Entries from June 2009

Obama Terrorist Detention Policy: Same As The Bush Policy

June 14th, 2009 at 6:50 pm 3 Comments

The following are excerpts from Richard Klingler’s testimony on June 9, 2009 before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution.

The debate over indefinite detention often wrongly focuses on Guantanamo Bay. No matter how Guantanamo detainees are handled, the Obama Administration will continue, directly or indirectly, to detain hundreds if not thousands of enemy combatants indefinitely in many places for many years to come.

The extent of the current Administration’s continued use of war powers against terrorist organizations is hard to overstate. The Obama Administration has pursued in nearly every aspect the prior Administration’s conduct of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and against terrorist networks globally. As a formal matter, this Administration has embraced nearly all the components of wartime and related Executive powers asserted by its predecessor and then subject to controversy.

The principal purpose of detention is to keep those who would harm U.S. citizens and troops from returning to the fight. In this sense, wartime detention of combatants is always “indefinite” or “prolonged” until conflict ceases. A nation at war does not know when the conflict will end or, at times, whether it will even prevail.

If standards for detention are increased, or if detention were abandoned or restricted, at least three consequences would follow:

First, detention would be outsourced. U.S. officials would rely on foreign allies to capture, interrogate and detain enemy combatants, and recent reporting shows that this is already occurring. Detainees are less likely to be captured, more likely to be released prematurely, and less likely to be treated well.

Second, mistaken release of detainees would occur more frequently. Even under the current standard, many detainees released by the U.S. have gone on to becomeal Qaeda and Taliban leaders, a suicide bomber, and combatants against our troops. This Administration’s Defense Department recently detailed the significant breadth of this problem. Even so, none of the detainees released from Guantanamo has attacked citizens in the United States — yet.

Third, detention would be sidestepped. Enemy combatants may be left in the field because criminal standards of proof have not been satisfied, placing our troops and citizens at risk. This was the principal flaw in ourpre-9/11 counterterrorism policy. Or, the military may choose instead to use the force of arms against the combatant when capture may prove pointless or risky.

Some suggest that we can avoid these tough choices by relying exclusively on criminal proceedings. But just because we can prosecute some terrorists in federal court does not mean that we can prosecute all who would attack our troops and citizens.

We should resist the return to pre-9/11 practice that exclusive reliance on criminal proceedings would reflect. We do not want to leave terrorists in the field, or send them there, simply because U.S. forces have not gathered evidence of past wrongdoing, admissible in court and provable “beyond a reasonable doubt.” We want them off the battlefield sooner, and to stay off longer. As the President says, we need “tools … to allow us to prevent attacks.”

The most important national security benefit of detaining enemy combatants is simple but essential: to ensure that those detained do not directly or indirectly attack our troops or citizens, here or abroad, or the troops and citizens of our allies. The continued availability of detention also ensures that our military and intelligence forces can and will continue to seek to detain additional combatants.

There is immense moral value in ensuring that enemy combatants, through continued detention, do not kill or injure our troops or citizens, or those of our allies. Perhaps our greatest moral obligation, apart from protecting the nation’s citizens, is to the troops we ask to defend us, and to their families. Ongoing detention in large measure seeks to, and succeeds in, satisfying that obligation.

President Obama’s Three Biggest PR Mistakes

June 14th, 2009 at 6:49 pm 29 Comments

As a PR professional I have to salute Barack Obama’s campaign for president as a great PR achievement. His presidency? Not so much.

View Brian Williams’ recent NBC special Inside the Obama White House. Images of staff gorging on M&Ms, sickness bouncing balls against walls and Obama heading to Five Guys to get burgers painted a cavalier attitude of this administration when America is in a deep recession and facing the highest unemployment rate in 25 years.

“It is young, rx it is fast it is loose, ampoule ” declared Brian Williams. Staff frenetically running around conveyed a lack of control. President Obama looked more like a “rock star” than a president. Talk of “basketball life balance” and his comparison of cable news programs to WWF wrestling made him look very un-presidential. During his burger run to Five Guys restaurant, Obama joked with Williams “last time I did this with Biden and we didn’t coordinate, he took his detail and I took mine.” I wonder how much indulging in that frivolity cost taxpayers? 

The president’s single biggest PR mistake is his over-exposure in the media. When anyone talks too much, president or celebrity, people just get tired of listening to that person. President Obama seems to be falling victim to this rule, with the most recent Gallup finding disapproval of his handling of the economy rising to 42%.

Obama’s second communications mistake is his desire to do everything big. When you go big on everything: healthcare, Middle East peace, economy, housing, auto bailout, energy, etc., you better be ready to deliver big results. In February, the president promised the American people the $787 billion stimulus would save or create 3.5 million jobs. The highest unemployment rate in 25 years doesn’t look like Obama is delivering big on the economy. And how about the $75 billion Homeowner Stability initiative, where the White House promised to help three to four million homeowners avoid foreclosure.

How many have been helped? Nowhere close.

President Obama’s third communications mistake so far is deciding to lead his foreign policy agenda with apologies for America’s actions under the Bush administration.

It was equally troubling to see the president speak from Egypt where many Muslim extremists thrive and many of whom were listening to his words while plotting new ways to kill Americans. It was the wrong speech for the wrong audience in the wrong place. This “greeting of peace” to the Muslim world made the president look naïve on foreign policy and weak on terrorism. It left many Americans asking themselves, “what is he doing?”

With the administration “test driving so many message points” without serving up results, there is a clear opportunity emerging for Republicans to turn things their way. But this will require abandoning rhetoric, mud-slinging and attacks. Republicans should start by simply inviting Americans to ask the president and members of Congress: Where is all the money going? Where are the jobs? Do you feel good about tomorrow?

Perhaps by simply answering the questions, voters may begin to think about the direction the country is headed and look for alternatives.

Gay Marriage: Why Now?

June 14th, 2009 at 6:48 pm 20 Comments

Jeff Lax and Justin Phillips put together a dataset using national opinion polls from 1994 through 2009 and analyzed several different opinion questions on gay rights.  Here I’m going to talk about their estimates of state-by-state trends in support for gay marriage.

In the past fifteen years, gay marriage has increased in popularity in all fifty states.  No news there, but what was a surprise to me is where the largest changes have occurred. The popularity of gay marriage has increased fastest in the states where gay rights were already relatively popular in the 1990s.

