Entries from March 2007

How We Can Fight Tehran

David Frum March 31st, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The Iranian seizure of 15 British naval personnel is an outrage–and an opportunity. Iran invaded Iraqi territorial waters, attacked British naval personnel enforcing resolutions of the UN Security Council and committed an act of piracy and kidnapping.

Iran then displayed its captives on national television and compelled them to read coerced political statements. It forced the captured female sailor to wear the Islamic hijab, a violation of her Geneva Convention right to practice her own religion.

These violent and lawless actions have shocked British and European public opinion. But they should not have surprised anyone.

Iran has routinely used kidnapping as a tool of state. It kidnapped eight British sailors in 2004, and 52 American diplomats in 1979-81. Iran’s Hezbollah surrogates kidnapped Americans, Britons and others in Lebanon in the 1980s. They kidnapped Israeli soldiers in 2000 and again this past summer, triggering a war.

Iran has committed graver crimes too. Iranian agents have committed murder on the soil of the United States, France and Germany–and carried out mass-casualty terror attacks in Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

Today, Iran is racing to build a nuclear bomb, violating its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And too many in Europe shrug their shoulders.

This latest crisis, however, opens a chance to mobilize European opinion to action.

One of their own has been attacked and threatened with the prolonged abuse of its military personnel. The story will appear on television night after night after night. The longer it continues, the more British people and other Europeans will wonder: Is there anything we can do? And the good news is: Yes, there is.

The bullying, blustering bravado of the Iranians should not conceal the truth that Iran is massively vulnerable to international pressure. For example:

– Iran’s decrepit refineries cannot produce enough gasoline for Iranian drivers. So, although Iran is a major oil exporter, it must import 40 percent of its gasoline. An international embargo on gasoline sales to Iran would inflict severe distress. Earlier this month, Iran raised the (deeply subsidized) price of gasoline from 34 cents a gallon to 50 cents. Some in the regime are considering imposing rationing–a move that would badly damage what remains of the mullahs’ popularity.

– Iran’s rusting industries, many of them state owned, depend heavily on parts and equipment imported from Germany. Two-thirds of these sales benefit from export credit guarantees from the German government. As of 2005, Germany had extended some US$6.2-billion worth of credit to Iran. That number has been cut in recent months. But if Germany were to follow Japan’s lead and cut its credits to zero, Iranian companies would have to pay more for parts–and some would be forced out of business altogether. The Central Bank of Iran estimates unemployment at more than 12 percent. Many private economists think the real figure closer to 20 percent–and higher still for young Iranians.

– The United States has maintained sanctions against Iranian oil and natural gas since 1979. The European Union, however, has continued to invest in Iran. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that foreign companies, mostly European, have invested US$30-billion in Iran since 1996. Without this investment, Iran’s oil and gas output would have faltered long ago. It’s time now for Europeans to join the American ban on investment in Iran’s energy sector. Such a ban would deal a painful blow to Iran’s economy, which has little to sell beside oil and gas. Iran suffers an inflation rate over 20 percent, suggesting that the Iranian government is already overspending its oil and gas revenues. Squeeze those revenues, and you squeeze the regime.

– Not all firms investing in Iran are European. Malaysia’s Petronas and Russia’s Gazprom both play major roles. Till now, firms doing business in Iran have been allowed to do business not only in the EU but also in the United States. It’s time now to impose a secondary boycott, and to force firms like Petronas to decide: Either you do business with Iran or you do business with the rest of the planet. You choose.

Since 9/11, Europeans have pleaded with the U.S. to rely on sanctions and diplomacy rather than force. Fine. Let’s see some sanctions then–real sanctions, not the wrist-slaps imposed till now.

Iran has been waging war on the world; it’s time the world organized in countervailing self-defense. And if anything is needed to stiffen our collective will, let’s broadcast one more time that image of Faye Turney, cloaked against her will in that black headscarf of subordination and humiliation.

A Miraculous Project–derailed By Statism

David Frum March 24th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The European Union is one of the most successful organizations in the history of the human race. And that of course is exactly its problem.

