New York Times Gets the Facts Wrong on Land Mines

Every year, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) publishes a report on the number of casualties caused by land mines—or so it says.

And every year, gullible journalists take the report’s headline figure at face value.

But this year, the worst offender is a particularly prestigious outlet: The New York Times, whose Editorial Board authored a column titled, “Why Do Land Mines Still Kill So Many?”

The Gray Lady writes:

The world is rolling backward, and at a disturbingly faster pace, in the struggle to limit carnage from land mines and other booby-trap explosives. The most recent numbers, covering 2016, are appalling. Known casualties that year came to 8,605, including 2,089 deaths… .

According to the Times, 8,605 people were injured or killed in 2016 by land mines and “other booby-trap explosives.”

Well, 8,605 is the ICBL’s headline figure, no doubt about that. But were all those people actually injured or killed by land mines?

Absolutely not.

If you turn to page 57 of the ICBL’s report, you’ll find that only 732 people were injured or killed by an anti-personnel land mine, another 495 by an anti-vehicle mine, and another 538 by an “unspecified” mine.

That’s 1,765 people, not 8,605.

The Times says that casualties to land mines are rising. But the ICBL’s report says that in 2015, 2,002 people were injured or killed by these kinds of mines. So casualties are actually down by 237, not up.

You’d think this would be a cause for modest celebration—but no, apparently it’s not.

True, measuring casualty trends by using the latest ICBL press release is a fool’s errand, because its own reported numbers fluctuate. A lot.

Last year, the ICBL asserted that 2015 saw 6,461 casualties. Now, it says that 2015 had 6,967 casualties.

I don’t object to updating these figures over time as better information becomes available, but comparing this year’s casualties to last year’s based on the latest ICBL report is not going to produce reliable calculations.

The Times’ Obsession With Cluster Bombs

The Times goes on to claim that “[o]ne subset of the menace, cluster munitions, is singularly vicious. … All too often, they fail to detonate right away and thus become time bombs…. Cluster munitions alone caused 971 known casualties in 2016.”

Clearly, the Times asserts that dud cluster bombs are responsible for those casualties.

But the ICBL’s report contradicts this claim, saying that the number of people killed and injured by dud cluster munitions was 114—not 971. The 971 figure includes the people who were directly and immediately killed by cluster munitions that exploded on impact, mostly dropped by the Syrian Air Force. That’s completely different from dud munitions.

The Times’ fixation on cluster munitions is puzzling to me. I don’t see how being killed by a cluster bomb is any worse than being killed by a 500-lb bomb. In fact, the bigger bomb would probably cause more damage, and casualties, than the smaller ones.

Let’s go back to those 8,605 casualties. Where does the Times get that number from?

Well, what the ICBL has done is the same thing they do every year: combine all land mine casualties together with all casualties from improvised explosive devices and all explosive leftovers (known as “explosive remnants of war”).

And then, journalists come along and report that all those casualties were caused by land mines.

Don’t believe me? Well, it happened in 2014. And in 2015. And in 2016.

Now, it’s true that some improvised explosive devices do qualify, legally, as land mines. But that’s not what caused the big jump in 2016 casualties, when casualties from improvised explosive devices increased by only 257.

The casualty increase came almost entirely from the “Unknown mine/explosive remnants of war item” category, which leapt from 1,410 in 2015 to 3,843 in 2016.

We can’t say whether these casualties were caused by land mines and, in fact, it’s likely that most of them were caused by dud bombs, not land mines at all, as almost all these casualties came in Yemen and Libya. Both of those countries saw heavy fighting in 2016.

The Times then moans that “perhaps the saddest part of all this is that for well over a decade the world seemed to have gotten a grip on what are referred to generically as the ‘explosive remnants of war,’” for which it thanks a 1999 treaty banning victim-activated anti-personnel land mines.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. That 1999 treaty isn’t about explosive remnants of war. It’s about anti-personnel land mines only. If casualties from explosive remnants of war are going up (and they seem to be), it’s got nothing to do with the treaty.

There is, however, an explosive remnants of war protocol, adopted in 2003. Too bad the anti-land mine activists hate the process that produced it. Why do they hate it? Because they don’t want agreements that control weapons. They just want to ban them.

Of course, the Times doesn’t know that context. It also doesn’t seem to know the context on funding for land mine clearance—even though they reported on it in 2016.

Back then, the Times cheered, “32 donors, led by the United States, contributed nearly $480 million … for mine clearance and victim aid. That was an increase of 22 percent from the year before.”

But the year before, funding dropped by 14 percent. So actually, funding—after a three-year drop that began in 2013—is now almost exactly where it was back in 2010. U.S. funding did fall slightly, but most of the decline came from Japan, the European Union, and especially Norway.

Now most of those donors have restored or increased their funding. There’s not much of a story here.

Treaties Will Solve Everything, Right?

