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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mideast Media Sampler 04/27/2011

From an email from DG:
1) Equal time for tyrants

Last week assistant Managing Editor of the New York Times, Jim Roberts offered a few tweets about a Washington Post interview with Saif Qaddafi, including this one:

WashPost interviews Saif #Gaddafi. Dad's regime did nothing wrong & won't back down. http://wapo.st/hr1Ktd (check out photo)
I detected a smug tone to the tweets, as if Roberts were saying, "How could anyone believe Qaddafi was somehow a moderate."

It was an interesting attitude (assuming my reading was correct) given the NYT's surprise at discovering that the Qaddafi's were, in fact, quite brutal a few months ago.


Well now a reporter for the Times has produced an interview with another of Moammar's kids. This time the subject of the interview is Saif's sister, Aisha.

The content of the interview is less interesting than the portrayal of Aisha.

In a rare interview at her charitable foundation here, Ms. Qaddafi, 36, a Libyan-trained lawyer who once worked on Saddam Hussein’s legal defense team, offered a glimpse into the fatalistic mind-set of the increasingly isolated family at the core of the battle for Libya, the bloodiest arena in the democratic uprising that is sweeping the region. 
"Charitable foundation?" A tyrant's daughter who's a philanthhopist! Amazing. And for a certain segment of the Times's readership there's the mention of her work defending Saddam, which must boost her "goodness" because it was anti-U.S.

But if the good stuff isn't enough, we also get a dose of pathos at the very beginning.

Aisha el-Qaddafi, the daughter of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, likes to tell her three young children bedtime stories about the afterlife. Now, she says, they are especially appropriate.  
“To make them ready,” she said, “because in a time of war you never know when a rocket or a bomb might hit you, and that will be the end.” 
Perhaps there's some useful stuff in the interview, but most of it seems self serving. Still is there any reason for a Western reporter to paint a sympathetic portrait of the dictator's daughter?

Two recent articles in the New York Times seem to leave open a question about Bashar Assad that has been answered.

One is a "news analysis" (really an editorial on the news pages) Syrian Crisis Tests the Mettle of Its Autocratic Ruler

Mr. Assad could still succeed in quelling the unrest, diplomats and analysts say. But to do so he would have to realize the hopes once placed in him when he inherited power from his father 11 years ago and confront his own family, which controls Syria’s thuggish security apparatus and appears to be pushing hard for a continued crackdown. At least 120 people have been killed since Friday, the bloodiest day of the five-week-old uprising.  
In the past day or two, mixed signals have emerged about which path he will take. On the one hand, Mr. Assad has hinted at a willingness to enact greater reforms than those announced last week, when he officially lifted Syria’s draconian emergency powers law. But there have been dark warnings of harsher repression as well. In Syria’s notoriously opaque political environment, it is impossible to tell which way the president is leaning.  
“This is the moment of truth for Bashar al-Assad,” said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a visiting professor at Columbia University who has written extensively on Syria. “He has potentially the ability to impose reforms on his own Baath Party, but has he the will to do so?” 
Does he have the will to do so? After acknowledging Assad's brutality, why is it still an open question "which way the president is leaning?" 

This temporizing is reflective of the Obama administration's approach.

Obama Response to Syria Upheaval: I'm sure if we show a little patience and understanding Bashar will show himself the Westernized, sensitive reformer we expect him to be.
Another Times article reports Syria Tries to Defend Its Record to United Nations, which contains this howler:

While the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, threatened to search from alley to alley to root out opposition, Mr. Assad has spoken of reform in Syria and blamed outsiders for the unrest. That stance is influencing some members, diplomats said, although not all. 
I know this is qualified by "diplomats said" but is there any way for a reporter to show contempt for such malarkey? So Assad is better because he speaks of reform while he's wiping out protesters?

And while this is a bit off topic, earlier the story reported:

But efforts by the Security Council to issue the mildest of statements criticizing Syria was postponed until at least Wednesday afternoon. Several member states — Russia, China and Lebanon — seemed firmly opposed, diplomats said, although the ambassadors of China and Lebanon would only note that further discussion was scheduled.  
Russia has been adamant that the use of force in Libya far exceeds the Security Council resolution that authorized efforts to protect Libyan civilians; statements by its senior leaders indicate that Russia will not contemplate anything similar elsewhere in the restive region. Diplomats from other countries also noted certain differences over military actions in Libya. 
President Obama (and Secretary Clinton) argued that getting Security Council approval strengthened America's efforts in Libya. Now we see, that it handcuffs America overall. If you stick to the UN for approval then overstep your bounds your enemies will use that as a pretext not to support further actions in your interest. How's that reset button working.

Overall, three pretty miserable efforts to make tyrants seem reasonable.