The EU traces its origins to the Treaty of Rome, signed March 25, 1957. The second World War had ended barely a dozen years before. A dozen years before–think of it!

How long ago was 1995? Yesterday, right? Suppose somebody had killed your son, your father, your brother in 1995–how ready would you be to bury the hatchet today? Suppose you had emerged from a slave labor camp or been liberated from occupation a dozen years ago–how ready would you be to pledge perpetual union with your enslaver or occupier?

And yet pledge they did. Or sort of did. That first treaty was not really so very ambitious a document. The signatories from West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg committed themselves gradually to extinguish their tariffs and to cooperate in the development of civilian nuclear technology.

Drab and mundane as those founding commitments were, everything about the event bespoke a larger ambition. Consider just the location: Michelangelo’s Campidoglio Palace, atop Rome’s Capitoline Hill–the spiritual center of the Roman Empire. You don’t need to come to the Campidoglio to haggle over the terms of trade. You come here to connect Europe to its deepest roots as a single civilization.

The original six grew to 12 and ultimately to today’s 27, extending all the way to Finland and Bulgaria. The EU now boasts free internal movement of people and nearly free investment; a common currency; a vast and growing body of law supervised by Europe-wide courts; the beginnings of a common military and foreign policy. Last year, it very nearly acquired a constitution.

The continent that waged humanity’s most devastating wars now enjoys profound peace. Once ruined cities gleam with prosperity.

Radicalism and extremism have been absorbed into consensus and stability.

The result can only be described as a triumphant success, and North Americans should join with the peoples of Europe in celebration. So take out your noisemakers and blow a merry toot. Done? OK, good. Now it’s time to ask: so what has the EU done for us lately?

The same Euro-institutions that once achieved such great results are today badly failing the peoples of the continent. Unemployment, economic stagnation, civil disorder, unaffordable welfare systems, unpayable pensions–all haunt the continent.

The nations of western Europe have created not one single net new private sector job in two decades.

No wonder Europe’s mood on this 50th anniversary is so bleak and gloomy.

A Financial Times poll released this week measured the continent’s pessimism. Barely 20 percent of Germans said that life had improved since Germany had joined the EU; more than 40 percent said that life had become worse. The EU polled even worse in Italy and France, and worse still in Britain. Only the Spanish give a consistently positive verdict to their EU experience.

The Treaty of Rome, signed to open markets, has become a bulwark for protectionists and statists–for vast new regulatory codes, for centralized decision-making, for subsidized agriculture, for higher taxes, for insiders locking out outsiders.

Sadly, most of the bright ideas you hear in Europe for making things better will instead make things worse. Elites in France and Germany want to revive the rejected Euro constitution–a document that would move even more power to unelected bureaucracies.

The Treaty of Rome was supposed to open the continent to mutual investment. Yet only last fall, the French government forced a merger of two French utilities to avert a takeover bid by an Italian company, Enel.

European elites have tried to use the institutions of the EU to drive a wedge between Europe and North America. The Treaty of Rome promised “to confirm the solidarity which binds” Europe and North America closer together.

European politicians have spent a decade railing against “savage capitalism” and “Anglo-Saxon liberalism.” Yet it is their statism and bureaucracy that savagely deny opportunity to the continent’s young and its outsiders.

American journalist John O’Sullivan has aptly called the European Union a cartel of governments. Compare the first words of the Constitution of the United States (“We the people of the United States. . . .”) to the first words of the draft EU Constitution (“His Majesty the King of the Belgians. . . .”).

The clever thing to say in Europe is that the Union can only survive by going forward. But when you have crashed into a brick wall, there is no forward in which to go. This golden anniversary is an opportunity to reflect–to correct mistakes–and to return to the main highway of free markets and trans-Atlantic cooperation.

Free Speech–but Only For Our Enemies

David Frum March 17th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

You can criticize Hezbollah even in Saudi Arabia. You can attack Hamas even in Kuwait. But don’t think of doing either at San Francisco State University (SFSU).