So what does the Times propose we do about these supposed 8,605 casualties? Well, sign more treaties, of course.

Says the Times:

[T]he land mine and cluster munitions treaties are undercut by the refusal of some of modern warfare’s most powerful players to sign them. … Washington is not immune to moral suasion… . [Signing would be] a moral statement encouraging others to follow suit.

Are you seriously telling me you believe that, if the U.S. got rid of its land mines, ISIS would stop using improvised explosive devices and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would stop bombing his own population?

You have to be very stupid to believe that. But apparently, the New York Times Editorial Board does believe it.

It gets better. Why hasn’t the U.S. gotten rid of its land mines? Because South Korea uses mines to defend itself against North Korea, and South Korea is an ally of ours.

But according to the Times, “given the North’s nuclear buildup, a mined DMZ seems to be a Cold War vestige of diminished value.”

So because North Korea has nuclear weapons, we should abandon our land mines? I’m glad the Times wasn’t advising NATO on how to defend Western Europe during the Cold War.

One of the successes of 2017, according to the land mine ban advocates, was that Sri Lanka joined the 1999 treaty in December. According to the banners, that was because Sri Lanka did not “want to be associated with such an obsolete, abhorrent weapon.” Hah.

Actually, what happened was that in 2009 the Sri Lankan government won its brutal, 25-year-long civil war, during which it used land mines in enormous quantities. Now that it’s crushed its rebels, it doesn’t need land mines any more, so it joined the treaty. That’s the way these things work.

The Real Reason for Casualty Increases

Let’s cut to the chase. Why are the casualties that ICBL tracks going up?

Not because of land mines, or the 1999 treaty, or the fact the U.S. hasn’t signed it. They’re going up because the last few years have seen a lot of very bloody and indiscriminate wars during which a lot of improvised explosive devices were used, and those wars have left a lot of dud bombs lying around.

If those wars continue, and if improvised explosive device use continues to spread (as it assuredly will), casualties will go up. If they stop, casualties will in time go down. That’s it.

To be fair, the ICBL mischaracterizes its own findings too, so we shouldn’t just blame lazy, left-wing journalists. When the ICBL released its report back in December, it claimed that “a few intense conflicts … have resulted in very high numbers of mine casualties.”

If you took the word “mine” out of that sentence, it would be correct. But the ICBL can’t resist hyping its own cause.

Back in 2014, the land mine banners were crowing that their favorite treaty was making land mines a “weapon of the past.” But in the same year, when I looked at this issue for the first time, I made this prediction. It’s turned out to be completely correct:

The amount of unexploded ordnance in the world—and the number of [improvised explosive devices] used and [anti-personnel land mines] laid—is a lagged function of the number and viciousness of the world’s wars. The late 1980s and 1990s saw a lot of these wars, in Afghanistan, Colombia, Ethiopia/Eritrea, and the former Yugoslavia, among other places.

It’s not surprising that, as some of these wars cooled and unexploded [ordnance] was cleared, the number of casualties recorded by ICBL for its Landmine Report has declined. As war has come to Syria and Ukraine, and returned to Afghanistan, the next decade is likely to see more casualties. The anti-land-mine treaty is largely irrelevant to these trends.

Of course, the Times closes by blaming President Donald Trump. If only he wasn’t such a meanie, it sniffs, the U.S. would give up on cluster munitions, sign the land mines ban, and that good old moral suasion would kick into effect.

Nonsense.

Leaving aside the fact that moral suasion isn’t going to work on Assad and ISIS, all of these 2016 casualties—every one of them—occurred when President Barack Obama was leading from behind.

Maybe what was needed then—and now—wasn’t more U.S. signatures on treaties. Maybe it was more U.S. leadership to stop, or to win, those wars in Syria, Ukraine, and Afghanistan.

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To the Citizens of Iran: We Stand With You

Nothing is as powerful as the truth.

That’s why repressive regimes actively suppress free speech and assembly of their citizens. It’s also why America’s Founding Fathers enshrined these basic rights into our nation’s founding documents.

On Dec. 28, 2017, protesters in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, took to the streets to voice their concerns over their country’s economic distress and rising food prices. These protests quickly grew, spreading to dozens of cities across Iran.

Iran’s leaders cannot dismiss concerns about the rising price of goods and increasing unemployment in their country. The Iranian regime received a generous influx of cash in 2015 as part of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal. Iran’s citizens believed these payments would give their economy a much-needed boost.

The truth is that Iran’s government would rather fund terrorist groups, like Hezbollah and Hamas, than meet the basic domestic needs of its people.

Now, as citizens push back and call for change, the regime’s brutality is on display. In attempt to squash the protests, the government has restricted use of internet applications commonly used to communicate and share news.