In 1995, support for gay marriage exceeded 30% in only six states:  New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, and Vermont.  In these states, support for gay marriage has increased by an average of almost 20 percentage points.  In contrast, support has increased by less than 10 percentage points in the six states that in 1995 were most anti-gay-marriage–Utah, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Idaho.

I was stunned when I saw this picture.  I generally expect to see uniform swing, or maybe even some “regression to the mean,” with the lowest values increasing the most and the highest values declining, relative to the average.  But that’s not what’s happening at all.  What’s going on?

Some possible explanations:

1) A “tipping point”:  As gay rights become more accepted in a state, more gay people come out of the closet.  And once straight people realize how many of their friends and relatives are gay, they’re more likely to be supportive of gay rights.  Recall that the average American knows something like 700 people.  So if 5% of your friends and acquaintances are gay, that’s 35 people you know–if they come out and let you know they’re gay.  Even accounting for variation in social networks–some people know 100 gay people, others may only know 10–there’s the real potential for increased awareness leading to increased acceptance.

Conversely, in states where gay rights are highly unpopular, gay people will be slower to reveal themselves, and thus the knowing-and-accepting process will go slower.

2) The role of politics:  As gay rights become more popular in “blue states” such as New York, Massachusetts, California, etc., it becomes more in the interest of liberal politicians to push the issue (consider Governor David Paterson’s recent efforts in New York).  Conversely, in states where gay marriage is highly unpopular, it’s in the interest of social conservatives to bring the issue to the forefront of public discussion.  So the general public is likely to get the liberal spin on gay rights in liberal states and the conservative spin in conservative states.  Perhaps this could help explain the divergence.

Where do we go next in studying this?

1) We can look at other issues, not just on gay rights, to see where this sort of divergence occurs, and where we see the more expected uniform swing or regression-to-the-mean patterns.

2) For the gay rights questions, we can break up the analysis by demographic factors–in particular, religion and age–to see where opinions are changing the fastest.

3) To study the “tipping point” model, we could look at survey data on “Do you know any gay people?” and “How many gay people do you know?” over time and by state.

4) To study the role of politics, we could gather data on the involvement of state politicians and political groups on gay issues.

I’m sure there are lots of other good ideas we haven’t thought of.

Further discussion (and another pretty graph) here.

Not Quite Splitting The Difference On Jerusalem

David Frum June 13th, 2009 at 5:46 pm Comments Off

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give a speech this weekend accepting President Obama’s call for a sovereign Palestinian state.

Netanyahu will set some conditions for that acceptance, troche practical steps to safeguard Israeli security. Those conditions will get a sympathetic hearing from the Obama administration. But Netanyahu has already received his warning that he can expect very little sympathy on the most emotional issue in the dispute: the status of Jerusalem. In his Cairo speech, store President Obama signalled his intent to press for some kind of international status for the ancient holy city.

What’s that? You didn’t hear Obama say that? Remember, pharm this is Barack Obama talking. To understand his meaning, you must listen very, very carefully.

At the end of the section on Arab-Israeli peacemaking, the President offered a striking image of brotherhood:

All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra —  as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer.

What has that to do with Jerusalem?

Isra is the title of a chapter of the Koran, the 17th. The chapter opens with the following verse:

Glory to Allah, Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth.

This verse is explained by Islamic tradition in the following way:

Shortly before Muhammad fled Mecca, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him with a magical horse. Muhammad mounted the horse and was carried to the “farthest mosque,” where he led Jesus, Moses and other prophets in prayer.

Some Muslims interpret the “farthest mosque” as heaven itself — and the whole Isra story as a vision of Heaven.

But more politicized Muslims have insisted on a different interpretation. For them, the “farthest mosque” is a place on Earth: Jerusalem. For them, the story of Isra is the theological origin of the Islamic claim to the holy city of the Jews.

Past American presidents have addressed the Palestinian problem as a humanitarian issue. Obama in Cairo went much further — which is why his audience applauded so loud.

President Obama made no analogous allusion to the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Quite the contrary. About Israel’s origins, the President said: “The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied” — that is, as he proceeded to explain, in the history of the Nazi Holocaust.

Jews could tell him that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland in Zion long antedates the horror of 1933-45. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning,” is a verse far less obscure than the story of Isra and at least a thousand years older. Worse, the President’s mention of the Nazi Holocaust as justification for the Jewish state invites the unanswered question, “Why should Arabs and Muslims surrender land because of a German crime?”

President Obama did not go quite as far as his Cairo audience might have wished. He described Isra as a “story” — meaning something that might or might not be true. He did not explicitly mention Jerusalem — meaning that the grand union of religions invoked in the speech may well have to wait for heaven after all. Notice too the subtle editing so that Muhammad joins Jesus and Moses rather than leading them, as he does in the Islamic tradition.

Characteristically, Obama is trying to find an intermediate position between two opposing points. But also characteristically, this intermediate position is not exactly in the middle. Obama will pressure Israel to surrender something it has — control over Jerusalem — in exchange for the Palestinians surrendering something they want. Similarly, the outcome the President appears to seek — internationalization of the central city — will likely be less favourable to Israel, since international bodies can be expected to show much greater deference to the sensibilities of their many Arab and Muslim members than to their sole and single Jewish member.

The President’s preference is not of course the last word. But it is a powerful word — and it presents Israel with another in the daunting series of challenges and dangers from this audacious President.

Originally published in the National Post.

A Congressman Speaks Out Against Cair

June 13th, 2009 at 3:34 pm 7 Comments

Rep. Frank Wolf’s speech on the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) delivered on the House floor Friday, June 12.

As ranking member on the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee, which last week considered the FY 2010 appropriations bill, I have a keen interest in and oversight responsibility for a host of counterterrorism-related initiatives. The bill, which is expected to come before the full House next week, includes $7.7 billion to support the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), whose top priorities include protecting and defending the United States against terrorism and foreign intelligence threats.

The FBI was intimately involved in a 15-year investigation which culminated last fall in the Holy Land Foundation and five of its former organizers being found guilty of illegally funneling more than $12 million to the terrorist group Hamas.

A Department of Justice press release issued May 27, 2009, reported that “U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis sentenced the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) and five of its leaders following their convictions by a federal jury in November 2008 on charges of providing material support to Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization.” The sentences ranged from 15 years to 65 years in prison.

According to the Department of Justice, “From its inception, HLF existed to support Hamas….The government’s case included testimony that in the early 1990′s, Hamas’ parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, planned to establish a network of organizations in the U.S. to spread a militant Islamist message and raise money for Hamas…The defendants sent HLF-raised funds to Hamas-controlled zakat committees and charitable societies in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Among the unindicted co-conspirators in the case is an organization which over the last several years has been granted access to the highest levels of the U.S. government—an organization which is routinely elevated in the press as the voice of mainstream Muslim Americans. This organization is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR.

