity, or anything of the kind. Hamas specializes in repressive rule (including summary executions), thrives on cultivating hate, and prefers pouring resources into making war on Israel (which Hamas aspires to obliterate), rather than cultivating Gaza as a productive entrepot on the Mediterranean.

UNRWA’s Krahenbuhl runs an agency that is troubling enough for its policies of extending refugee status plus a cornucopia of welfare benefits to succeeding generations of Palestinians — fostering a vast and chronically aggrieved population permanently on the dole. UNRWA has kept itself in business for 64 years by creating its own ever-expanding clientele — now numbering more than 5 million “refugees.” Does Krahenbuhl’s brief also include inserting himself into the complex Middle East scene as an arbiter of policy, war and the complexities of seeking peace in the Middle East?

What’s urgently needed from Krahenbuhl and his colleagues is not a continuing barrage of biased pronouncements, but a full and transparent explanation of how it happened that while Hamas was amassing weapons and building terrorist attack tunnels from Gaza, UNRWA was demanding more resources, including construction materials, for the enclave. Were UNRWA’s top officials clueless? Were they complicit?  And if Krahenbuhl wishes to level blame and discuss “underlying causes,” when do we hear from him about the misery, brutality and terror inflicted on Gaza, and its neighbors, by Hamas?


The Banality of Mass Public Executions in Gaza

August 23rd, 2014 - 12:46 am

Just another episode of Hamas rule in Gaza, as — quoting Reuters here — “Hamas-led gunmen in Gaza executed 18 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel on Friday, accelerating a crackdown on suspected informers after Israeli forces tracked down and killed the three senior Hamas commanders.”

How did these Hamas-led executions proceed? This from the New York Times: “”Masked gunmen in matching black T-shirts and pants paraded seven of the suspected collaborators, handcuffed and hooded, to their deaths before a boisterous crowd outside a downtown mosque after the Friday prayer, in a highly theatrical presentation. Photographs showed a pair of militants leaning over a doomed man on his knees against a wall, and masses of men and boys cheering and clamoring for a better view.”  (Reuters has a video clip here, including the crowd and the bloodied street).

Thus runs the course of “revolutionary justice” in Gaza — which is how this process was labeled on the website Al Majd, which is described by the Times as “managed by the Internal Security Service of the Hamas government that ran Gaza until June” (when the Hamas government morphed into the “National Consensus Government” of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah).

Were there fair and impartial trials of the accused? Were they provided with lawyers, permitted to mount a defense, treated with dignity? Was their right to privacy respected? Did the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross immediately pronounce themselves appalled? Did the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, decry this mass public use of the death penalty? Did the UN Relief and Works Agency, a megaphone for Gaza, even mention these horrific executions in its daily Situation Report? Did UNRWA’s Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl, formerly of the ICRC, self-appointed arbiter of legalities in Gaza, issue an outraged denunciation of these mass executions?

You know the answer. No. There was none of that. This mass public execution of Palestinians, by Palestinians — according to Reuters, the third round of executions of suspected collaborators just this month — aroused no global outcry. The story played in the New York Times and on Reuters as a tale — albeit with gruesome touches — of Hamas defending itself against Israel. As the Times headline framed it: “Executions in Gaza Are a Warning to Spies.”

Yes, these executions are certainly a warning to spies. But how, precisely, are they less barbaric than, say, the executions of ISIS? Forget even a trace of humanity. Before a rowdy crowd, men in handcuffs and hoods are deliberately paraded by masked gunmen, herded against a wall en masse, and shot to death. For what? For alleged betrayal of a terrorist group that seized power in Gaza in 2007, in a bloody coup against other Palestinians, and uses schoolchildren and hospital patients as human shields for its attacks on Israel.

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Hamas, Terror Tunnels and Timing?

August 12th, 2014 - 12:22 am

In connection with the discovery that the Hamas terrorists of Gaza had dug an elaborate network of attack tunnels into Israel, a number of Israeli news outlets have been reporting that the date set by Hamas for a major attack was Rosh Hashanah — the beginning of the Jewish New Year, which this year falls on Sept. 24. If true, that date is intriguing for reasons extending beyond the Jewish New Year.