The government has even at times resorted to using gunfire to disperse crowds. To date, more than 20 protesters have died and more than 450 have been arrested. Additionally, there are news reports of brutal treatment of protesters who have been imprisoned.

Given the regime’s crackdown, the future of these protests is uncertain. While it is unlikely the deep concerns of the Iranian people will be resolved quickly, we do know they will not easily be silenced. The average age of the protesters is 25, meaning the next generation of Iranians long for change.

We’ve seen anti-government protests in Iran before. In 2009, Iranians questioned then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection. The regime took the same actions, which led to thousands imprisoned and hundreds dead.

As the world watched this violence break out, the Iranian people looked to America for support, but our government largely stayed silent.

Thankfully, this administration has chosen a different approach. President Donald Trump has already taken vital first steps, vocalizing support from the executive branch and even implementing new sanctions on five entities who are subsidiaries to the regime’s defense ministry. More sanctions could follow as a direct result of the treatment of these protesters.

I believe the people of Iran deserve bipartisan American support in their pursuit of reforms and a democratic government.

I recently introduced a House resolution that formally stands with the citizens of Iran and calls for a peaceful outcome to the demonstrations. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced a Senate version of this resolution that has bipartisan support.

The House is expected to pass legislation this week that supports the rights of Iranians to free expression.

At this critical time, it is vital to lend our support to the Iranian people and their pursuit of freedom. As protests continue, we, as Americans, need to join together and say one thing to the brave citizens of Iran: We stand with you.

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What’s Next for Iran After Protests? 4 Elements to Watch

After backing the protesters standing up to the Iranian dictatorship, President Donald Trump will decide next week on whether to again waive sanctions–part of the Obama-era nuclear deal he has long criticized.

“In terms of signing a waiver later in January, the president hasn’t made a final decision on that,” @PressSec says.

The peaceful uprising, which began in late December in the city of Mashhad, has spread to cities such as Tehran, Qom, and Shiraz.

The protestors objected to the Iranian government concentrating much of the windfall from the $100 billion in unfrozen Iranian assets—resulting from the U.S.-led multilateral nuclear deal—to expand regional influence in the Middle East instead of dealing with domestic economic problems. Among the reported chants was “Leave Syria, think of us.”

Here’s what experts say could be next as the Iran drama unfolds.

1. What Else Can or Should the U.S. Do?

“Trump and Pence have been very good with rhetoric in comparison with the failed Obama approach of saying nothing in 2009,” Michael Makovsky, president of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, told The Daily Signal.

“But the administration needs to pivot beyond rhetoric,” Makovsky continued. “Iran wants to clamp down on demonstrations. They might win this round, but the administration can raise the cost. The administration is playing defense if they are playing at all.”

That doesn’t mean combat boots on the ground, Makovsky said. Rather, it means providing money, advisers, and perhaps even weapons to groups opposing Iranian expansion in the Middle East. He added that the U.S. should push for a “loose confederation” of groups to make up a government in Syria—replacing the Bashar Assad regime being buttressed by Iran.

“The Reagan doctrine was about supporting anti-communist forces,” Makovsky said. “The Trump administration should take a page from Reagan’s book about raising the cost of Soviet expansionism.”

Other experts are more cautious about direct involvement, but all agree on the need to increase dissent internally in Iran against the ruling Islamic regime.

Even as the Iranian regime seeks to block social media, the U.S. government should continue promoting their message on Radio FARDA, said Jim Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation. Radio FARDA is the Iranian branch of the U.S. government’s Radio Free Europe, which was used to help fight Soviet Union censorship during the Cold War. It broadcasts from the Czech Republic.

Phillips said the U.S. should also impose more sanctions on the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite division of the military charged with protecting the Islamic Republic system and carrying some political power.

2. End of Regime?

The protests prompt speculation about whether this is the beginning of the end of the government’s rule that first began with the Islamic revolution in 1979. That’s not yet likely, Phillips said.

“I doubt the regime will crumble from this protest but it will weaken the foundations of the regime,” Phillips told The Daily Signal. Noting the failure of the larger 2009 protest, he added, “Unless there is a big increase in the number, it’s not likely to succeed.”

The government crushed student demonstrations calling for freedom in 2003. After a disputed presidential election, the even larger “Green movement” began in 2009, with protesters demanding free and fair elections.

Still, the new protests have another dimension missing from the previous protests that involved mostly young, urban, and educated Iranians.

“The difference with this one is that it’s centered on the rural poor. Up to now, that has been the pillar of support for the regime,” Phillips said. “That’s where much of the Revolutionary Guard is pulled from. So, perhaps, down the line, the Revolutionary Guard will not be as dependable.”

Eventually, the government is doomed, but the timing is unpredictable, Phillips said, drawing a historical parallel.

“With the Soviet Union, once the people’s loyalty to an idea was shattered, the government had to fall back on coerced repression,” Phillips said. “When that happens, a regime’s days are numbered. I just don’t know the number.”