Tawik Hamid, according to his bio, is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization Jemaah Islamiya, with Dr. Aiman Al-Zawaherri who became later on the second in command of Al-Queda.” 

In a May 25, 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed Hamid wrote, “In America, perhaps the most conspicuous organization to persistently accuse opponents of Islamophobia is the Council of [sic] American Islamic Relations.”

The observations of Mr. Tawik, himself a Muslim, are particularly relevant in light of recent news reports.

On January 30, 2009, FOX News reported that the FBI was “severing its once-close ties with the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, amid mounting evidence that it has links to a support network for Hamas.”

Given that Hamas is on the current list of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, this was obviously a serious claim and one which, if true, would rightly inform a shift in FBI policy.

However, the FOX News piece left me with some unanswered questions—questions, which given the seriousness of the report, necessitated further inquiry. Such questions of the executive branch are common congressional practice and, in fact, are the responsibility of the legislative branch of government and the intended purpose of our system of check and balances.

For six years from 2001-2006 I served as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with oversight of the FBI. This year I resumed a leadership role as the lead Republican on the subcommittee. 

According to the Congressional Research Service, “congressional oversight refers to the review, monitoring, and supervision of federal agencies, programs, activities, and policy implementation…It is an integral part of the American system of checks and balances.”

A young Woodrow Wilson, before becoming president, put it this way: “Quite as important as legislation is vigilant oversight of administration.”

Needless to say, I take very seriously the responsibility of congressional oversight, especially in matters with potential national security implications.

In this spirit of oversight, I wrote to the FBI on February 2 seeking additional information and clarification regarding the bureau’s decision about its relationship with CAIR. I submit a copy of the letter for the record.

The FOX News piece which prompted my initial interest, quoted the assistant director of the Office of Public Affairs at the bureau as saying: “The FBI has had to limit its formal contact with CAIR field offices until certain issues are addressed by CAIR’s national headquarters.”

I found this statement to be vague, and while perhaps sufficient from a public affairs vantage, I believed it to be an insufficient explanation for members of Congress, none of whom, to my knowledge, had been informed of this policy shift. 

And it was just that—a policy shift.   The FOX piece noted later, the FBI has “long been close to CAIR. The agency has previously invited CAIR to give training sessions for agents and used it as a liaison with the American Muslim community.”

I was one of several members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, who wrote the bureau in the days following this report—some, such as Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, voiced their support for the bureau’s decision, which was a step further than my initial letter. But they, too, desired to “understand the situation more fully” as Senators Kyl and Schumer wrote.

When I received a response from the FBI on March 9, only one of the 10 questions I posed was answered, which prompted me to send a second letter—restating the original questions and pressing the FBI for a timely and detailed response. I submit a copy of that letter for the record.

Days after my second letter, CAIR launched a public attack against me claiming in a March 12 press release that I “abused” my “office” by “seeking to pressure the FBI to produce negative information” about the organization.

Those assertions are patently untrue and would not even warrant a response were they not symptomatic of what I believe to be a larger pattern of intimidation undertaken by CAIR—intimidation which is of great consequence given the national security matters at stake.

As my letters to the FBI indicates, I was seeking to better understand the bureau’s position and access information about what led to this decision. It is a conclusion which I agree with my Senate colleagues is absolutely appropriate based on reports I have read for years, but which again marks a change in course for the bureau and as such deserved further explanation.

It is noteworthy that on April 28, following my initial unsatisfactory reply from the bureau, Senator Kyl received a more substantive response from the FBI to his letter. 

In the letter to Senator Kyl, the bureau was more detailed in explaining, and validating, the original news reports regarding its relationship with CAIR. 

The letter reads, “As you know, CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in the United States v. Holy Land Foundation et al. (Cr. No. 3:04-240-P (N.D.TX.). During that trial, evidence was introduced that demonstrated a relationship among CAIR, individual CAIR founders (including its current President Emeritus and its Executive Director) and the Palestinian Committee. Evidence was also introduced that demonstrated a relationship between the Palestinian Committee and HAMAS, which was designated a terrorist organization in 1995. In light of that evidence, the FBI suspended all formal contacts between CAIR and the FBI.

“The FBI’s decision to suspend formal contacts was not intended to reflect a wholesale judgment of the organization and its entire membership. Nevertheless, until we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner…”

I submit a copy of the bureau’s response to Senator Kyl for the record.

I plan to take the remainder of my time to explore many of these same concerns and talk about why everything I’ve read, studied and observed has led me to believe that the bureau’s decision is not only defensible, but advisable, and ought to, in fact, inform the actions of other public officials, policymakers, and the press, many of whom consistently, and I would argue mistakenly, look to CAIR to speak for mainstream Muslim Americans.

Zhudi Jasser, himself a Muslim, and president of the Islamic Forum for Democracy, makes a critical distinction between Islam and Islamism. Islam is, of course, a faith which has an estimated worldwide following of over 1 billion people. Islamism, however, according to Jasser, is “a coercive governmental and political construct that seeks to impose shar’ia (Islamic jurisprudence) upon society.”

In 2007, in the publication Family Security Matters, Jasser wrote that CAIR uses “the protection of religion when the facts are not on their side. They use the discourse of politics when they want to push forth their Islamist agenda with the presumption of speaking for all Muslims. They will delve into the political only on their own terms in both foreign and domestic policy but when they are on the receiving end of political criticism they run for cover under the guise of victimization.”

A dispassionate look at CAIR’s public posture shows that Mr. Jasser’s observations ring true.

In 1998 I authored the legislation that created the National Commission on Terrorism That same year, in CAIR’s own words from a press release, it “asked Muslims to contact leaders of a House-Senate conference committee and urge them to amend or eliminate new legislation that would create a National Commission on Terrorism.” This was a misguided lobbying effort at best. Fortunately, it was unsuccessful and the bipartisan commission was authorized to conduct its work.

A Congressional Research Service report described the main finding of the commission this way: “It calls on the U.S. government to prepare more actively to prevent and deal with a future mass casualty, catastrophic terrorist attack.” Regrettably, the commission’s recommendations, sent to Congress in June 2000, were generally ignored until after the attacks on September 11, 2001, when 3,000 people were killed, including 30 from my congressional district.