2) I can't quit engagement with Syria

A number of tweeters I follow (Martin Kramer and Eli Lake for two) linked to a WSJ editorial, The Syria Lobbyj

Yesterday, the New York Times quoted a senior Administration official saying the U.S. was reluctant to criticize the Syrian President because he "sees himself as a Westernized leader" and that "he'll react if he believes he is being lumped in with brutal dictators." This was meant as a defense of U.S. policy. 
The argument made by the Syria Lobby runs briefly as follows: The Assad family is occasionally ruthless, especially when its survival is at stake, but it's also secular and pragmatic. Though the regime is Iran's closest ally in the Middle East, hosts terrorists in Damascus, champions Hezbollah in Lebanon and has funneled al Qaeda terrorists into Iraq, it will forgo those connections for the right price. Above all, it yearns for better treatment from Washington and the return of the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau held by Israel since 1967. 
The Syria Lobby also claims that whoever succeeds Assad would probably be worse. The country is divided by sect and ethnicity, and the fall of the House of Assad could lead to bloodletting previously seen in Lebanon or Iraq. Some members of the Lobby go so far as to say that the regime remains broadly popular. "I think that President Assad is going to count on . . . majoritarian support within the country to support him in doing what he needs to do to restore order," Flynt Leverett of the New America Foundation said recently on PBS's NewsHour. 
Relevant to this Omri tweeted

Let's assume diplos&politicians who said Assad was reformer were just really stupid. They shouldn't be making policy any more right? #syria
Which reminded me that prior to the Obama administration taking office a delegation from the US Institute of Peace went to Syria in January 2009. While this visit doesn't seem to have been coordinated with the incoming administration, it has been a harbinger of the way the Obama administration would treat Assad Jr. 

Mona Yacoubian, and Scott Lasensky of the USIP wrote in 2008:
In this Council Special Report, Mona Yacoubian and Scott Lasensky make a strong case that the Bush administration’s policy of diplomatic isolation of Syria is not serving U.S. interests. They provide guidance for U.S. policy toward Syria on questions concerning Lebanon, Israel-Syria peace talks, and Iraq. But wherever one comes out on these and other difficult questions, the report offers informed history and thoughtful analysis of the country and its behavior.
And indeed this seems to be have a guide for the administration efforts regarding Syria. Shadow Secretary of State Sen. John Kerry visited Assad in March 2009 claiming that Syria was oriented toward the West - even as Syria officials denied such an inclination.

And an envoy of the administration a few months later was promoting joint Israeli-Syrian projects, presumably to "build peace."
Frederic C. Hof, a conflict resolution expert and senior adviser to US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, arrived in Israel Sunday. He will remain through Wednesday, and is meeting with a variety of Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and senior military officers, before continuing to Damascus for talks. 
Yediot Aharonoth, Israel's largest circulation newspaper, reports that Mr. Hof is in the process of presenting the draft of a plan for Israeli-Syrian peace that would find solutions to the two countries' dispute over the Golan Heights, a territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed. While Israeli officials have declined to comment on whether such a plan is being floated, Mr. Hof's vision was outlined in part in March when he published a report, "Mapping Peace Between Syria and Israel," with the United States Institute for Peace in Washington. (Click here for the full report in pdf format.)
It's hard for the administration to quit engagement with Syria.


3) Goldberg vs. Abbas

JJ Goldberg of the Forward, showing his publication's uselessness penned As the Palestinians Pursue Statehood, Israel Won’t Take ‘Yes’ for an Answer (h/t Barry Rubin)
And thus it happens that, with Olmert’s deal off the table, the Palestinians are trying a different route to the same goal, via the General Assembly. This way, in fact, they don’t even have to offer security guarantees they were offering to Olmert. 
One might argue that it’s a pity the Netanyahu government doesn’t simply sit down with the Palestinian Authority and resume negotiations where they left off in 2008, as the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N. suggested in an interview with the Associated Press just before Passover. The Palestinians would prefer to work through negotiations rather than go through the General Assembly, the ambassador said. 
If it did return to the table under those terms, Israel could have all the security guarantees it won during the last round and probably beef them up a bit. Whatever agreement the two sides came up with would have the endorsement of the Arab League, under the still-valid 2002 Saudi plan, and result in 22 Arab embassies in Israel
In short, Goldberg trusts Abbas more than Netanyahu.

But he offers this lie as part of his argument:
So what happened? The talks were suspended when Olmert was indicted on corruption charges and Israel was forced into early elections. No, Abbas didn’t “walk away,” as myth has it. He stood back and waited until Israel elected a new leader with the legitimate authority to negotiate.
As Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told Al Jazeera:
In November 2008… Let me finish… Olmert, who talked today about his proposal to Abu Mazen, offered the 1967 borders, but said: “We will take 6.5% of the West Bank, and give in return 5.8% from the 1948 lands, and the 0.7% will constitute the safe passage, and East Jerusalem will be the capital, but there is a problem with the Haram and with what they called the Holy Basin.” Abu Mazen too answered with defiance, saying: “I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of Palestine – the June 4, 1967 borders – without detracting a single inch, and without detracting a single stone from Jerusalem, or from the holy Christian and Muslim places. This is why the Palestinian negotiators did not sign…
There was no noble respect for Israeli democracy, it was Palestinian ideology - the refusal to compromise. More than that it's no myth that Abbas walked away.

Now Abbas has added more (h/t Noah Pollak, Fabian Pascal)
“It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,” Abbas told Ephron in one of several exclusive interviews during a whirlwind trip last week that took the Palestinian leader from Jordan to Tunisia to France, where he met with President Nicolas Sarkozy. Abbas recounted that he told Obama, “‘OK, I accept.’” Then, he said, “We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”
President Obama added a new condition. Abbas, of course, willingly went along. And when the freeze was about to expire, Abbas finally deigned to sit down with Netanyahu. Of course nothing happened and most of the subsequent reporting went something like this, " ... negotiations came to a halt when Israel lifted its freeze on construction in the West Bank." Not only did Obama add a new hurdle to negotiations he gave Abbas a new excuse not to negotiate with Netanyahu and the easy blame shifting. It was Israel's fault for lifting the freeze!

Goldberg of course ignores all this. To him, Israel is primarily at fault for there being no Palestinian state.

Perhaps the Forward needs a new subtitle: Official publication of J-Street.

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