On Oct. 17, 2006, the tiny beleaguered local band of College Republicans organized an anti-terrorism rally. The students had made paper copies of Hamas and Hezbollah flags. At the rally, they trampled the flags underfoot.

And why not? Under American law, a publicly funded university like SFSU is considered a branch of the government. It must respect all the rights and freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution and its local state constitution. The courts have repeatedly held that the constitutional right of free speech protects protest activities like the burning of the American flag. So if it’s legal to burn the American flag, surely it must be legal to trample the flags of murderous terrorist organizations, right? Right? Right?

But that’s not how modern universities act. To them, Old Glory may be barbecue starter, but a terrorist flag is a sacred symbol.

Prodded by the local Palestinian student group, SFSU’s student government voted to condemn the College Republicans. The university then charged the College Republicans with “attempts to incite violence,” “creating a hostile environment” and “acts of incivility.” It set up a special committee to judge the charge–including two of the student council members who had already voted to condemn the College Republicans.

On March 15, the university held a formal hearing on the charges. If it finds against the College Republicans, they could face financial penalties or potentially the dissolution of their organization.

You might wonder: What on earth does the university think it is doing? Why is it according greater respect to the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah than it could (or would!) to the American flag?

The University explains that the two trampled flags contained the Arabic word, “Allah.” According to university spokeswoman Ellen Griffin, “I don’t believe that the complaint is about the desecration of the flag. I believe that the complaint is about the desecration of Allah.” Oh really?

Imagine, for example, that the local Palestinian students association were to burn a Union Jack, as they regularly burn U.S. and Israeli flags. The Union Jack features a Christian cross. Four Christian crosses actually. Does anybody seriously imagine that the San Francisco State University would penalize them?

That’s not exactly a rhetorical question.

Over the past half dozen years, campus radicalism in the United States has taken on an increasingly sectarian and anti-Semitic tone–and SFSU has been the scene of some of the worst offenses.

In April, 2002, Muslim students organized a pro-Palestinian rally on the SFSU campus. To advertise their event, they distributed a flyer with a picture of a dead baby alongside the words: “Canned Palestinian children meat–slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license.”

No disciplinary action was taken against the students: The groups that had printed the flyer did not even lose their university subsidy. The university president, Robert Corrigan, did send a letter of protest to the student groups, but if you read it (it’s posted at www.sfsu.edu/~news/response/nohate.htm), you will I think be struck by its strangely apologetic, excuse-making tone:

In speaking as strongly as I have in this letter, I am doing no more than you asked–working to eliminate discrimination and combat racism. And this is just as much a protection for Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians as it is for Jews and Israelis. I recognize that these are times of great anguish, as well as anger, and I know that one moment, one flier, does not define this group or its individual members.

The next month, Jewish students at SFSU organized a pro-Israel rally. After the rally ended, a small group of volunteers lingered to clean up. Suddenly they were swarmed by a much larger group of pro-Palestinian students. According to an eyewitness, the pro-Palestinian students shoved the Jewish students against the wall of the rally area and screamed anti-Semitic slogans. The Palestinian students demanded the lowering of an Israeli flag flying from a university building–and university officials hastened to comply. Again, no discipline was imposed.

There is obviously something profoundly wrong on American campuses–and not only American campuses, as the unhappy history of Canada’s Concordia University reminds us. Apologists for terrorism receive maximum protection for the most vicious bigotry, for menace and intimidation, and even outright violence. Yet that zeal for free speech vanishes altogether when opponents of terrorism engage in much, much milder forms of protest. This goes beyond double standards. It is a moral collapse.

The SFSU College Republicans will prevail in the end. Even if the university sanctions them, those sanctions will be appealed to federal court and swiftly overturned. It is the universities for whom we should worry. They lack the courage to defend the freedom without which they cannot live.

Russian Democracy Is Dying

David Frum March 10th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

“A message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin: ‘If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you and we will silence you in the most horrible way possible.’”