Following the commission’s public report, CAIR’s executive director, Nihad Awad, said in a June 4 press release, “The fight against terrorism is one that should be undertaken. But that struggle should not be based on stereotypes, false assumptions or the political agendas of foreign governments. If the past is any indication, all or most of these new provisions will be used to target Muslims in this country and worldwide…It is American Muslim groups whose fundraising will be restricted. It is Muslim students who will be monitored…”

Indeed the FBI has restricted the fundraising of some Muslim groups—but only when those organizations have been found to be a cover for terrorist financing—as was true, most notably, with the Holy Land Foundation. 

When the Holy Land Foundation was shuttered three months after 9/11, CAIR warned in a December 4, 2001 press release that this was an “unjust and counterproductive move [that] can only damage America’s credibility with Muslims in this country and around the world and could create the impression that there has been a shift from a war on terrorism to an attack on Islam.”

But this purported “attack on Islam” proved to be baseless in the face of the Holy Land Foundation verdicts. 

A November 25, 2008, Department of Justice press release following the initial verdicts in the foundation case quotes Patrick Rowan, assistant attorney general for National Security: “For many years, the Holy Land Foundation used the guise of charity to raise and funnel millions of dollars to the infrastructure of the Hamas terror organization…This prosecution demonstrates our resolve to ensure that humanitarian relief efforts are not used as a mechanism to disguise and enable support for terrorist groups.”

As I noted earlier, CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, which makes its cautionary word about the “injustice” of closing the “charity” suspect.

In a federal court filing from December 2007, federal prosecutors described CAIR as “having conspired with other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood to support terrorists.”  The government also stated that “proof that the conspirators used deception to conceal from the American public their connections to terrorists was introduced” in the Holy Land Foundation trial.

In a footnote government prosecutors points out: “(F)rom its founding by Muslim Brotherhood leaders, CAIR conspired with other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood to support terrorists…”  

Further, according to Senate testimony, CAIR received a $5,000 donation from the Holy Land Foundation. Initially, in written testimony submitted September 10, 2003, to the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, CAIR denied that this was the case. Specifically, Mr. Awad said claims to the contrary were “an outright lie. Our organization did not receive any seed money from HLFRD.” But when confronted with the IRS form on which the Holy Land Foundation disclosed the contribution, Mr. Awad changed his position in supplemental testimony submitted to the subcommittee saying that “the amount in question was a donation like any other.”

CAIR ultimately filed an amicus brief seeking removal from the list of unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation case. In September 2007, prosecutors made several arguments in favor of maintaining CAIR’s status saying “CAIR has been identified by the Government at trial as a participant in an ongoing and ultimately unlawful conspiracy to support a designated terrorist organization, a conspiracy from which CAIR never withdrew.”

The Holy Land Foundation trial revealed more about CAIR than simply its ties to that particular entity. Rather, the trial brought to light, in the public square, the genesis of the organization.

According to an October 14, 2008, Dallas Morning News story, “Testimony has suggested that CAIR’s founder, Omar Ahmad, and its current executive director, Nihad Awad, participated in a 1993 meeting of purported Hamas sympathizers. Some Holy Land defendants attended the Philadelphia meeting, bugged by the FBI.”

A day later, the Dallas Morning News reported that FBI Special Agent Lara Burns testified during the Holy Land Foundation case that CAIR “was formed in the aftermath of a 1993 meeting by Palestinian activists in America who brainstormed ways to spread the pro-Hamas message here without attracting too much attention.” 

A Department of Justice press release issued November 24, 2008, when the Holy Land Foundation verdicts came down, stated similarly, “The government’s case included testimony that in the early 1990′s, Hamas’ parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, planned to establish a network of organizations in the U.S. to spread a militant Islamist message and raise money for Hamas…HLF became the chief fundraising arm for the Palestine Committee in the U.S. created by the Muslim Brotherhood to support Hamas. According to a wiretap of a 1993 Palestine Committee meeting in Philadelphia, former HLF President and CEO Shukri Abu Baker spoke about playing down Hamas ties in order to keep raising money in the U.S. Another wiretapped phone call included Abdulrahman Odeh, HLF’s New Jersey representative, referring to a suicide bombing as ‘a beautiful operation.’”

According to a National Review article, in their pre-CAIR days, both Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad were top officers in the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP).   Former FBI counterterrorism chief Oliver “Buck” Revell has called Awad’s former employer, the Islamic Association for Palestine, “a front organization for Hamas that engages in propaganda for Islamic militants.”

A September 24, 2001, LA Times story described the connection between the Islamic Association of Palestine and the Holy Land Foundation this way: “The IAP and the Holy Land were founded and funded by Mousa abu Marzook…He’s also the political leader of the terrorist group Hamas.” 

Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who lead the 1995 prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (the “blind sheik”) who was found guilty of planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, in a National Review article notes that there are “several persons connected to CAIR who have been convicted of federal felonies including terrorism.” McCarthy includes in this group Ghassan Elashi, one of the founding members of CAIR’s Dallas-area chapter, and also co-founder and former chairman of the Holy Land Foundation. According to a July 9, 2007, Dallas Morning News report Elashi was sentenced to “nearly seven years in prison for doing business with a terrorist and violating export laws.”

In a 1994 forum discussion videotaped at Barry University, CAIR’s Mr. Awad said, “I’m in support of the Hamas movement.” CAIR has subsequently sought to discredit this video on its web site by saying that this quote was in response to a specific question, and that Hamas was only designated a “foreign terrorist organization” in January 1995 and did not commit its first wave of suicide bombings until late 1994 after Mr. Awad made the comment. It is noteworthy that Hamas’ 1988 covenant describes itself as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine” and says that the ‘The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them.” 

CAIR’s defense of Mr. Awad’s quote based simply on chronology is wanting in light of Hamas’ founding principles which clearly embrace violence. As the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen wrote in April 2009, “Read the Hamas charter. It is not some uplifting cry of a downtrodden people seeking its freedom but a repellent anti-Semitic screed.”

CAIR’s mission statement focuses on protecting the civil rights of Muslims in America and on improving Islam’s image. But CAIR’s actions under the umbrella of “civil rights” raise troubling questions. 

In November 2006, US Airways removed six imams from a flight following passenger reports of unusual behavior. An Investor’s Business Daily piece described the imam’s actions this way: “At the gate before boarding, they angrily cursed the U.S. Then they bowed to Mecca and prayed ‘very loud,’ chanting ‘Allah, Allah, Allah,’ according to the gate agent and another witness. On the plane, they didn’t take their assigned seats and instead fanned out to the front, middle and rear of the plane…Some ran back and forth speaking to each other in Arabic. Adding to suspicions, most of them asked for seat belt extensions even though they didn’t need them — or even use them.

