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The Rosett Report

In Praise and Memory of Barry Rubin

February 5th, 2014 - 9:21 pm

When Barry Rubin passed away on Feb. 3, the best tributes came from those who had known him well. PJ Media’s Dave Swindle wrote one of them, and has been compiling some of the others, including Roger Simon’s moving account of Barry Rubin: Conscience of the White City.

I did not know Barry well. I met him in person only once, a few years ago, for a chat in Washington over a cup of tea. But for more than 10 years I was in touch with him, by email, occasionally by phone, and by way of reading his clear and prolific writing on the ways of tyranny and power, particularly in the Middle East. I am feeling the loss of him so keenly that I would like to add a few words.

Barry was not only smart, and wise in the ways of politics and power. He was also gracious; generous with his knowledge, and his time. Back around 2003, I began reading Barry’s online bulletins on the Middle East. They made so much sense that I wrote to him, with questions about some of the more baffling complexities on which U.S. policy seemed endlessly to run aground. Barry replied. He always replied. He always made sense. From time to time, over the years — usually when I was trying to puzzle out something while on a deadline — we also spoke by phone. He always made time, he always returned a message or a call, he always brought clarity to the picture.

How he found time for such things, I don’t know. He wrote so prolifically — and his writing was so packed with information and insights — that I cannot begin to claim I was able to keep up with it all. Together with his wife, Judith Colp Rubin, Barry published a political biography of Yasir Arafat, in 2003, which was an invaluable resource — explaining in depth and detail how Arafat, “the man who did more than anyone else to champion and advance the Palestinian cause, also inflicted years of unnecessary suffering on his people, delaying any beneficial redress of their grievances or solutions to their problems.” Another of his books, The Truth About Syria, published in 2007, is crammed with insights into the Assad regime’s longtime belief  that “the only way to navigate around the country’s limitations has been to export unrest to the rest of the region, whether through terrorism, military action, occupation, or the spread of radical ideologies.” (As Dave Swindle reports, Barry recently decided to offer 13 of his books, free, online, The Truth About Syria among them. You can find them here.)

And, as readers of PJ Media know, while Barry worked on subjects that were deadly serious, he had a lively sense of humor. Amid the insights into tyrants and terrorists and the madhouse of  Middle East diplomacy, he savored the comic side of life. In 2011, he turned a ghastly encounter with international air travel into an entertaining tale of “Escape from the Planet of the Airlines” — in which he chronicled the logistics of trying to fly from Washington to Israel with his wife, son, four suitcases, a guitar and three cats.

When Barry told PJ Media readers in 2012 that he had been diagnosed with cancer, I sent him a note. He must have been flooded with messages at that point, and he was embarking on a mortal struggle. But, as always, he sent back a kind and gracious reply. Publicly, he went on writing, indefatigably sharing his insights, offering up truths about the mortal struggles of the Middle East. His passing is a great loss.

You remember Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy? She’s the one who just can’t stop smiling at Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif. Here they are in Geneva together last October, beaming at each other as they prepare for Iran nuclear talks (from which Tehran’s rulers emerged celebrating the surrender to Iran of world powers and claiming they had an “inalienable right” to enrich uranium).

This week a friend sends news of Ashton’s latest performance. It seems that on Monday Her Ladyship issued a statement marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, in which she managed to make no mention whatsoever of the Jews. As the Jerusalem Post reports, in an editorial headlined “Ashton’s Lapse,”  Ashton referred to the Jews who died — six million of them murdered by the Nazis quite specifically because they were Jews — as “victims” and “fellow citizens.” But not as Jews. The Jerusalem Post calls this a “mind-boggling omission,” quite likely pleasing to the likes of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but a watering-down of history.

Quite right. Here’s Ashton’s statement, all 121 words of it — a tribute to generic victims of yesteryear, sanitized of any reference that might offend anti-Semites by reminding the world of the mass atrocities committed in the name of their particular brand of bigotry. It’s hard to know whether Ashton did this deliberately, or is simply such an inept and banal functionary that by sheer accident she ends up sounding like a sly anti-Semite. Either way, is this really the face the EU wishes to present to the world? How horrifying.

The United Nations cultural agency has disgraced itself again, deciding at the last minute to postpone an exhibition of the 3,500-year relationship of the Jewish people to the Holy Land. This exhibition, co-sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was due to open this past Monday at the Paris headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). But last week 22 Arab states sent a letter to UNESCO’s secretariat, protesting that this exhibition could endanger the “peace process.” (French text of the letter here, courtesy of UN Watch).

