The Weekend Web

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The Weekend Web

Iran’s greatest victory in 100 years and the Kosovo precedent; plus, what will it take for the West to stop hitting the snooze button?

Last week at the Jerusalem Conference, attended the keynote address given by Bernard Lewis, the world’s preeminent scholar of Islamic studies. Several hours before his speech, he told us he was still working on the conclusion for his remarks. “I’d like to finish the conference with something positive,” he said, “but that’s very difficult to do when discussing events in this part of the world.” As it turned out, Mr. Lewis ended his speech with what he believed was a positive sign in the Middle East—the concern among several Arab countries about the spread of Islamic extremism, fueled by Iran. He also saw hope in the slow, gradual rise of democratic ideas in Islamic nations.

For most of his February 20 lecture, Mr. Lewis surveyed the Middle Eastern geopolitical landscape by identifying certain external and regional factors.

On the subject of external factors, Lewis discussed Europe, the United States, the UN and the international community and Russia. Regarding Europe, he said, “instead of asking what role Europe will play in the Middle East, we now have to ask what role the Middle East will play in Europe.” We found this comment especially noteworthy since the Bible prophesies of a future clash between Europe and Iranian-led Islamic extremism that will be precipitated by Iran’s push at Europe (Daniel 11:40).

As for America, Lewis’s remarks were not at all politically correct. “Some complain about American imperialism, but this displays only ignorance.” He argued that America was not fulfilling its imperialist role well enough. The United States should take an even more assertive approach in the Middle East.

With respect to the UN and the international community, Lewis said Israel has been the victim of an incredible amount of discrimination and bias.

Russia, he said, was not much of a factor in the Middle East right now. But Lewis said it would not remain on the sidelines permanently. Russia, he said, has important connections to the Middle East. It has a significant Islamic community.

Regarding the regional factors and forces in the area, two points stood out from the speech. First, the Iranian problem: Iran is not an Arab country, but it is ruled by a Muslim theocracy. And as everyone except the U.S. intelligence community knows, it is actively pursuing weapons of mass destruction. But even a non-nuclear Iran can do a great deal of damage, Lewis said. He reminded the audience that Hitler never had wmds. The Soviets had them, but were deterred from using them by mutually assured destruction (mad), where each side knew it would be destroyed if it initiated an attack. But with the Islamic apocalyptic vision, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent for Iran. It’s actually an inducement for Iran to attack, Lewis said. By attacking, Lewis said, “They feel that they can hasten the final messianic process.”

The other important regional factor Lewis noted is that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is not the root cause of all the problems in the Middle East. “In fact, we see that wherever you have Muslims, you have violence, such as in the Balkans, Russia, Central Asia, Kashmir, Timor,” Lewis said. He also pointed to Osama bin Laden’s writings, where he gives these three reasons why Americans should be killed: 1) the American presence in Saudi Arabia; 2) American involvement in Iraq; and 3) the petty little state of the Jews. Lewis noted how Bin Laden only devoted 2½ lines to that last point, showing how unimportant he considered Israel to be in his worldwide ambitions.

There was quite a lot more covered in the speech. To read more, has some additional excerpts here.

Iran’s Greatest Victory in 100 Years

The European Commission Joint Research Center (jrc) recently simulated a test using the same centrifuges Iran uses to enrich uranium, and it resulted in an alarming conclusion. According to Spiegel Online, “Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year.” The EU assessment sharply contrasts with a U.S. report released in December, Spiegel noted:

When the U.S. released a new National Intelligence Estimate (nie) late last year, it seemed as though the danger of a mullah-bomb had passed. The report claimed to have information indicating that Tehran mothballed its nuclear weapons program as early as autumn 2003. The paper also said that it was “very unlikely” that Iran would have enough highly enriched uranium—the primary ingredient in atomic bombs—by 2009 to produce such a weapon. Rather, the nie indicated “Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough (highly enriched uranium) for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 timeframe.”It didn’t take long for experts to question the report’s conclusion that Tehran was no longer interested in building the bomb. And now, a new computer simulation undertaken by European Union experts indicates that the nie’s time estimates might be dangerously inaccurate as well—and that Iran might have enough fuel for a bomb much earlier than was previously thought. …Just why the new simulations came to such a different result than the National Intelligence Estimate issued by Washington is “a good question,” a jrc expert told Spiegel Online. The American government, he points out, wasn’t clear about the technical details upon which its report was based.