”Following the incident, the imams and CAIR filed a lawsuit against US Airways, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission and “John Doe” passengers. 

Omar Mohammedi, the New York attorney who represented the imams, was the former president of the Board of Directors for CAIR, New York. The suit charged that the “John Doe” passengers “may have made false reports against plaintiffs solely with the intent to discriminate against them on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity and national origin.”

CAIR subsequently called on the Department of Justice to investigate violations of civil liberties for the six religious leaders taken off the plane.

The then president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm protecting the free expression of all religious traditions, wrote the following in a letter to CAIR regarding the suit against the “John Doe” passengers: “This is a first for us. We have never opposed someone else’s claim for religious discrimination….But this tactic of threatening suit against ordinary citizens is so far beyond the tradition of civil rights litigation in the United States that we must oppose it to defend the good name of religious liberty itself.”

It is noteworthy that the Becket Fund has successfully argued cases for Muslims including securing a place for Muslim public school students in Texas to pray.

In March 2007, The Arizona Republic called the suit against ordinary citizens “intimidation by lawsuit.”

On April 9, 2007, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper had a notably different take, “[I]t is wrongheaded for observers to be suspicious of innocent behavior — praying or asking for a seat-belt extension — simply because a Muslim does it. ‘That Muslim is wearing a tie,’ Hooper scoffed. ‘He can take it off and strangle someone.’”

The U.S. Department of Transportation conducted an investigation following the passenger complaints and found that US Airways did not discriminate against the six imams when it removed them. In a letter to CAIR’s acting legal director, the assistant general counsel for Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings wrote the following:

[W]e find the decision to remove the Imams from the aircraft was based on information available to the captain at the time and was reasonable…It appears that the captain decided to remove the Imams because of security concerns as a result of the sum of the Imams’ actual and perceived behavior, not their race or ethnicity. The fact that the captain’s concerns were not borne out in hindsight does not make the action that he took discriminatory.

CAIR’s approach in this case was not simply an inconvenience—rather it had potential security implications as well.   Airports nationwide implore travelers to report suspicious activity. Signs on major highways, bridges and tunnels throughout America do the same. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority introduced an ad campaign which has been adopted by municipalities around the country as part of their own anti-terrorism campaign.  The ad features the following admonition: “If You See Something, Say Something.”

But CAIR would have had Americans thinking, if you see something, think twice before you say something, lest you get mired in a lawsuit. As USA Today editorialized in the days following the imams’ suit, “This legal tactic seems designed to intimidate passengers willing to do exactly what authorities have requested — say something about suspicious activity.” The paper went on to report that “the imams want to know the names of an elderly couple who turned around ‘to watch’ and then made cell phone calls, presumably to authorities…”

In response to the incident at the Minneapolis airport, Congressman Peter King, the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, and Congressman Steve Pearce first moved to provide immunity to those on public transportation who report suspicious activities through a recommital motion to the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007, which the House overwhelming passed in March 2007 by a vote of 304-121. 

Later in the 110th Congress, despite CAIR’s public lobby effort, Mr. King and Senator Joe Lieberman were successful in adding a section to the 9/11 Commission Implementation Act (P.L. 110-53) which provides legal immunity to individuals who report terrorist or suspicious activity which they see on trains or planes to law enforcement.

In what has become a familiar refrain, Nihad Awad, on FOX News March 31, 2007, said that Peter King’s legislative efforts were encouraging Islamophobia.

In fact, the bill language had the potential to encourage other “John Does” who encounter suspicious activity to report it to the authorities.

CAIR’s funding is also a source of interest. Apart from the financial link with the Holy Land Foundation, there is much that is unclear about whether and to what degree CAIR is receiving financial contributions from foreign governments.

In a March 2007 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago’s executive director, said, “Neither CAIR chapters nor the National office solicits or accepts money from any foreign government.”

A January 2007 open letter on CAIR’s Web site says they are “proud to receive support of every individual, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or of another faith background, who supports the mission of promoting justice and mutual understanding as long as they are not an official of any foreign government and there are no ‘strings attached’ to the bequest.”

Yet, in a sensitive but unclassified May 2006 State Department cable which was brought to my attention, U.S. embassy staff in Abu Dhabi cabled that the UAE press was reporting “that Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai and UAE Minister of Finance and Industry has ‘endorsed a proposal to build a property in the U.S. to serve as an endowment for CAIR.’”

In another sensitive but unclassified June 2006 State Department cable, U.S. embassy staff in Saudi Arabia reported the following after meeting with a CAIR delegation: “One admitted reason for the group’s current visit to the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) was to solicit $50 million in governmental and non-governmental contributions.”

I submit both cables for the record. According to the June 2006 cable, “The core delegation consisted of CAIR Board Chairman Dr. Parez Ahmed, Executive Director Nihad Awad, and Communications Director Cary (Ibrahim) Hooper.”

On an MSNBC talk show with Tucker Carlson in September 2006, just three months after the trip, Ibrahim Hooper claimed, “(T)o my knowledge we don’t take money from the government of Saudi Arabia.”

I want to make it clear that it is important to understand that American Muslims, like all Americans, are entitled to organize, advocate, and engage in the political process. Such are the markings of a vibrant democracy.

They have taken advantage of the opportunity America provides for people of every background. They are teachers, doctors, policemen. They are mothers, fathers and neighbors. 

I am reminded of a young Pakistani-American who is Muslim that I had the privilege of meeting during one of my visits to Walter Reed Hospital. I met him when he was in the midst of his physical therapy—therapy that was necessary because he had lost both of his legs while in combat in Iraq. Despite his tremendous sacrifice he was committed to the hard work of rehabilitation in part because he hoped to get back to Iraq.   He was a patriot of the sort that ought to give us pause and make us proud.

I want to be absolutely clear that the concerns I have with CAIR are specific to the organization, not to the Muslim faith. Even a passing glance at my record in Congress should put any thought to the contrary to rest.