UNESCO’s secretariat — namely, its director-general, Irina Bokova — could have replied that any peace process that could be remotely endangered by a display of the long history of  Jewish ties to the Holy Land is no peace process at all.

Bokova could have told the Arab states that UNESCO has no interest in trying to delegitimize the state of Israel at their behest, which is what this UNESCO delay is really all about. Bokova could have proclaimed that anti-Semitism has no place at the UN, and for any of UNESCO’s member states to insinuate it into the agenda is a jarring affront at a cultural agency dedicated, in the words of its motto (condensed from UNESCO’s charter and amended for political correctness), to “building peace in the minds of men and women.” She could have added that it is thug politics for many of UNESCO’s member states to employ the cultural agency as a vehicle for passing round after round of resolutions singling out Israel as a target of UNESCO condemnations. Bokova could have shown backbone and leadership by giving her blessing to the exhibition, “People, Book, Land — The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land,” and insisting that it open on schedule. She could have turned up to celebrate it as an important element in the history of the Middle East, a genuine contribution to any real hope of peace.

Instead, UNESCO’s secretariat put out a press release last Friday, announcing that in the context of the Arab protest, “regrettably, UNESCO had to postpone the inauguration of the exhibition.” The press release went on to attribute this decision to UNESCO’s “relentless efforts to achieve consensus between Member States on all issues falling within UNESCO’s educational, scientific, and cultural mandate.”

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Instructing Iran in Terrorist Etiquette

January 15th, 2014 - 1:34 am

In Washington, the Obama administration is running interference for Tehran. President Obama has been threatening that if Congress passes a new sanctions bill, he will veto it, rather than risk upsetting Iranian officials to the point where they walk away from the bargaining table in Geneva.

Iran’s senior officials suffer from no such delicacy toward the U.S. On Tuesday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani gloated on Twitter that in the recent Geneva agreement, “world powers surrendered to Iranian nation’s will.” Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator at the Geneva talks, Javad Zarif, made a point while visiting Lebanon of going to lay a wreath on the grave of assassinated Hezbollah terrorist kingpin Imad Mugniyah. Lest anyone miss the moment, Zarif did this before a bevy of photographers, ensuring that his thumb-in-the-eye to the U.S. would make news.

The White House responded with a statement that deserves to be studied by generations of journalism students as a marvel of bureaucratic nothingness — condemning the deed, but effectively excusing Zarif himself, as if he were some well-meaning rube who didn’t quite understand the full implications of commemorating Mugniyah. It was not Zarif whom the White House condemned, nor was it the Tehran regime for which he stands. Rather, in a statement by a National Security Council spokeswoman, the White House condemned “the decision” to lay the wreath, adding that it ”sends the wrong message and will only exacerbate tensions in the region.”

There was more to the White House statement. But again, it pulled the punch. It was rich in damning adjectives and short on the real thrust of Zarif’s message. The White House deplored Mugniyah’s “inhumane violence” and responsibility for “heinous acts of terrorism that killed hundreds of innocent people, including Americans.” True, but this formulation skates close to implying the murdered Americans were collateral damage. Hardly. Hundreds of Americans were prime targets. As the New York Times recounts, until the massive al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “American officials considered Imad Mugniyah to be responsible for more U.S. deaths than any other terrorist.” They believed he was behind the 1983 bombings in Beirut of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks, which between them killed 258 Americans; as well as the kidnapping in the 1980s of scores of Americans; as well as the hijacking in 1985 of a TWA airliner and murder of one of the American passengers, Navy diver Robert Stethem.

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Dennis Rodman In the Court of Kim Jong Un

January 6th, 2014 - 11:36 pm

Self-appointed basketball envoy Dennis Rodman is back in North Korea, bringing with him a group of fellow former NBA stars to entertain North Korea’s young tyrant Kim Jong Un with an exhibition game on Kim’s birthday, this Wednesday. This is Rodman’s fourth visit to North Korea, where, having sampled some of the luxuries of young Kim’s lifestyle, Rodman has pronounced the totalitarian state to be “not that bad” and decided that Kim is his “friend for life.” It’s all part of what Rodman describes as his personal effort to “help the world.”

The real question about Rodman’s visits to North Korea is not why Rodman chooses to go there, but why the U.S. government continues to allow it. Rodman may believe he’s just going to hang with his buddy Kim, and make the world a better place. But it is quite likely that to Kim and his circle of the North Korean elite (at least those he has not yet ordered to be executed), Rodman’s visits look like a gift of tribute from America. There is precedent for this. Recall the basketball signed by former NBA star Michael Jordan, which former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright brought with her to Pyongyang in 2000 as a gift to Kim Jong Un’s late father, Kim Jong Il — also a basketball enthusiast. Albright was hoping to get a deal putting an end to North Korea’s missile habit. She got no deal. But Kim Jong Il did get the signed basketball, which North Korea’s government keeps on prominent display in its Hall of Trophies.