Earlier this month, the man responsible for the National Intelligence Estimate, Michael McConnell, backpedaled from the report’s most audacious claim—that Iran had “halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003. At the Weekly Standard, Michael Rubin dissected McConnell’s February 5 testimony:

Not only did McConnell testify that the Islamic Republic was working to master the enrichment of uranium—“the most difficult challenge in nuclear production”—but he also acknowledged that, “because of intelligence gaps,” the U.S. government could not be certain that the Iranian government had fully suspended its covert nuclear programs. “We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons,” he testified. “In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.”

Yet, as the Weekend Web noted last week, since the media yawned at McConnell’s attempt to set the record straight, the damage done by the nie report will not be repaired. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad considers the National Intelligence Estimate Iran’s “greatest victory during the past 100 years.”

The Kosovo Precedent

More than a few question marks still surround Kosovo’s U.S.-backed declaration of independence last Sunday. Has Serb anger, which flared last week, resulting in the torching of the American Embassy in Belgrade, run its course, and will the Serbs now settle down and accept the inevitable? Will the EU increase its presence in the region by sending in more troops? Then there’s the biggest question of all: How is Moscow planning on responding to what amounts to nothing less than an assault on the carefully crafted reputation of Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

But what happened in Kosovo is troubling for other reasons as well, as Caroline Glick noted in the Jerusalem Post last week. “By setting a precedent of legitimizing the secession of disaffected minorities, it weakens the long-term viability of multi-ethnic states,” essentially undermining the backbone of the state-based international system.

Across the world, countries that suffer problems with politicized minorities, from Canada to Morocco, Spain to China, are deeply concerned about the Kosovo precedent. Will minority peoples in some of these states, emboldened by the international community’s quickness to recognize Kosovo’s independence, now attempt to follow suit? It seems there’s already been banter in Palestinian circles about following Kosovo’s example:

Not surprisingly, Abbas’s adviser and PA propaganda chief Yasser Abd Rabbo reacted to Kosovo’s declaration of independence by recommending that the Palestinians follow the example. Abd Rabbo said, “Kosovo is not better than us. We deserve independence even before Kosovo, and we ask for the backing of the United States and the European Union for our independence.”

This issue goes far beyond Serbia and its breakaway province and could potentially affect many other states and issues.

Kosovo is relying on Europe to support and protect it, and Serbia could not stand against Europe if it were not for the fact that it has Russia’s support. Neither side can back down without being humiliated on the international scene—so if war is to be averted, expect both Europe and Russia to start making concessions as they work toward an EU-Russian treaty.

For more information on Kosovo’s role in global politics, read “Russia, Europe Face Off Over Kosovo” and “German Fascism Is Conquering Kosovo!”

Obama’s World

If you thought Barack Obama was popular at home, you should check out how much love he’s receiving abroad—apparently he’s all people can talk about on the streets of Rangoon. The Sunday Times reports (emphasis mine):

She [Samantha Power, senior foreign-policy adviser to Obama] is also thrilled by the impact Obama is already having on world affairs: “I have a friend who just came back from Burma last week and said all that anybody is talking about on the streets of Rangoon is Barack Obama. What is incredible is how many constituencies he can appeal to, how many boundaries he can cross effortlessly—of race, of age, of geography and of religion.”"Obamamania”, she believes, owes much to the building of a movement by dedicated supporters. “The only way we were going to win was to have organizers who were willing to freeze … in rural Iowa when it seemed like there was going to be no political payoff. The corollary is that those who are helping Obama do so with quasi-evangel-ical fervor. I think Obama supporters, by and large, do not see this as mere politics. They see this as the future of the world.”

People speak as if Barack Obama is the solution not only to America’s problems, but the world’s problems too. Does anyone sincerely believe that the solutions to this world’s problems, as numerous, serious and life-threatening as they are, can be found in a single person? Does anyone really believe we have a presidential candidate who—forget saving the world—can successfully cure even one out of the host of crises facing America?