In Sudan, Chechnya, China, Bosnia and Kosovo, I have spoken out in defense of people of the Muslim faith. I have been to Sudan five times, including leading the first congressional delegation to visit Darfur where nearly all of the victims of the genocide are Muslim. I was the only member of Congress to visit Chechnya during the fighting in 1995. When I returned, I condemned the violence against the Chechen people, most of whom are Muslim, and called for a ceasefire. I was one of the only members to visit Muslim men in a Serb-run prisoner-of-war camp in Bosnia where I saw evidence of a modern-day holocaust taking place. Very early on, I began speaking out against the ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide against the Bosnian people. I spoke out in favor of lifting the arms embargo against Bosnia so the Muslim Bosnian government could defend itself. I have visited Kosovo five times and I voted and spoke out on the floor to approve the bombing campaign to stop Serbian atrocities against Muslims in Kosovo. 

I was one of the first members to raise concern about the persecution of Muslims in China and continue to speak out when few others do. 

Further, I was the author of the International Religious Freedom Act which created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as well as the International Religious Freedom Office at the State Department. Central to the act was the assertion that “Freedom of religious belief and practice is a universal human right and fundamental freedom.” The legislation and ultimately the offices it created, strengthen United States advocacy on behalf of individuals persecuted in foreign countries on account of religion, which, of course, includes persecuted Muslims.

America is an imperfect, but great nation. A “shining city on a hill” as described by our founders. A beacon of hope for persecuted and oppressed people. For centuries the “huddled masses” depicted in the iconic poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty have arrived on these shores seeking a better life for themselves and their families. 

My grandparents immigrated to America from Germany. My father served in World War II. Part of the reason he did so was that he felt the need to show that his loyalty was to America. Even though my grandparents were both native German speakers, when World War I broke out my grandmother decided that from that day forward only English would be spoken in their home.

I share this bit of personal history to illustrate that I am sensitive to the challenges facing new immigrants, especially during times of war. There have been instances in our nation’s history, especially when our country has been under attack, where the civil liberties of certain groups of people have been violated because other people were afraid. This is inexcusable.

But this is the exception, not the rule.

Our experiment in self-governance has been marked by an unwavering commitment to basic freedoms for all people, among them the right to worship according to the dictates of your conscience. Many American Muslims left countries where such freedom is unimaginable. However, in a pluralistic society like ours, these principles are paramount. To silence or otherwise repress people of faith is inimical to the American way. In our public discourse, to accuse someone of religious bigotry or intolerance is a sure way to stifle debate.

On October 4, 2008, the editorial page editor of the The Columbus Dispatch spoke to CAIR’s bent toward accusation as a means of muzzling debate: 

For many years, CAIR has waged a campaign to intimidate and silence anyone who raises alarms about the dangers of Islamic extremism. CAIR’s rationale is that discussions of Islamic extremism lead to animosity not just toward those who twist Islam into a justification for terrorism but toward all who practice Islam. CAIR’s concern is understandable, but its response is unreasonable. The group acts properly when it hammers home the point that only a small number of Muslims support religiously motivated violence and that targeting law-abiding Muslims is wrong. Where CAIR errs is in labeling anyone who discusses Islamic terrorism a bigot and hatemonger, an Islamophobe, to use CAIR’s favorite slur.

Ironically, some of CAIR’s most pointed attacks have in fact been aimed at other Muslims who dare to have differing views. 

In a 2006 Philadelphia Inquirer piece, CAIR’s Hooper is quoted as saying Zuhdi Jasser, president of American Islamic Forum for Democracy who has been critical of CAIR, was “providing others with an opportunity to advance an agenda that is hostile to the American Muslim community.”

Given CAIR’s genesis, its associations with known terrorist entities and individuals, and its tactics—namely attempting to discredit anyone who dares to speak out against its organization—their cries of victimization and accusations of religious bigotry appear disingenuous. 

And, given the dangerous world in which we live, any attempt to literally silence honest discourse about the nature of the threats facing our country is intolerable and must be addressed.

I stand today with other elected officials who have raised questions about CAIR. Senator Schumer describes CAIR as an organization “which we know has ties to terrorism.” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin has said that CAIR is “unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect.” Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer withdrew an award she gave to an official at a local CAIR chapter because she “had concerns about statements by some CAIR officials and about claims of financial links to terrorism.” And other senators, including Republicans Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, have voiced support for the FBI’s actions in severing ties with CAIR.

I stand today with counterterrorism experts including Steven Pomerantz, the FBI’s former chief of counterterrorism, who has stated that “CAIR, its leaders, and its activities effectively give aid to international terrorist groups.”

And perhaps most importantly, I stand with thousands of American Muslims for whom CAIR does not speak. 

In June 2007 the Washington Times published a report which analyzed CAIR tax documents and found that CAIR’s membership has declined 90 percent since 9/11. Zudhi Jasser, of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, was quoted in the article as saying, “This is the untold story in the myth that CAIR represents the American Muslim population. They only represent their membership and donors.”

In 1999, the Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA) issued an open letter to “all Muslims” after Shaykh Kabbani, chairman of the ISCA, spoke at a State Department open forum on Islamic extremism and subsequently came under public attack by several organizations including CAIR. In the open letter, ISCA says that the organizations attacking Kabbani, among them CAIR, “have not quoted a single statement of Shaykh Kabbani in full or in context. Moreover, the statements were augmented with emotionally-charged words like ‘promoted and generalized an allegation,’ ‘outrageous statements,’ and ‘Islamophobic,’ thereby thwarting his original intention and message.”

The letter goes on to say, “In their action alerts, CAIR has a chronic tendency to negatively juxtapose Islam and Americans…”

Consider, too, the words of Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi, then general secretary of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, who was quoted in a 1999 ISCA press release following this same incident. She remarked, “The carefully orchestrated and calculated plot to intimidate Shaykh Kabbani into retracting his statements only goes to prove the unwillingness to tolerate differences of opinion and belief; as well as the extent to which they would go to silence the voice of opposition…”

Or consider the testimony of Zeyno Baran, a prominent Turkish American scholar who is presently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. In July 2008 speaking before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, she stated that she believed CAIR “was created by MB [Muslim Brotherhood] to influence the US government, Congress, and NGOs, along with academic and media groups” and lamented that “despite being founded by leading Islamists, CAIR has successfully portrayed itself as a mainstream Muslim organization over the past 15 years—and has been treated as such by many US government officials…”

Or most recently, an April 2009 advertisement in Weekly Standard, authored by “American Muslims,” applauded the FBI for rejecting CAIR. The signatories included representatives of six different organizations. I submit a copy of the ad for the record. The signatories wrote “We observe that they (CAIR) denounce ‘terrorism’ in general terms but not the specific actions of Islamist groups like Hamas or Hezbollah. They denounce violence but not the ideologies behind it.”