3. What Happens to the Obama-era Nuclear Deal?

The 2015 U.S.-led multilateral nuclear deal with Iran lifted sanctions on the regime in exchange for a temporary halt in development of nuclear weapons. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, included Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany.

In October, Trump announced the United States would not exit the deal entirely, but would decertify it under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA, by asserting the deal isn’t in America’s best interest.

While the Iran deal was never a treaty ratified by the Senate, critics say the 2015 INARA law, sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., helped codify in a congressionally-passed law an agreement that would otherwise be an executive action easily overturned by a future president.

Next week, by Jan. 12, Trump must decide whether to renew temporary waivers to U.S. sanctions against Iran—waivers he has previously issued.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was unclear about the president’s intentions when asked about the waivers on Jan. 2.

“We certainly keep our options open in terms of sanctions,” Sanders said. “In terms of signing a waiver later in January, the president hasn’t made a final decision on that, and he’s going to keep all of his options on the table in that regard.”

More than likely, Trump will continue the waivers, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“This [support for the protesters] should not be mixed with a debate about pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal,” Taleblu told The Daily Signal. “The decision on granting another waiver comes up next week. I expect he will waive. Even before the nuclear deal, the U.S. could impose non-nuclear sanctions. They can continue non-nuclear sanctions now.”

With that waiver, should come action from both Trump and Congress, Taleblu said. He said that Trump must continue to show the will to support protesters, call for Congress to make changes to INARA to make it stronger, and put pressure on European allies to demand that Iran change its behavior.

4. Will the Global Response Change?

Many experts agreed the bulk of European allies and the United Nations offered a muted response, even as the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Canada have criticized the Iranian regime.

“Europeans are trailing far behind because they are less concerned about security and ideas and more concerned about business and commercial interests,” Taleblu said. “Canada has been more responsive than Europe.”

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said this week, “Canada will continue to support the fundamental rights of the Iranians, including freedom of expression.”

French President Emmanuel Macron called for the Iranian government to show restraint against protesters, but later followed up with comments accusing the governments of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel with using rhetoric that “would lead us to war.”

France at least seems to be saying more than most European allied, Phillips said. He said U.S. leadership is likely needed.

“Washington needs to do more to pressure Europe. Most of Europe has glossed over the Iran regime’s abuses and concentrated on commercial priorities,” said Phillips. “Europeans operate under the misconception that trade will help open up the country, but it won’t evolve into a European-style democracy.”

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As American Women Put Their Pink Hats Back On, Iranian Rip Off Their Hijabs

As American women prepare to put on their pink hats for a second time to protest President Donald Trump on the anniversary of his inauguration, women in Iran are taking off their hijabs, protesting an oppressive theocratic regime.

For nearly 40 years since the 1979 revolution, Iranian women have been forced to follow the country’s mandatory dress code, which includes long, loose garments and headscarves known as hijabs. While wearing a hijab here in the United States is a sign of female empowerment, taking them off in Iran is the ultimate sign of defiance.

The anti-regime protests in Iran ignited days after the American press declared 2017 the “Year of the Woman,” where women here in the United States took to the streets by the millions to protest President Donald Trump, and shared their #MeToo moments of sexual harassment and assault. Given this, you’d think it’d be a no-brainer to align themselves with women reportedly leading their protests in search of freedom in cities like Isfahan.

But no. The Women’s March along with celebrity feminists have been silent, instead, choosing to tweet about their own happenings here in the First World.

According to Human Rights Watch, women in Iran are routinely and systematically discriminated against and oppressed. They’re banned from sports stadiums, even when their husbands, brothers, or sons are playing in the game. If they’re married, they can’t leave the country without their husband’s permission. And according to the BBC, they can’t even be “Happy.”

In 2014, three men and three women were reportedly arrested for the crime of dancing on camera to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.” They were sentenced up to 91 lashes and one year in jail.

And yet, liberal feminists in America such as Joy Behar think it’s us that have the problem. Speaking on “The View,” Behar compared what’s happening in Iran’s oppressive autocratic regime to protests against Donald Trump.

Here’s a wake-up call for American women who can’t seem to open their eyes to the true intolerances against women worldwide. In America, when men and women take to the streets to protest a democratically-elected president who they don’t like, they have police putting their lives on the line to protect them.

In Iran, when men and women dare to speak out against their government, they’re suppressed and sent to jail. Seven days into these rallies, at least 20 people are dead.

So let’s be clear: The uprise happening in Iran is far more important for women’s rights than any of our First World problems here in the United States. Instead of being silent—or worse, trying to draw parallels between Iranian women and ourselves—American women should support them. Because in Iran, unlike the United States, women’s lives may actually depend on it.

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Trump Just Cut Aid to Pakistan. Why This Long-Overdue Move Could Have a Real Impact.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s a lesson the U.S. government has learned the hard way in Pakistan.