Those words come from an interview broadcast on NBC’s Dateline on Feb. 26. They were spoken by Paul Joyal, a Washington consultant who studies the former Soviet Union. Joyal was talking about the murder of his friend Alexander Litvinenko, the KGB defector who died painfully in London on Nov. 23 from radiation poisoning.

Four nights after his Dateline interview, Joyal met another prominent KGB defector, Oleg Kalugin, for dinner at a restaurant in downtown Washington. Joyal returned to his home in suburban Maryland about 7:30 pm, stepped out of his car–and was shot in the groin. Neither his wallet nor his briefcase were taken. His shooter has not been found.

Happily, the shooting was not fatal. Ivan Safronov, a military affairs writer for the Russian daily Kommersant, was less fortunate. Safronov had been working on a big story about a secret Russian deal to ship highly advanced Iskander missiles to Syria. The day after the Joyal shooting, Safronov fell out of a fifth story window in Moscow. Safronov is the 89th journalist to have died violently in Russia over the past 10 years.

We do not know how many of those deaths were ordered by the Russian government. (And indeed Joyal’s shooting may well have been an ordinary crime.)

But we do know that over the past half dozen years, Vladimir Putin’s government has extinguished all of Russia’s independent broadcast media and severely curbed most print media.

We do know that Putin has ended elections for local government and centralized all power in the Kremlin.

We do know that he has used administrative powers to seize some of Russia’s largest corporations and transfer ownership to his supporters–and to confiscate gas fields leased to foreign investors.

And now we have a clearer idea of how Putin has been able to get away with these dangerous moves toward dictatorship: The Russian people support him.

Last week, the EU-Russia Centre released the results of a major new survey of Russian public opinion.

Only 16 percent of those surveyed identified the “Western model” of democracy as the ideal. More than twice as many, 35 percent, said they “prefer the Soviet system before the 1990s.”

Only 10 percent of Russians regarded their country as belonging to the West. 71 percent said that Russia was not part of Europe. Almost half of Russians, 45 percent, regard Europe as a threat.

The pollsters read a series of words to respondents. They asked: Did those words have positive or negative associations. Only 33 percent of Russians had positive associations with the word “freedom.” Even the word “democracy” had surprisingly strong negative associations: Up to one quarter of less affluent and less educated Russians associated “democracy” with concepts like (to use the pollsters’ words): “chaos, demagoguery and pointless chattering.”

The EU-Russia Centre notes that Russians responded much more positively to democracy and freedom in the mid-1990s than they do today. But those first post-Soviet years also suffered a collapse of living standards and political chaos–unleashing Soviet nostalgia in many Russians. Putin’s authoritarian rule, by contrast, has coincided with a time of rising prices for Russian oil and gas, and thus with improving living standards.

But this explanation goes only so far. Even in the mid-1990s, only 25 percent of Russians regarded Western democracy as the ideal system for Russia. Russians have been debilitated by 70-plus years of communism into feelings of personal helplessness that leads them to crave a strong boss. Virtually every Russian surveyed, 94 percent, said they felt they had zero influence on events in their country; 82 percent felt they bore no responsibility.

It’s as if they are saying: let Putin kill his enemies–there’s nothing we can do, and so it’s not our fault. As an institution, Russian democracy is dying. Inside the minds of the Russians, it is already dead.

We have no shortage of things to worry about in our troubled world: Islamic extremism, Chinese aggression, European weakness, American isolation. Now add one more. A potentially great power, endowed with vast energy wealth and inheriting a vast nuclear arsenal, is deliberately and with the approval of the majority of its people turning its back on democracy and freedom. Instead of joining the West, Russia is finding its way to dangerous alliances with Iran, Syria, China, and who knows what other sinister forces. This grouping of anti-democratic states is extending its reach around the world–even perhaps to the suburbs of Washington.