As for Rodman’s place in young Kim Jong Un’s collection of prizes, there is perhaps some insight to be gleaned from a report last year by North Korea’s state mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency. The occasion was Rodman’s first visit to North Korea, in late February, 2013 — a busy month for Kim, whose regime about two weeks earlier had conducted North Korea’s third nuclear test. Rodman arrived in Pyongyang with three Harlem Globetrotters. Mixing it up with North Korean basketball players, as the New York Daily News recounts,he treated Kim to an exhibition game — later praising Kim as an “awesome guy” and Kim’s tyrannical father and grandfather as “great leaders.”

As KCNA described the game, the stadium was packed not only with sports fans, but with “foreign diplomatic envoys, representatives of international bodies, military attaches and other foreign guests here with their families.” With a cast like that — note the specificity, that military attaches were among the honored guests — it wasn’t just the basketball game that was on display to these dignitaries. It was Kim himself, holding court, with the entertainment provided by the visiting Americans. As KCNA told it, both the players and the audience broke into “thunderous applause” — not over the game itself, but because they were “greatly excited to see the game together with Kim Jong Un.” Rodman’s role in this performance included going to “bow to Kim Jong Un” who then in lordly fashion let Rodman sit beside him.

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Iran, UN Authority on ‘Violent Extremism’

December 29th, 2013 - 12:38 am

The United Nations has yet to agree on a definition of terrorism. That makes it especially problematic for the UN to actually do much about terrorist groups, or UN member states that happen to sponsor them. But when it comes to homing in on “violent extremism,” the UN is on the case,  led this month by — of course — Iran. With a nod from the U.S.

Earlier this month, Iran introduced a resolution in the General Assembly on “A world against violence and violent extremism.” Coming from a country that the U.S. State Department has called the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, this was one of many resolutions the UN ought to file in a titanic trash bin labeled “Orwell Out-Takes.” Instead, the General Assembly on Dec. 18 approved it by consensus. That tells us the U.S., erstwhile leader of the free world, did not even call for a vote. Thus did Iran’s PressTV trumpet Iran’s success in persuading the UN, “overwhelmingly… to adopt a resolution based on President Hassan Rouhani’s proposals for a World Against Violent Extremism (WAVE).”

To be fair, while not actually making any attempt to vote against the resolution, the U.S. delegate did make a statement (scroll down to page 5). The UN’s notes on the meeting record that the U.S. delegate protested “the clear resurgence in recent years of Iran’s State-sponsored terrorism” and said Iran “must halt” this behavior. But that formulation out of the way, the U.S. delegate went on to say that Iran’s President Rouhani had outlined “peaceful aims” at the UN in September, and that the U.S. hoped that “his vision would soon be reflected in practical steps.”

Iran is taking practical steps, for sure — but not towards peace. These steps in recent weeks have included such moves as insisting on the “inalienable right” to enrich uranium, which ordinary mortals dwelling outside the diplomatic bubble might reasonably construe as yet another step toward nuclear weapons, by the world’s leading state sponsor of violent extremism terrorism.

In a similar vein, this Iran-sponsored UN resolution itself is a practical step in a profoundly troubling direction. Not only does it dignify Iran’s hypocrisy with the unanimous consent of the General Assembly. Amid a lot of blather about peace and mutual respect (this from the regime of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”), there is a clause that simply uncouples terrorism from any specific sponsor or source. This is a resolution that calls for:

Reaffirming that violent extremism, in all its forms and manifestations, cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group…

What does that mean in practice? In the alternate universe of this Rouhani-flavored resolution, terrorism — “in all its forms and manifestations” — exists only as some atomized activity, not to be associated, for instance, with any particular country, or any background of any kind. By lights of this resolution, that would reflect “intolerance.” How very convenient a formulation for Iran’s regime, world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. How very dangerous for America and its allies to wave this along. How very…tolerant.

We Liked Our Doctor

December 19th, 2013 - 1:07 pm


We liked our doctor. A lot. We invested time and effort in finding him. He spent time getting to know his patients.  And when our health insurance premiums skyrocketed not so long ago — and, yes, they soared — we told ourselves that at least, when we need medical care, we have a good doctor.

But here it is. A letter arrived. As the perspicacious predicted (though not as the American public was promised), we are losing our doctor. Oh, he is not yet entirely unavailable — there are physician’s assistants in his old office who may still be able to see us, for at least a little longer, and if necessary consult with him by phone. But he has moved to a different job, in which he may be better able to surmount the paperwork and continue to support his family.