Fortunately, the Trump administration’s recent decision to suspend $255 million in aid to Islamabad serves as a welcome injection of sanity into the deeply dysfunctional U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” President Donald Trump declared in a Jan. 1 tweet. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

The anger and frustration expressed by the president is not only justified, it’s long overdue. Through its support to the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and their militant allies, Pakistan has for over a decade consistently and critically undermined the U.S.-led effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

In efforts to persuade Islamabad to abandon this nefarious “double game,” the U.S. government has deployed a constant stream of diplomatic and economic carrots—including $33 billion in aid and “reimbursements” since 2002—but virtually no sticks.

Predictably, each attempt has failed. It turns out it’s quite difficult to change a country’s cost-benefit calculation when you’re unwilling to impose any costs.

Pakistan’s double game, on the other hand, has brought it tangible benefits.

Islamabad has clear and consistent objectives in Afghanistan: It seeks a government in Kabul that is pliable, submissive, and hostile to India. Since the Afghan people—who are now deeply, understandably hostile to Pakistan and favorable toward India—will never vote such a government into power, the next best outcome for Pakistan is to ensure the government and the country are divided and unstable.

Not only has their quest for instability in Afghanistan been wildly successful, they’ve convinced America to foot much of the bill.

After being subjected to this double game for more than a decade, the patience and generosity of the American people has reached its limit.

Frustration has been building on Capitol Hill for years, reflected in a steady decline of U.S. aid to Pakistan. From $2.60 billion in 2013 to $1.60 billion in 2015, the request for aid appropriations and military reimbursements in 2018 fell to just $350 million.

The Trump administration is rightly signaling to Islamabad that “business as usual” has come to an end.

Pakistan can’t say it wasn’t warned. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations,” Trump declared in August. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting. That will have to change and that will change immediately.”

Similarly, the Trump administration’s December 2017 national security strategy insisted: “[N]o partnership can survive a country’s support for militants and terrorists who target a partner’s own service members and officials.”

On the ground, the Trump administration has authorized the U.S. military to launch more—and more potent—drone strikes targeting militants operating along Pakistan’s western border after they were curtailed during the Obama administration’s second term.

This week, the administration also placed Pakistan on a special watch list for religious freedom violations.

At least one influential Pakistani politician seems to be taking the Trump administration seriously.

On Jan. 3, Nawaz Sharif, who resigned as prime minister in July, implored Pakistanis to “appraise our actions” and “break this spell of self-deception.” He said the time had come to put Pakistan’s “house in order” and “reflect on why the world holds negative opinions about us.”

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s all-powerful military appears unable to escape a prison of perpetual denial. “We have defeated extremism. … Now the terrorists come from Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s chief of air staff declared in November.

When U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Pakistan of “harbor[ing] the terrorists that attack our troops in Afghanistan,” a Pakistani military spokesman noted that Haley is of Indian origin and that the “current misunderstanding between Pakistan and the U.S. is created by India.”

That’s simply not going to cut it anymore. The status quo, long viewed by Washington as lamentable but tolerable, will no longer be a costless affair for Pakistan. Whether this leads our two countries toward a vicious cycle of hostility and recrimination is entirely dependent on Pakistan’s behavior.

As always, the path to stability, prosperity, and a true strategic partnership with America is clear: Abandon your support for Islamist extremists, end your paranoid infatuation with India, make peace with your Afghan neighbors, and respect freedom and religious liberty at home.

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Once Again, North Korea Is Reaching Out to the South. We Should Be Receptive, but Wary.

It has become tradition among North Korea watchers to dissect Pyongyang’s annual New Year’s Day speech for clues of potential policy changes.

Each year, some experts interpret benign-sounding passages as indicating North Korean reform or greater willingness to engage diplomatically with Washington or Seoul. Others interpret passages that extol North Korea’s military accomplishments as threats of imminent attack on the U.S. or its allies.

To get the full picture, it is important that we assess each benign or bombastic passage within the broader context of the speech, as well as in comparison with speeches in previous years.

Even more importantly, however, is to assess them in light of the actions North Korea has taken after past New Year’s Day speeches.

How ‘New’ Is This New Year’s message?

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s speech reiterated many of the same themes from previous iterations—blaming others for tension on the peninsula, vowing to uphold the socialist economic system, calling for vigilance against foreign and internal enemies, and extending an olive branch to South Korea.

But this year, Kim referenced the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea as a way to appeal for working toward Korean unification, without outside (i.e. U.S.) involvement.

After complaining that the new progressive South Korean government was no better than its conservative predecessors, Kim declared that “we should improve the frozen inter-Korean relations and glorify this meaningful year as an eventful one noteworthy in the history of the nation.”

Kim hinted that “we are willing to dispatch our delegation [and] the authorities of the North and the South may meet together soon. … It is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious [Olympics] event and help them.”