The reports of a plot timed to coincide with Rosh Hashanah are unverified, anonymously sourced to Israeli security services, and most seem to track back to a dispatch by  Israel’s Hebrew-language Maariv Daily.  Let’s treat that date and the reports of a Rosh Hashanah plot with caution, pending clear confirmation. But the extensive tunnel network certainly does suggest something major was in the works. And veteran defense correspondent Bill Gertz, who has a record of being well-sourced and well-informed on such matters, ran with the Sept. 24 date in a recent report that  ”information that Israeli Defense Forces reportedly obtained from captured Hamas fighters revealed that the group was planning to use several Gaza tunnels that extend under Israeli territory for a major attack timed with the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, on Sept. 24.”

What significant event, other than Rosh Hashanah, falls this year on Sept. 24?

That would be the opening in New York of the General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly, scheduled this year to run from Sept. 24-Oct.1. It’s less a debate than a drumroll of speeches by presidents and prime ministers, but we all know the scene. Officially, the General Assembly opening jamboree starts earlier in the month (this year, on Sept. 16). But the big show, the main drama, is the General Debate. Heads of state from around the globe converge on the UN headquarters, bringing gridlocked chaos to midtown Manhattan. The first morning routinely features the UN secretary-general and the U.S. president. Other speakers get shuffled around, but last year, the opening day of the debate also included Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, an official face of the Tehran regime that has been supplying Hamas with terrorist training and weapons.

As far as I am aware, the speaking lineup for this year’s General Debate has not yet been released. But let’s recall that when the opening of the General Debate in 2012 fell on another Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur, it was cause for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to skip the opening day of speeches, and arrive later in the week. What might be his plans this year to cope with the UN kicking off the General Debate on Rosh Hashanah, I have not yet seen. But there is at least some likelihood that he would come after the opening day.

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Rules of War, UN-Style

August 2nd, 2014 - 10:53 pm

Among top officials of the United Nations, the conflict between Israel and the Hamas terrorists of Gaza has inspired plenty of commentary, much of it ranging from effectively anti-Semitic to utterly imbecilic. But for an astounding mix of those two qualities, it’s hard to beat the comment this week of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay — summed up by the Breitbart headline, “UN Condemns Israel’s Latest War Crime: Not Sharing Iron Dome With Hamas.”

To be fair, there’s a bit of shorthand in that headline, since Pillay’s condemnation in the matter of not sharing Iron Dome with terrorists was aimed not only at Israel, but at the U.S. The Breitbart report draws on Pillay’s remarks Thursday to reporters in Geneva, as quoted by the Israeli news service Having denounced Israel up, down and sideways, Pillay turned her attention to the U.S.:  ”They have not only provided the heavy weaponry which is now being used by Israel in Gaza but they’ve also provided almost $1 billion in providing the ‘Iron Domes’ to protect Israel from rocket attacks…. But no such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling.”

Even for the UN, this is a novel notion of “proportionality” — that a country whose ally is under attack by terrorists should even the battlefield by providing defensive military technology to the terrorists. But Navi Pillay is now rounding out a four year tenure as the UN’s “principal human rights official,” so presumably we should take seriously what she says.

What she’s basically advocating is a redistribution of military technology, to ensure that terrorists have the same defenses as the country they are attacking. By these lights, we stand on the threshold of a fascinating new era in warfare. There’s no reason this new UN principle should stop with deploring the failure of the U.S. and Israel to provide an Iron Dome to Hamas. Why not provide the same defenses to Iran’s terrorist mascots in Lebanon, Hezbollah? They, too, might benefit from such a system when they launch their next attack on Israel.

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Does the United Nations ever read its own press releases? This week’s case in point being the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA, which provides entitlement programs in Hamas-ruled Gaza — where Israel is now fighting to rid the enclave of terrorist tunnels and rockets.

For the second time in less than a week, UNRWA has discovered rockets hidden in vacant UNRWA schools in Gaza. UNRWA has disclosed these discoveries in press releases condemning “the group or groups” responsible for placing the rockets on its premises. But that is apparently no bar to UNRWA condemning Israel for shelling an UNRWA school.

Thus do we see the following lineup of UNRWA press releases:




There are now questions about whether UNRWA, in turning over the first round of hidden rockets to local authorities, effectively turned them right back over to the terrorists of Hamas.

