Barack Obama is fighting hard to be permitted by Congress to throw cotton candy at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran. It is unlikely that he will succeed, and that is because even many Democratic senators are simply mortified by the president’s trifling efforts at getting the mullahs to back down from their nuclear aspirations. He has spent nearly 16 months in what he should have known would be a doomed diplomacy to induce Russia and China to get tough with Tehran. Yes, get tough. The fact is that Obama’s confident vanity in diplomacy no longer commands much respect around the country.
You may remember that during the president’s first trip abroad he spent two days in Turkey. A little much, I thought. After all, a presidential visit is something of a gift to the host country’s government. And why did Ankara deserve such a gift? Well, it didn’t. First of all, in 2003, it had barred American troop movement through Iraq from the north. I don’t know exactly how many U.S. deaths accrued because of this ban. But sober estimates tell us that as many as 500 soldiers may have been killed because of the restriction.
Benazir Bhutto was murdered (along with 24 of her nameless countrymen) two-and-a-half years ago. Edward Jay Epstein has discovered that there was actually no proper—and barely an improper—investigation of the slaying. Her crooked and shiftless husband succeeded Musharraf as president, not that she wasn’t crooked herself. But shiftless she was not. Anybody is likely to be assassinated in Pakistan.
Bangkok is in chaos. Thousands of anti-government protesters (called "red shirts") have settled into the streets of the Thai capital and are living in an organized camp that offers free food, toilets, and even makeshift hair salons. On April 10, government forces attempted to disperse the crowds, spurring street clashes that killed 25 people. On April 22, grenade explosions rattled the city, wounding more than 80 people, including four foreigners. And, on Wednesday, clashes between protesters and Thai troops left one soldier dead.
Waverley Avenue in Watertown is about half a mile from my house in Cambridge. Two Pakistani men were arrested yesterday in their apartment down the road. It was big enough news to persuade the Boston Globe to run two above-the-fold articles under the headline “2 held in local antiterror raids.” A third man was nabbed in Connecticut. Yet another was imprisoned in Pakistan. And good luck to him. So it turns out that, despite Janet Napolitano’s instinct to pass out Valium after every shock to public peace, the failed Times Square car bombing was no “one-off” at all.
Having failed (and failed abysmally) to curb Iran’s nuclear vault, what’s called the “international community”—a very silly phrase, isn’t it?—is attempting to focus an accusatory spotlight on Israel’s long-held (but ritualistically shrugged off) capacity to make atomic war.
A dazzling essay by Fouad Ajami in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal made the point, apropos Faisal Shahzad, that the bestowal of citizenship “gave him the precious gift of an American passport but made no demands on him.” It also allowed him to travel 13 times to Pakistan and back over the last seven years—just one exemplar of the hundreds of thousands (more likely millions) of youngish men who have both domicile and liberties in the West but burn with fire for the perilous fevers of the Old Country.
Everybody actually knows that. “The new Middle East” is a psychedelic fantasy of the perennially intoxicated peace processors. The dream will go on forever. And maybe it will be punctuated positively a tiny bit by practical arrangements on the ground.
Imagine a national leader dependent on American support, but who knows that the U.S. Ambassador has threatened that it will be withdrawn; who has heard Senators, and the French foreign minister, call for his removal; and who is referred to throughout the Western press as “weak and unreliable.” That man is not Hamid Karzai, who visits Washington this week. It was Nouri al-Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq, three years ago. Yet Maliki has since transformed himself from reputed weakling to overbearing strong-man, even while being dependent on U.S. support.
Last Friday, the Pakistani Taliban established a YouTube site titled Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel. (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, means Pakistani Taliban Movement and is the group’s official name.) Two days later, on Sunday morning, a video appeared there taking credit for Faisal Shahzad’s botched car bombing in Times Square. It featured a collage of images (slain jihadis, a Predator drone, Barack Obama, etc.) patched over an audio recording from Qari Hussain Mehsud.