The progressive Moon Jae-in administration responded quickly by announcing its intention to reopen military hotlines and resume inter-Korean meetings—both of which Pyongyang had previously closed.

But as is characteristic of the North Korean regime, Kim imposed conditions on improving inter-Korean relations, declaring that Seoul “should respond positively to our sincere efforts for a détente [by] discontinu[ing] all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces, as these drills will engulf this land in flames and lead to bloodshed on our sacred territory.”

Pyongyang has long blamed allied military exercises—but not its own—as an obstacle to improved relations.

Pyongyang’s offer to attend the Olympics may seem novel, but almost all of its past New Year’s Day speeches have called for Seoul to resume the dialogue that Pyongyang had severed, or to reduce the tensions that North Korean had escalated with its provocations, threats, and deadly attacks.

None of those gestures from North Korea were ever matched by a change in the regime’s behavior.

Should North Korea Be Welcomed at the Olympics?

In the 1960s through the ‘80s, the international community was appalled by South Africa’s apartheid regime and thus banned the country from participating in Olympics.

But in response to North Korea’s far more egregious human rights violations—which the United Nations has ruled to be “crimes against humanity”—the world allows and even encourages Pyongyang to participate.

Why the double standard?

The international community has long tried, and failed, to moderate North Korean behavior and bring about political and economic reform by asking Pyongyang to participate in sporting and other cultural events. Yet with each new attempt, optimists breathlessly anticipate that this time, the appeasement will work.

The 2000 Sydney Olympics was one such example. Taking place only six months after the historic first inter-Korean summit, the sight of North and South Korean athletes walking together behind a non-national unification flag was uplifting and a sign of hope.

Yet behind the scenes, North Korea had demanded and received a secret payment from Seoul, along with payment for the North’s uniforms, and agreement that the North’s delegation would not be outnumbered by the South’s. This prevented many South Korean athletes and coaches from marching into the stadium as part of the Korean entourage.

An inspiring sight to be sure, but as with visits by symphonies and other cultural and sporting envoys, this gesture failed to alter North Korea’s policies and real-world behavior.

Similarly, other attempts at sports diplomacy at events in South Korea—including the 2002 Asian Games, the 2003 University Games, the 2005 Asian Athletics Championship, and the 2014 Asian Games—all failed to improve inter-Korean relations. In 1987, Pyongyang downed a civilian airliner in an attempt to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

But as the world seeks to isolate and pressure North Korea for its repeated violations of United Nations resolutions, it should ask itself: Why is Pyongyang still allowed to participate in the Olympics, but South Africa was shunned?

Reducing the Potential for Conflict  

During the last year, the danger of military hostilities on the Korean Peninsula has risen precipitously due to North Korea’s growing military capabilities, particularly as it closes in on the ability to target the U.S. homeland with nuclear weapons.

The Trump administration’s own messaging toward North Korea has also inflamed tensions. It has signaled willingness to initiate military strikes on North Korea, even without indications of imminent regime attack. This has escalated tensions and unnerved allies. Conflicting policy statements from the administration and the president’s bombastic tweets have unnecessarily antagonized the situation.

U.S. and South Korean diplomats should be willing to meet North Korean counterparts if indeed Pyongyang is now prepared to engage. Washington and Seoul should emphasize efforts to reduce the potential for conflict on the Korean Peninsula, particularly measures to build mutual confidence and security.

But dialogue shouldn’t come at the cost of giving out concessions or reducing the international effort to pressure North Korea for its repeated violations of United Nations resolutions.

Nor should South Korea promise economic benefits that would themselves violate the resolutions, such as resuming the failed joint economic experiment at Kaesong.

As always, we must hold a healthy skepticism toward assertions that the North Korean leopard has suddenly changed his spots. Because, as a Korean adage points out, “the same animal can have soft fur and sharp claws.”

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Once Manipulated by Obama Administration on Iran, Media Still Peddles Wrong Narrative

Dramatic images of the protests rocking Iran should be a reminder of how good we have it in the United States and how easy it is to lose perspective.

In America, a “war on women” is defined by progressives as failing to force nuns to pay for birth control. In Iran, a woman can be punished for not wearing a hijab and a man can be brutally executed for being gay.

While the left has a penchant for accusing America of oppression while excusing foreign malfeasance, its refusal to criticize Iran still stands out.

CNN oddly defined the movement as “pro-government protests,” before issuing a correction.

The New York Times Tehran bureau chief, Thomas Erdbrink, reported on New Year’s Day that the protests were ongoing as the Iranian people “ignored calls for calm,” as if the movement was simply driven by a few rowdy troublemakers instead of having larger political implications for a tyrannical government.

Many have compared Erdbrink’s reporting to the actions of infamous New York Times Moscow bureau chief, Walter Duranty, who denied the communist forced famine in Ukraine in the 1930s that killed millions of people.