I’m Glad Somebody’s Happy

David Frum March 3rd, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

It’s nice when a big Washington scandal works out pleasantly for somebody. For most of the participants, even the most remote, the Valerie Plame CIA leak case has inflicted severe harm. Journalists like Time’s Matt Cooper and NBC’s Tim Russert have been called before grand juries to disclose confidential conversations. New York Times reporter Judy Miller languished in jail for 81 days rather than divulge her sources. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice-president Dick Cheney, faces a possible prison sentence of up to 30 years. Even if acquitted, his defence will cost him US$6-million he did not have.

On the other hand, the person at the centre of the scandal, Valerie Plame, has just signed a US$2.5-million book contract, which Warner Brothers has announced it will develop into a movie. Her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, had previously made a not so small fortune out of his own book, telling more or less the same story.

This fable would be a good deal more comforting if the losers had done wrong or if the beneficiaries appeared even a little less eager for their rewards.

The story goes that Valerie Plame’s secret identity as an undercover CIA agent was viciously exposed by high Bush officials in retribution for her husband’s courageous truth-telling. But on later examination, Wilson turned out to have told precious little truth.

Wilson first denied that his wife had recommended him for a controverted 2002 mission to Niger in the run-up to the Iraq war. The U.S. Senate committee that investigated intelligence failures in Iraq later discovered that this statement was false; his wife had indeed proposed his name.

Wilson joked that an unpaid mission to Niger did not represent much of a junket. At the time of the mission, however, Wilson earned his living as a Washington consultant. And few things do more to enhance a consultant’s value than the ability to murmur into a phone: “Sorry, your highness, I will be out of town that day. I cannot give you any details on this, but I have been asked by the vice-president’s office to depart immediately on a highly sensitive mission. I’ll be back next Tuesday.”

Wilson insisted that his family’s life had been blighted by the violation of his wife’s privacy. In October, 2003, Wilson was awarded the Ron Ridenhour Award for Truth-Telling. His wife accompanied him to the banquet. The Washington Post reported his speech: “Wilson was most emotional when addressing his wife’s exposure. ‘I’m sorry for that,’ he said, looking at her and fighting back tears. ‘If I could give you back your anonymity? I would do it in a minute.’”

The following week, Wilson and Plame posed for a lavish photo feature in Vanity Fair. Plame wore sunglasses and a kerchief in the shot, Wilson explained, so as to protect her ability to continue her ostensibly secret work. In fact, Plame had returned from her last foreign mission at least four years earlier.

Perhaps most remarkably, Wilson misreported his own findings. Again according to the Senate intelligence committee, Wilson’s report did not debunk rumours of uranium sales to Iraq, as he’d claimed; in fact, some of his details actually bolstered those rumours. In any event, the CIA never shared Wilson’s information with the vice-president’s office or the White House.

While Plame and Wilson collect their rewards, Scooter Libby awaits a jury’s verdict.

Yet Libby was the source for none of the stories that disclosed Plame’s name. Nor would he have broken any law even if he had disclosed it. It is illegal to disclose an agent’s name only if that agent has what the law calls a “protected identity.” Plame did not.

Plame’s name first appeared in a July, 2003, column by the syndicated columnist Bob Novak. The leaker was former undersecretary of state Richard Armitage. (Armitage also leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.)

Did Armitage leak to punish Plame for her husband’s outspoken opposition to the Iraq war? Hardly. In fact, Armitage doubted the war himself. Armitage’s motive: pure delight in gossip–he is one of the capital’s most notorious talkers.

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald learned this truth on his very first day on the case. But rather than charge Armitage–or drop the case–Fitzgerald urged Armitage to keep silent while he kept investigating. After talking the matter over with his boss, secretary of state Colin Powell, Armitage agreed. As their colleagues were questioned, hauled before grand juries and threatened with indictment, Armitage held his tongue and let others pay the price for his actions.

Armitage, who lied to his colleagues, now runs a successful consulting firm of his own. He is quoted in stories, goes to parties.

Joe Wilson, who lied to the nation, is the toast of Hollywood.

Libby has been charged with lying to investigators about a secret that was not a secret and a disclosure he did not disclose. His fate will be decided next week.