The EU’s Heavily Guarded Room

Corruption seems endemic to politics worldwide, but Europe seems prone to abuses of a particularly troubling, authoritarian variety. A recent internal auditor’s report uncovered evidence of European Parliament members pocketing portions of a €16,000-a-month allowance they receive for paying assistants. The creepy part of the story is what they did when the story broke. The Economist reports:

Top brass at the parliament first tried dismissing the report as mere “rumors” then said that it was secret, and only allowed a handful of MEPs on the budgetary control committee to read it in a heavily guarded room, on condition that they took no notes and signed a pledge saying they would keep its contents secret. Then, when they started receiving press calls, parliamentary officials said it was not secret, it was confidential, and anyway it did not contain any evidence of fraud, and in fact what it showed was that hard-pressed MEPs were overwhelmed with the complexity of paying assistants and needed to be relieved of that burden.

The Economist drew attention to the fact that the Anglo-Saxon, particularly British, press has jumped all over the story, but that European papers largely remained silent on it. Maybe they’re getting used to such things.

Cyprus: Presidential Candidates Rally on Unification Platform

The Republic of Cyprus is voting in the second round of the country’s presidential elections following the defeat of the incumbent president last week. The prospect of an incoming president who favors reunification of the Greek south and the Turkish north of the island may lead to a greater EU hold on the nation.

bbc News reports:

The two remaining candidates, Demetris Christofias and Ioannis Kasoulides, both promise that if elected they will revive talks on reuniting the island. … More than 60% of Greek Cypriots voted against President Papadopoulos, ousting the man who had advised them to reject the UN-brokered reunification deal in 2004.The two remaining candidates in the race may be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but during their electoral campaigns they have both emphasized their commitment to solving the Cyprus problem.

This is good news for Europe, which views Cyprus as a prized piece of strategic real estate in the eastern Mediterranean acting as a gateway into the Middle East and Persian Gulf. As our editor and chief has pointed out before, “More than one crusade has been launched from Cyprus. … [W]hy did the EU want tiny Cyprus to be a member? Is the EU already thinking about Cyprus as a launching pad from which to protect its Jerusalem interests?”

Also, if Cyprus does eventually reunite, this will clear one of the obstacles to Turkish EU membership, though the European Union will have no trouble keeping roadblocks up to keep Muslim Turkey out of the Union.

Hamas: Inmates With a Key

The bbc reported today that Hamas is trying to force its way into playing a role in controlling the Gaza-Egypt border:

A Hamas delegation has been meeting security officials in Egypt to discuss future arrangements for the control of the Egypt-Gaza border. The Palestinians, led by former Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahhar, are trying to come to an agreement with Egypt over the contentious frontier.It was the third such meeting between the two sides in the past two weeks.

The audacity of this terrorist organization never ceases to amaze; first, in a violent fit of rage it takes over Gaza, hastening the transformation of the strip into a run-down slum and terrorist incubator; then it blows up the barrier separating Gaza from Egypt, facilitating a flood of Gazans out of Gaza and a flood of terrorists and weapons into Gaza; now Hamas is demanding that it be allowed to play a role in managing the border—which it clearly has no respect for and has consistently violated—between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Should Egypt succumb and decide to sign over responsibility (even partially) for control of the Gaza-Egypt border to Hamas, it would be like handing a dangerous inmate the keys to his own jail cell.

The West’s Inability to Be Alarmed

“It’s hard to deliver a wake-up call for a civilization so determined to smother the alarm clock in the soft fluffy pillow of multiculturalism and sleep in for another 10 years.” The West has developed an uncanny knack for being completely unalarmed by serious threats, says columnist Mark Steyn:

The question then arises: fair enough, guys, what would it take to alarm you? The other day, in a characteristically clotted speech followed by a rather more careless BBC interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that it was dangerous to have one law for everyone and that the introduction of sharia—Islamic law—to the United Kingdom was “inevitable.” No alarm bells going off yet? Can’t say I blame you. After all, de facto creeping sharia is well established in the Western world. Last week, the British and Ontario governments confirmed within days of each other that thousands of polygamous men in their jurisdictions receive welfare payments for each of their wives. Still no alarm bells? I see female Muslim medical students in British hospitals are refusing to comply with hygiene procedures on the grounds that scrubbing requires them to bare their arms, which is un-Islamic. Would it be alarmist to bring that up—say, the day before your operation?Sharia in Britain? Taxpayer-subsidized polygamy in Toronto? Yawn. Nothing to see here. True, if you’d suggested such things on Sept. 10, 2001, most Britons and Canadians would have said you were nuts. But a few years on and it doesn’t seem such a big deal, and nor will the next concession, and the one after that.