In November, Erdbrink reported that Iran had “united” in opposition to Trump and Saudi Arabia.

Clearly, they weren’t.

While the nature of the decentralized group of protests remains somewhat clouded, Jim Phillips, Heritage Foundation senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs, explained in The Daily Signal how corruption, a sudden surge in food prices, and importantly, the repressive Islamist ideology of the powers that be, have contributed to the toxic stew of resentment.

“We don’t want an Islamic Republic,” “Down with Hezbollah,” and “Death to the dictator,” are reportedly common chants by protesters.

The fact is that there is deep discontent with the Islamist theocracy that has ruled the country since the 1979 revolution and many are now willing to risk their lives to end its abuses. The nation’s rulers are hardly pro-Western moderates.

Phillips wrote:

Rouhani’s faction is more pragmatic than the ultra-hardliners, but it is by no means ‘moderate.’ Rouhani is the tactful leader of the Iranian state, but Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, remains the implacable spearhead of Iran’s Islamist revolution. The two have worked closely for years and continue to collaborate as a ‘good cop/bad cop’ tag team.

For a media that likes to perceive itself as speaking truth to power, coverage has been strangely tepid as it continues to define the government as a moderating force compared to more dangerous hard-liners. It has also danced around the Iranian government’s role in perpetuating Islamist doctrines, both at home and abroad.

This is par for the course.

The media collectively yawned last month when a bombshell Politico report came out claimed the Obama administration put the lid on an investigation into Iran-backed Hezbollah’s drug-trafficking and terrorism activities during the nuclear deal negotiations.

So why is it that the media is ignoring this ongoing story and skating around the facts?

Conservative writer Lee Smith answered that question in Tablet Magazine, writing that the nature of their reporting derives from two main sources of information: “the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Obama White House.”

“Without government minders providing them with story-lines and experts, American reporters are simply lost—and it shows,” Smith wrote.

President Donald Trump was quick to tweet about the protests and explicitly call out the Iranian regime’s repressive and destructive policies.

This contrasted sharply with former President Barack Obama’s reaction to the wave of Iranian unrest that sprung up after a disputed election in 2009. Obama initially said he was “troubled” by the turmoil but ultimately hoped that Iran would sort things out. He refrained from explicitly condemning the regime and made no signal that he would support protesters, even rhetorically.

The legacy media still closely follows the message peddled by Obama and his former deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, who was one of the chief architects of the Iran nuclear deal.

To lay the groundwork for the deal, Rhodes, whose background was in fiction writing, proudly boasted of manipulating clueless media allies in a 2016 New York Times Magazine profile of his work.

“We created an echo chamber,” Rhodes said in the profile. “They [the media] were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

Changing the negative public perception of Iran was a tall order. Not too long before the George W. Bush administration had labeled the country, which has been a long-term thorn in U.S. Middle East policy, among the “axis of evil” along with North Korea and Iraq.

To get Americans and Congress on board with this shift in strategy, the Obama administration had to convince them that loosening up sanctions on Iran was a good thing because Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a “moderate.”

Normalizing the regime provided a chance to cool their nuclear aspirations, so the reasoning went.

This was a farce that the media ate up and still continues to peddle.

One doesn’t want to fall too much into the trap of thinking all populist, democratic movements, even ones under tyrannical governments, are good.

But it is important, when the time is right, for American leaders to forcefully rebuke tyranny and repression.

Right now, the media is too worried about the president blocking people from his personal Twitter account and protecting Obama’s legacy to bother uncovering the truly heinous policies and ideology of a cruel Iranian regime.

The post Once Manipulated by Obama Administration on Iran, Media Still Peddles Wrong Narrative appeared first on The Daily Signal.

The Media Is Upset About Trump’s ‘Nuclear Button’ Wars. Why We Should Ignore Them.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump both claim to have big red nuclear buttons.

Who cares? We shouldn’t.

In his New Year’s address, Rocket Man reportedly announced he had a “red button” on his desk and he was ready to use it.

Trump tweeted back, saying that his button is much bigger.

The tweets themselves are actually not worthy of all the histrionic reporting and punditry that followed.

First, Trump doesn’t have a nuclear release button on his desk. In all likelihood, Kim doesn’t either. In both cases, the release and employment of nuclear weapons is not nearly as cavalier as the tweeting or the hysterical pundits suggest.

We are coming up on the anniversary of the premier of Dr. Strangelove. Maybe they have all seen the movie one too many times.

Second, we already know Kim has a nuclear capability. We also know his nuclear arsenal at present is not capable of doing what he claimed in the speech. Kim lies a lot. No news there.

Third, Kim’s threat was actually defensive in nature. He said he would use his nuclear arms—if attacked. That is not a new policy. Further, the likelihood of U.S. preventative military action is near zero.