No surprise. Apart from physicians who cater to Hollywood-celebrity levels of wealth or Washington-elite levels of power, how can any doctor with a private practice find time to deal with individual patients? The new prime imperative imposed by law requires that a doctor spend most of his or her time and energy toiling to comply with a regulatory burden so titanic that even those who issue it can’t keep track of it. I have no criticism of our (former) doctor, who invested years in mastering his profession, but has now been effectively commandeered as a serf of the federal bureaucracy. He is behaving pretty much the way Obamacare (dis)incentives would have him do.

It makes me sad. Not only because I really did like our doctor, and what clearly lies ahead is a path of rising costs, dwindling choice and lengthening queues. But because what lies ahead for this country is not good medical care for all, but gray standardization in which we are not only forced to pay for things we don’t need, but deprived in a crisis of the medical care that we really do need. Federal regulators, not doctors and patients, will make the decisions.

And somewhere in all the public debate — amid the gibberish about  Websites and “mandates” — there is a basic idea that’s gone missing. When people are forcibly deprived of the opportunity to engage in voluntary transactions with each other — when you and your doctor are kept apart by a minefield of impassable regulation (dolled up under the ersatz label of a “marketplace”) — the result is the destruction of potential wealth. No, I am not talking solely about money, but about the many dimensions of health, wealth and satisfaction, as in, The Wealth of Nations; the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Economists have a term for this kind of destruction, now being visited on American medicine. They call it deadweight loss. The nullity, the non-creation of prosperity, the absence of mutual benefit, the empty triangle on the supply-demand chart, where a free market would have allowed gains from trade — from which both parties emerge better off than before. At the extremes, the Soviet Union with its repression and its warped and beggared economy was a colossal exercise in blocking markets and enforcing a nightmare of deadweight loss — to the huge detriment of all but the exempt elite. The United States, with its astounding prosperity, and its much-envied and innovative medical industry, was a testament to the power of markets. (No, the markets in medicine were not entirely free; there was a big regulatory web, there were huge legal tangles; but the choices, and freedom, were far greater than what’s happening now).

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Let no one say that Russia’s foreign service lacks for enterprising diplomats. On Friday, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced charges against 49 current or  former Russian diplomats and their spouses for taking part in a scheme to defraud Medicaid. Most of these 49 either are or were posted in New York, with Russia’s Mission to the United Nations. The criminal complaint alleges that from 2004-2013 these folks collected “approximately $1,500,000 in fraudulently received medical benefits.”

The 62-page complaint is crammed with details that have the makings of a sordid situation comedy — Medicaid Fraud on the Hudson. According to FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos, the defendants were “motivated by greed and the purchase of high-end luxury items.” Among the dodges were the reporting of newborn children of Russian diplomats as U.S. citizens (which they were not); a couple representing themselves as brother and sister rather than husband and wife; and under-reporting of income to apply for Medicaid,  while stating much higher income to apply for credit cards. While receiving Medicaid benefits, the diplomats and their spouses shopped at Tiffany’s, Bloomingdale’s, Jimmy Choo and other swank outlets. They went in for luxury vacations, spent tens of thousands on electronic merchandise, and — my favorite — indulged in buying “robotic cleaning devices.”

There’s no great surprise in all this. Back in the days of the USSR, Moscow central planning incubated a culture in which Russians, in order to survive, learned to game the system in every possible way. That culture, once established, is hard to shake (and as state planning swallows more and more of the U.S. economy, more and more enterprising Americans will learn to do the same).  In the case of Russian diplomats at the UN, there is the further heady mix of diplomatic immunity, a growing emporium of American welfare benefits to browse through, and the lure of New York shopping.

Actually, given the time span over which this fraud allegedly occurred, 2004-2013, it would have overlapped in its early years with a corruption case involving Russia’s then highest-ranking diplomat at the UN, Vladimir Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov served as the head of the UN General Assembly’s budget oversight committee. While in that position, he became involved, together with another Russian then working at the UN, Alexander Yakovlev, in crooked deals on UN procurement contracts. When U.S. federal prosecutors twigged to this and brought a case, the UN Secretary-General waived their immunity, Yakovlev turned government witness, and in 2007 Kuznetsov  was convicted in Manhattan federal court of conspiring to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. The case involved such colorful touches as both Russian officials naming their offshore money-laundering fronts for their children (presumably a sentimental gesture), along with the embarrassment to both the Russian Mission and the UN that the head of the budget oversight committee had been caught bilking the UN — and ultimately bilking U.S. taxpayers, who bankroll the biggest share of UN procurement deals.