One might well wonder whether the real problem here is rockets being stored in UNRWA schools, or UNRWA running schools in what might better be described as terrorist rocket-storage facilities.


In the many press briefings that have rolled out of the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, one of the most bizarre formulations involves hopes of a deal providing assurance that — as senior officials like to put it — “the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”

You might suppose that this is a trademark phrase of Iranian senior officials, dangling oxymorons like bait in front of desperate western diplomats. But no. That quote is from the U.S. secretary of State, John Kerry, at a press availability in Vienna, on Tuesday. Kerry had just finished attending a special even-higher than high-level round of Iran nuclear talks in the Austrian capital — where the nuclear haggling has been a full-time industry in the run-up to the Sunday, July 20 deadline for a deal (a “deadline” that may  be extended into next year). In his brief remarks to the press, Kerry managed to work in four variations on this vision of an “exclusively peaceful” Iranian nuclear program, excerpted here (boldface, mine):

President Obama has made it a top priority to pursue a diplomatic effort to see if we can reach an agreement that assures that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

Over the past few days, I have had lengthy conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif about what Iran is willing to do and what it needs to do to not only assure the community of nations, but to adhere to what the foreign minister himself has said repeatedly are Iran’s own limited objectives: not just to declare that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon, but to demonstrate in the actions they take beyond any reasonable doubt that any Iranian nuclear program, now and going forward, is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.

There are more issues to work through and more provisions to nail down to ensure that Iran’s program will always remain exclusively peaceful.

For the Iranians, this kind of language is a gift, pure and simple. From the chief diplomatic envoy of the Great Satan comes this refrain about the “exclusively peaceful” potential of the Iranian nuclear program. It’s all promise and smoke; all jam tomorrow, not today. It cedes to Iran the premise that whether there is a deal in Vienna or not, there will be an Iranian nuclear program.  It introduces into public discourse — courtesy of the U.S. government, no less — this refrain about an Iranian nuclear program being potentially nothing to worry about. We can look forward to an Iranian landscape dotted with peaceful centrifuges, peaceful reactors, peaceful sources of potential nuclear bomb fuel, being peacefully operated by the rulers of a country that just happens to be… the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Kerry is by no means the only U.S. official chanting this refrain about Iran’s potential to become a paragon of “exclusively peaceful” nuclear ventures. On Wednesday, President Obama mentioned to the press that the U.S. is working with its partners toward a nuclear deal that “assures us that Iran’s program will, in fact, be peaceful and that they won’t obtain a nuclear weapon.”

This has been the U.S. diplomatic refrain since the Iran nuclear talks kicked off in Vienna this past February. If you pull up the State Department web site, and search within it for the combined terms “Iran” and “nuclear” and “exclusively peaceful,” you should get at least 143 hits. Some might be duplicates, but many are not. By now, those keywords deserve to be installed as an exhibit somewhere in Foggy Bottom, in letters six-feet high, as a monument to the notion — folly in world politics — that saying something often enough might make it so.

The phrase is absurd. Iran’s nuclear program is manifestly not about peace. If it were, there would have been no need for Iran’s collaboration with Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan nuclear network, no need for secretly built Iranian enrichment facilities, no need for Iran’s years of maneuvering under sanctions, no need for Iran’s work on long-range missiles to deliver nuclear weapons, no need for the whole vast elaborate web of deceits and dodges and ploys with which Iran has built its nuclear program. There would be no need now for months and months of multi-tiered haggling in Vienna with the U.S., Britain, France and Germany (and, nominally, with China and Russia — which have managed the trick of both supplying materiel to Iran’s nuclear program, and bargaining over the results). There would be no need for secrecy. There would be no need for any more Iranian nuclear program going forward. Iran’s regime could dismantle its entire nuclear kit, and amuse itself with developing the country’s vast wealth of oil and gas.

Quite obviously, that’s not what Iran’s rulers want. The real problem here is the Tehran regime — which is anything but exclusively peaceful. Until that regime is gone, the only way to ensure that Iran abjures all nuclear ventures except those that are “exclusively peaceful” is to make sure that Iran has no nuclear program at all.

(Artwork created using multiple images.)

The U.N. has top men calculating its budgets. Top. Men.