British Military: Misguided Priorities

This report from the Times highlights the disturbing state of decay that the British Army is in:

While Lord Justice Scott Baker officiates each week at the Diana inquest benefit gala for tabloid lawyers at the Royal Courts of Justice, a more poignant inquest is enacted in the leafy lanes of Oxfordshire. The bodies of servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are brought here to Brize Norton airbase and their families are consoled with the brief dignity of an “unlawful killing” verdict.Here, too, incredulous coroners hear tales of ill-prepared, underequipped soldiers stumbling back from what might be a modern Crimea.They hear of failed helicopters, unguarded vehicles, lack of body armor and poor medical support. “Unforgivable and inexcusable … a breach of trust” were words used of the defense ministry by Andrew Walker, the coroner, last week after another tale of woe.Britain’s military establishment is plunged into battle over what has been dubbed its “train crash” budget. The Treasury has demanded £1 billion a year in cuts to amend for what appears to be grotesque cost indiscipline.

All the money that is spent on defense has been going to the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and very little toward the Army:

They were the Eurofighter project (£15-£20 billion), the new aircraft carriers (£4 billion) and their frigate escorts, and a replacement for the Trident missile and its submarines (£20 billion). …Those decisions locked the procurement budget for more than a decade. Above all they shut out the army, on which British defence activity has depended ever since. The army’s unglamorous but urgent need for battlefield helicopters and armored personnel carriers was ignored. So, too, were supplies of such things as grenade launchers, field radios, body armor and night-vision equipment. …According to [former naval officer Lewis] Page there are still more admirals ashore than ships afloat, more air marshals than squadrons aloft.

On a separate, but related, note, a report in the UK says that a third of its Army recruits are dropping out of basic infantry training.

Elsewhere on the Web

In America, politicians are coming under pressure by big banks for a taxpayer-backed banking bailout, which, unsurprisingly, is being marketed as a homeowner bailout.

Fidel Castro on Saturday scoffed at the idea of major political change after Cuba’s parliament chooses a new president. Writing on the front page of the Communist Party Granma, the 81-year-old Castro, who announced his retirement after 49 years as head of Cuba on Tuesday, laughed at suggestions in news reports that his retirement would pave the way for political changes. It’s almost as though “Comrade Fidel” has an inside track on how his brother might run Cuba.

“Freedom from religion in Britain is becoming as important as freedom of religion, according to a United Nations investigation into religion in the UK.” For more about the UN study, read this.

And Finally …

The Internet can be a fickle friend—one day adoring, the next shrill and angry. It enables information and opinion to move and proliferate instantly—a throwaway comment on the campaign trail can be microscopically scrutinized and psychoanalyzed—a gaffe can become a YouTube phenomenon. Four years ago, it seemed the Internet was the power tool that would make Howard Dean, as his presidential campaign used it to raise huge money. Soon after, though, he got bludgeoned by that very tool, when the “Dean Scream” inspired oceans of unfavorable viral video.

This year’s campaign has produced a number of high-profile Internet moments—including the cnn/YouTube debate, the John Edwards “I Feel Pretty” video, and the “Obama-girl” music videos. Now, it appears the Internet might once again contribute to the undoing of one of the major candidates. A report yesterday in the Washington Post noted that “Obama Fever Is Breaking on the Web.”

In recent days, sites have popped up indicating that the ongoing online Obamamania has hit a wall. What kind of wall? A snarky, ironic, this-Obama-thing-has-gotten-over-the-top wall. Obama’s smiling mug is mashed up on countless faces on He’s Sumobama. He’s Pharaohbama. He’s Navajobama, complete with a blue-and-white feathered headdress. The blog Is Barack Obama the Messiah? features a photo of the Illinois senator standing on a flight of stairs, Christlike, above an adoring crowd while a ray of light beams from above. …That’s funny ha, ha. And funny ouch.

We wrote in last week’s Weekend Web how commentators are remarking on the shallowness of the excitement over Obama. It appears this is the inevitable, ugly Internet-age next step. Substance is increasingly giving way to image and other intangibles. It will be interesting to track just how much the Internet influences the outcome of this coming election.