Given the latest news of Russian diplomatic enterprise in the U.S., it now appears that while Kuznetsov and Yakovlev were running a kickback scheme within the UN, some of their comrades over at the Russian Mission were allegedly engaging in Medicaid fraud.

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U.S. Waves Iran Into Another UN Disarmament Post

November 29th, 2013 - 10:44 pm

There’s a sort of awful symmetry to it. While such UN-sanctioned rogue states as Iran and North Korea carry on with nuclear proliferation, the UN carries on with its own proliferation of feckless Orwellian meetings on nuclear disarmament. And these days it seems there’s a high-level post for Iran at just about every meeting. That includes the New York-based UN Disarmament Commission, which on Nov. 20th held an organizational meeting at which Iran was elected as a vice chair for the 2014 main activities. Iran’s Fars News Agency celebrated this as Iran’s latest “success” within UN disarmament circles.

Not that it’s easy to keep track of all Iran’s recent UN disarmament posts. The UN has a Disarmament Conference, based in Geneva, which was chaired by Iran last spring. Then there is the General Assembly’s Disarmament and International Security Committee, at which Iran in early October was elected to the post of rapporteur. And of course there was the UN General Assembly’s first ever high level meeting on nuclear disarmament this September, which was engendered by Iran and showcased Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

Now comes Iran’s election as one of eight vice-chairs to the UN Disarmament Commission.

For this to happen at the UN is not astonishing. That’s how the UN works, and that’s why it’s a strange arrangement that American taxpayers continue to be dunned for the biggest share of the funding that bankrolls the chairs on which Iran’s envoys of “disarmament” sit — while the Iranian government pays a pittance to the UN, leaving more money free back home for such stuff as its UN-sanctioned nuclear program. Indeed, just last month a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to the UN told Reuters ”Iran is absolutely not a suitable choice to be a vice chair of the U.N. Disarmament Commission.”

But what is astonishing, or ought to be, is who then apparently nodded along last week with Iran’s “election” to a vice-chairmanship on the UN Disarmament Commission. According to a UN General Assembly press release on the proceedings, Iran’s envoy was among those elected as a vice chair “by acclamation.” (For those of you who are used to the quaint idea that elections should involve actual votes, it might be useful to know that at the UN the balloting is often dispensed with unless a member state actively calls for a vote; the preferred approach is consensus — the candidate is acclaimed by all, and that’s that).

In other words, Iran was a shoe-in. No one called for a vote. Iran was chosen by acclamation of the entire membership of the UN Disarmament Commission — and that includes the United States.

Was this another perquisite offered by the U.S. and other “world powers” to Iran as part of the “peace for our time” short-term stop-gap already-coming-unglued nuclear deal struck last weekend in Geneva? Or simply another spineless U.S. moment at the UN? Or does it by now all run together?


The Smile of Iran’s Chief Nuclear Negotiator

November 22nd, 2013 - 9:28 pm

If only it were as delightful to watch the Iran nuclear talks in Geneva as it apparently is to take part in them. Not since Rep. Nancy Pelosi told us we had to pass-the-bill-to-find-out-what’s-in-it have the news cameras captured such quivers of delight over things so huge and appalling. Politicians are of course prone to play to the cameras. But at the Geneva bargaining table, the ranks of smiles go on and on. On the world powers side (“world powers” being the shorthand for the P5+1, which is the shorthand for the U.S., UK, France, China, Russia and Germany) the chief smiler is European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, beaming across the table at the Iranian team, nodding and chatting with the expression of a fondly indulgent aunt handing out sweets to the kids.

But the smiler at these talks who most bears watching is Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. He arrives smiling at the negotiating venue. He tosses out cheery greetings as he walks toward the meeting room. At the bargaining table, he settles in with an affable smile, and in this video clip he moves on at one point to a guffaw — such fun, these nuclear talks!

Why is Zarif smiling? There is the obvious. Those world powers across the table are itching to hand Iran what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accurately described as the “deal of the century” — the ticket to the nuclear arsenal the Tehran regime covets, and for which the infrastructure would be left in place. So eager are some of these world powers to produce a signed piece of paper that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, for the second time in a month, decided to race to Geneva, ready to close the deal. Evidently it is no deterrent to the Obama administration that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — Zarif’s real boss — chose to punctuate rounds two and three of these nuclear talks by delivering a speech to Basij militiamen (who hailed him with chants of “Death to America”) in which he compared Israel to a “rabid dog,” said its officials “cannot be called human,” and added, “the Israeli regime is doomed to failure and annihilation.”

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