Winston Churchill famously described the Soviet Union as a “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Much the same can be said of the ever-expanding finances of the United Nations, subject of a July 2 article by Fox News Editor-at-Large George Russell, headlined “UN Pay and Perks: After two years of US study, still a mystery.”  Russell highlights a study of UN overall pay packages, released last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. As the GAO describes it, the UN General Assembly has “expressed concerns about the relatively large and growing portion of the UN budget spent on total compensation.”

The GAO tried to figure out exactly what’s going on with UN salaries and perquisites. The signal finding is that the UN itself may not be sure, and apparently is less than committed to finding out. The GAO, in its “highlight” summary of the study, reports that “the UN has begun to address concerns about the sustainability of its rising total compensation costs, including initiating a review of total compensation” — but it seems that the compensation under study is actually well short of the real total. Or, as the GAO summary puts it, the UN “total” review “does not include key elements” (such as the almost $4 billion unfunded liability of the UN’s health insurance plan for retirees).

But how can such things be matters of mystery? After all, we know that the U.S. funds 22% of the UN’s regular budget. Surely with a bit of basic arithmetic the figures will fall into place?

Not a chance. That UN regular budget — meaning the budget of the General Assembly — is by now just a small fraction of the overall UN system, which includes a great many additional billions for peacekeeping operations, assorted funds, programs, commissions, subsidiary bodies, “other entities,” etc. etc. (brace yourself, here’s the organizational chart). Just to give you the general idea: the regular budget currently totals roughly $2.75 billion per year. But when I went looking earlier this year for a figure on the UN’s total, system-wide budget (while writing an article on “The Twisted Conundrum of Funding the United Nations,”)  the information I finally dredged up from the depths of the UN web site was that for 2012 the UN system had reported revenues of $41.5 billion. How the UN got to that number is yet another enigma, wrapped in indecipherable and in some instances inaccessible bookkeeping. But it’s an intriguing sum, for an institution prone to pleading endless funding shortfalls. Where is all that money going?

For that matter, where is all that money coming from? The biggest contributor to this entire UN system is clearly the U.S., which tends to contribute 22% or more not only to the regular UN budget, but to most UN operations.  But exactly how much, altogether, does the U.S. chip in these days?

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Three Israeli teenagers are kidnapped and murdered. Their bodies are found in a rock pile near the West Bank  city of Hebron. It is horrible. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”

And from the wood-paneled office suites and limousine back seats of the diplomatic sphere — from Washington, the European Union and the United Nations — comes the usual chorus, urging that all parties show “restraint.”

That call for restraint is prefaced, of course, by expressions of sympathy and condemnations of the murders. But there is always that culminating line — the call for restraint — which undercuts all the rest. There was no restraint involved in the terrorist triple murder of those teenagers. But the hollow diplomatic default is to demand that the Israelis refrain from striking the terrorist leaders who spawn these attacks. That’s a brand of “restraint” that translates into an invitation for more terrorism.

From Secretary of State John Kerry, we hear that the news of murder is “simply devastating…a horrific loss…. We condemn this despicable terrorist act in the strongest possible terms” and “the perpetrators must be brought to justice.” But then there’s the thud of that closing line: “This is a time for all to work towards that goal without destabilizing the situation.”

From the EU comes a statement expressing “profound sorrow.” The EU condemns the killing of the three Israeli youths, sends condolences to their their families and friends, and professes to “share their grief.” The EU further trusts that “the perpetrators of this barbaric act will swiftly be brought to justice.” But then comes that inevitable disclaimer to round it off: “We call for restraint of all parties concerned in order not to further aggravate the fragile situation on the ground.”

From a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon comes word that Ban believes “there can be no justification for the deliberate killing of civilians.” Ban hopes the perpetrators will be swiftly brought to justice, etc., etc., but then comes the ritual kicker:  Ban “calls on all parties to abide by their obligations under international law and to refrain from any actions that could further escalate this highly tense situation.”

Changing the mindset behind this diplomatic cult of “restraint” is a tall order. But one place to start would be to demand that our high-minded diplomats practice some restraint of their own — and alter the template for these statements. By all means, retain the condemnations, the expressions of sympathy and grief, and the calls for swift justice. But stop there. Show some genuine respect, not to mention decency and basic sense. Scrap the last line.