Further the group acknowledged CAIR’s “attempts to chill free speech by calling critics of radical Islam ‘Islamophobes.’”

Finally, I’d like to close my speech by recognizing the men and women of the FBI and the hard work they do every day to keep this country safe, and restate the FBI’s own words, “(U)ntil we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner…”

I completely agree.

Obama, Cairo & Jerusalem

David Frum June 13th, 2009 at 12:57 pm 4 Comments

My weekend National Post column parses the president’s Cairo speech for evidence of his intentions on Jerusalem and reaches this conclusion:

Characteristically, Obama is trying to find an intermediate position between two opposing points. But also characteristically, this intermediate position is not exactly in the middle. Obama will pressure Israel to surrender something it has — control over Jerusalem — in exchange for the Palestinians surrendering something they want. Similarly, the outcome the President appears to seek — internationalization of the central city — will likely be less favourable to Israel, since international bodies can be expected to show much greater deference to the sensibilities of their many Arab and Muslim members than to their sole and single Jewish member.

The President’s preference is not of course the last word. But it is a powerful word — and it presents Israel with another in the daunting series of challenges and dangers from this audacious President.

Obama Vs. Israel

June 13th, 2009 at 6:38 am 5 Comments

Netanyahu’s premiership has been difficult from day one, and it will probably become even more so as he prepares to deliver a speech on Sunday articulating Israel’s response to President Obama’s sudden demand that Israel formally endorse a two-state solution and freeze the settlements’ natural growth. Netanyahu’s task will be extremely difficult. Aside from the fact that neither “yes” or “no” is a perfect answer from his point of view, Obama’s tone has been so contemptuous that anything remotely resembling a “yes” will sound disturbingly humiliating. Then, that is probably what some in the administration are looking for.

Maybe Israel can turn this dilemma to its advantage. In itself, the so-called two-state solution President Obama wants Netanyahu to endorse is not necessarily such a bad idea. From an Israeli point of view, the important thing is that one state, Israel, be kept in place with non-hostile neighbors. That is not in itself incompatible with a Palestinian state. The reason Netanyahu won’t endorse that idea now is because he, correctly, does not want to promise anything without a counterpart from the Palestinians. But Palestinians won’t or can’t reciprocate concessions, especially the ones that matter, that is, the guarantee that their state will behave peacefully and normally, and that the conflict will be over both formally and concretely.

One reason they won’t is because they expect Israel to be pressured into making the next step, and then the next one and so on, either by Obama or by another US President sometime in the future. Everything indicates that the Palestinians are not in a hurry. In the long run, they may calculate that they are winning.

But who said anything about the Palestinians? They are not the ones who just decided to ask for Israeli concessions. They always have, but they haven’t raised any particular issue recently, and neither have they proposed or made any important step that would have made the rest of the world expect an Israeli gesture in return.

The one party asking for Israeli concessions now is the United States. The settlement freeze has only become an issue because it is now an explicit American demand, and that just shifted the game from an Israeli-Palestinian negotiation to an Israeli-American, or Israeli-Western, negotiation.

So at least, there is now someone to talk to.

That does not mean the negotiations will go anywhere, at least anytime soon. The American negotiating terms look too unrealistic for that. Obama might get a positive Israeli response on the settlement freeze (which is not a vital issue, as Barry Rubin argues) and on the formal endorsement of a two-state solution, but that does not bring anyone closer to a final deal. To make such an outcome attainable, Israeli concessions and Palestinian passivity are not enough. The United States and the other Western democracies may have to put a few things on the table too.

So what could Netanyahu ask for in return?

Up until now, President Obama has backed up his demand for a settlement natural growth freeze with vague and implicit threats and even more vague promises of greater firmness towards Iran. To start with,Netanyahu can ask him to be more specific.

Then, Netanyahu can use Obama’s demand to expand the subject, step by step. What about the settlements located in “future” Israeli recognized territory? If there is no such thing, where then is the future border to be set? If America gets to tell what houses can or cannot be built, surely it must have some sort of position on what the final settlement should look like. But then, what is America prepared to do to make a final settlement last? In short, what is Obama prepared to deliver?

Ultimately, anyone who publicly wishes for a two-state solution has to articulate, at least partially, what he is prepared to put on the table. If not, he will lose much of his credibility. If, on the other hand, the discussion goes in that direction, then Israel, too, may have some requests to put forward.

Whether Palestinian territories become an independent state or a new undefined area like the Gaza Strip or South Lebanon, Israel will have to plan for a classical border defense, and its strategic vulnerabilities – the lack of strategic depth – will have to be taken into account. If Western democracies want to be consistent, they will have to make such a defense practically feasible.

Josef Joffe convincingly argues in a recent piece that Israel will probably not join NATO nor the EU in the near future, mainly because Israeli and Western democracies have a better interest in keeping their alliance informal, thus optimizing their freedom of action. That seems reasonable now, but if a two-state solution starts being seriously negotiated between serious partners, that is, Israel on one side, the Western powers on the other, then the rules of the game are quite radically altered. Indeed, the existence of one or more unpredictable neighbors and a territory which will become harder to defend will probably make a formal alliance with the West more interesting than before.

Indeed, security guarantees from the US and European countries will have to be worth more than a speech about the Holocaust. In this respect, aside from their constant backseat-driving diplomacy, these countries’ record so far has been less than impressive: from the failure to keep theTiran Straits open in May 1967 (the reason why settlements exist in the first place) to the two or three weeks generously granted by the Security Council for Israel to solve decades-long problems in Lebanon or the Gaza strip. Now that an American president vocally asks Israel to “deliver”, here are three things Israel could ask the West to “deliver” too:

(1) A Security Council resolution: A formal Security Council resolution should validate the new borders. That seems quite obvious if Israel and the Palestinians sign a formal treaty, but such a treaty should not be considered as a precondition for a final territorial settlement. What Israel has to aim for is international legitimacy, and that can be achieved through what can be dubbed a “multilateral withdrawal”, that is, an Israeli unilateral withdrawal followed by a formal recognition of its new borders by the Security Council. What happens on the other side will then no longer be Israel’s problem. Obviously, a UN resolution, even passed by the Security Council, does not necessarily mean much, but that is the best Israel can get in terms of formal legitimacy. That will force Western Security Council members to seek Russian and Chinese approval, which could prove difficult, but if it can’t be done, then there will be no deal at all and the current status quo will simply be kept as is, which is tolerable for Israel. After all, Netanyahu didn’t ask for Obama to push a new peace process.

As for the territorial scope of the withdrawal, this is where Israel will have to make choices. To start with, killing the issue of the refugees’ return will probably prove easier with non-Arab negotiating partners, which will turn the whole matter into a fully territorial and much more manageable one. The advantage of a negotiation with the great powers (the “international community” in one of its incarnations) instead of the Palestinians is that the game will be made more consistent. The international community can either be responsive, which will in turn allow the Israelis to better ponder the different options and make choices, or not, which will just keep things where they are now. Among other things, Israel has to make sure that if it withdraws from a territory, this territory will no longer be considered as “occupied” (which the Gaza strip, in spite of elementary common sense, still is).

As for the Palestinians and other Arab actors, they will be faced with the choice between accepting whatever progress will be made, or being left aside and losing most of their influence. Once the process is started, Israel will only have to see what happens. If the Arabs are in, so much the better but they will have to negotiate seriously. If they are not, Israel can continue dealing with its Western partners.

(2) NATO membership: In exchange for a complete withdrawal from most of the Palestinian territories and the formal acceptance of a new independent state there (if one is created), Israel could ask not only to become a NATO member, but also for a NATO military presence on its territory, to serve as a deterrent. US, British or French troops should be stationed within the Israeli territory, not necessarily in large numbers but in places where they will be directly exposed in case of an attack like the one conducted by Hezbollah in July 2006. Bases could be located near Lebanon, the Gaza strip and Kalkilya. Their goal will not be to protect Israel (though they can help) but to involve their own countries in such a case.

With such an arrangement, Israel will find itself in a position relatively similar to Western Germany during the Cold War, or South Korea today, albeit with a lesser dependence on US and Western forces since the IDF will keep its strategic autonomy (which the Bundeswehr did not have). From NATO’s point of view, that will be a partial return to its Cold War posture, which most NATO members probably find unappealing, but a two-state solution does not come for free.

(3) The EU: Israel has little interest in a formal membership, which would anyway be submitted to each EU member’s ratification and thus difficult to guarantee in advance. On the other hand, Israel can ask for an improvement of its trade relations with the EU, and more particularly for formal guarantees against possible economic sanctions, just in case. That could at least partially protect Israel from European political uncertainties.

All of these demands may seem quite unrealistic and unreasonable, but that is mainly because the Western demands for a final settlement in the Middle East are no less unrealistic. Therefore, their logical consequences can only seem just as strange. Western leaders have been asking for an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty for so long that it is high time they show what exactly they are ready to put on the table. If peace in the Middle East is as crucial to the world as they constantly say, surely they will accept a certain level of commitment.

Important decisions can only be made once the different options are clearly separated from one another. European countries and the US cannot simply back most Arab demands and expect Israel to take risks they would not accept for themselves. Such a diplomatic posture can make them more popular among the Arab states and the Palestinians, and that is probably what they hope for, but it is inconsistent with the search for a peace deal in the region. 

More importantly, it is absolutely possible that none of that will happen, but a good negotiation is not necessarily one that ends up with a deal. It can also be a negotiation which fails but gives a better idea of who wants what, and what the different partners are prepared to offer. Up until now, it has been difficult to escape the impression that neither Arabs nor Western democracies really value a Middle East peace deal as much as they pretend, the former because the formal state of war is not a necessarily a bad thing for their political regimes, the latter because a peace process makes for good PR. But when the US president asks for seriousness, taking him at his own words might not be a bad idea.

You Read It Here First

June 13th, 2009 at 5:51 am 5 Comments

Back in February, patient here at FrumForum.com, treat David Frum argued for downsizing our cities and pulling down homes in abandoned or depopulated neighborhoods:

Think of it as “exurban renewal” – a 21st century counterpart to the slum clearances of the 1940s and 1950s…

Now, the Daily Telegraph reports that the Obama administration is considering plans to bulldoze abandoned neighborhoods in depopulated cities.  The strategy, first adopted in Flint, Michigan, would help troubled cities survive by concentrating their services to a smaller, more viable area.

Again, you read it first at FrumForum.com.

Green Bay Makes The Case For Federalism

June 12th, 2009 at 7:31 am 9 Comments

Yesterday, see Barack Obama visited Green Bay, Wisconsin, to tout that city’s successful efforts to rein in the costs of healthcare.  Obama used the occasion to make the case for federal healthcare reform, modeled on the success of Green Bay and other cities like it.  But Green Bay’s experience teaches a very different lesson: when the federal government butts out, state and local governments can experiment creatively.  This, rather than a national health policy, has the potential to ultimately solve our country’s vexing healthcare-related challenges.

Picture this: a room full of a hundred bureaucrats in the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., tasked with evaluating the costs and benefits of a particular medical procedure.  Most have been in the department for twenty or thirty years, while others have volunteered for rotations in other government agencies like the Department of Education or the Department of Transportation.  None has spent any significant amount of time in the private sector.  None has lived outside of the D.C. area in decades.  Few have direct experience in thehealthcare industry.

Now picture this: fifty different states, each with dozens of municipalities, formulating healthcare policy at a local level.  Some of these policies are objectively superior and constituencies in other states and cities can apply pressure on their elected representatives to adopt the same reforms.  Other policies are simply more appropriate to the circumstances of that particular state.  Either way, there is room for customization, trial and error, and emulation.

Which of these two scenarios is likely to yield more innovation and better results for patients? 

This was one of the Founders’ central insights.  They argued that a federal system allows for a diversity of approaches, making it more likely that somebody somewhere will discover the approach that works best.  Justice Louis Brandeis later articulated it thusly: “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” 

Put differently, federalism provides at the governmental level what the free market provides in the private sector.  It fosters competition, resulting in a dialectic process that enables good ideas to clash openly with bad ideas.  The bad ideas can be discarded along the way, while the good ideas can be honed and replicated.  There are other ways to achieve progress, butmillennia of human experience suggest this is the best.          

Green Bay provides concrete evidence in support of this theory.  The city’s health system has implemented electronic medical records, limited access to certain procedures that it has deemed costly and ineffective, and promoted treatments that reduce the prevalence of conditions that require expensive medical care.  In doing so, it has attracted attention from other cities in Wisconsin and other states throughout the country, some of which are already incorporating elements of Green Bay’s healthcare reforms.  This is precisely how federalism is meant to work.

Levin Reviewed

David Frum June 12th, 2009 at 5:15 am 152 Comments

I promised last week to read and review Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny. A little tardy, but here it is. Just follow this link over to the Bookshelf.