Fourth, the U.S. has a much, much, much bigger and more capable arsenal than North Korea. That’s not news. The administration has frequently stated a retaliatory policy that if North Korea fired a nuclear weapon at us or our allies, we would fire a bunch back. That’s not news.

So other than the colorful metaphors, what’s new here? Nothing.

Critics fret that the taunting rhetoric could lead to miscalculation and war. Their evidence for that is less than zero.

North Korea has engaged in fiery rhetoric for decades. There is virtually little correlation between what they scream and what they actually do. Sometimes they line up. Often they don’t.

Likewise, Trump has given to Kim as good as he gets on social media. There is no evidence the rhetoric per se has heightened tensions.

Indeed, there is scant likelihood that we are inevitably marching toward war. South Korea in fact just announced that North Korea has reopened the border hotline.

What has heightened tensions is North Korea’s increasing demonstration of an expanding nuclear capability. The U.S. needs a strong and consistent strategy for that, working in concert with Japan and South Korea.

That’s all that matters. The rhetorical war does not.

The Chicken Littles are starting 2018 just like they ended 2017: by obsessively focusing on the rhetorical war of words without context, and without considering the actual interests and polices of the actors involved.

That’s why the track record of journalists and analysts who focused almost exclusively on the president’s tweets, off-hand comments, campaign speeches, and statements (some of which were reported anonymously and are therefore less reliable) was pretty dismal.

The U.S. did not abandon NATO. Trump did not hand Europe over to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He did not abandon Taiwan. And he did not do any of the things that some said he would do—basing their assessments on presidential rhetoric and little more.

Sure, words matter. But in matters of statecraft, rhetoric matters in the context of action.

It might be understandable that some obsessed about the tweets a year ago, when the administration had little policy and not much of a track record. But now it’s a year later. The administration has lots of policy on the books, including a new National Security Strategy.

The administration has also had a year of practicing foreign policy, which so far looks more conventional overall than either of the last two presidents. What’s the excuse now for going nuclear over every tweet?

While pundits and journalists choose to be distracted by every tweet, that doesn’t mean we have to. Let’s make a resolution in 2018 to be reasonable.

Maybe you hate the president. Maybe you hate the tweeting. But if you want to analyze what actual U.S. policies are, try being reasonable.

The post The Media Is Upset About Trump’s ‘Nuclear Button’ Wars. Why We Should Ignore Them. appeared first on The Daily Signal.

What the US Should Do as Protests Escalate in Iran Against the Islamist Regime

Iran has been rocked by a wave of protests against the Islamist regime since Dec. 28.  Popular demonstrations ignited by smoldering resentment about Iran’s mismanaged economy quickly escalated to political denunciations of Tehran’s rulers.

President Donald Trump was quick to offer support to the protesters in a series of tweets. At 7:44 a.m. New Year’s Day, he tweeted:

Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!

Early chants about price hikes have given way to increasingly bold criticisms of what the protesters see as a corrupt and repressive government that fails to meet their needs. Their demands varied.

Early chants about price hikes have given way to increasingly bold criticisms of what the protesters see as a corrupt and repressive government that fails to meet their needs. Their demands have varied.

Some chanted, “We don’t want an Islamic Republic” and “Death to the dictator,” the latter being a reference to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Economic Resentments Amplify Political Revulsion

The protests apparently were triggered by a surge in prices of basic food supplies, which also had contributed to early Arab Spring protests six years ago. Protests spread quickly, sparked by social-media posts, as state-controlled media blocked press coverage.

These are the largest protests since millions of Iranians flooded the streets in 2009 to protest against then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rigged re-election. But the regime crushed those protests in a brutal crackdown in which at least 30 people were killed and thousands were arrested, tortured, and imprisoned.

So far, the ongoing protests have not reached the size of the 2009 Green Movement demonstrations, when millions of Iranians took to the streets in protest. Twelve people have been killed in demonstrations, with 10 of the deaths inflicted amid intensifying clashes on Sunday night.

Some of the early protests in Mashhad reportedly were organized by ultra-hard-line regime supporters opposed to Rouhani, and may have been designed to undermine his authority.

Pro-regime demonstrations denouncing the 2009 Green Movement leaders also may have provoked a political backlash.

Unemployment remains high at more than 12 percent, and inflation has resurged to 10 percent. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which a government spokesman blamed on a cull over avian-flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

Hundreds of students and others joined a new economic protest at Tehran University, a hotbed of prior student protests against the regime.  Iranian students historically have played a leading role in several revolutionary movements, including the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The tense situation at Tehran University will be a litmus test for the strength of the protest movement and of the regime’s ability to contain, suffocate, or crush the protests.

The Revolutionary Guards, which crushed protests in 2009 and take the lead in exporting Iran’s Islamic revolution and terrorism, remain a strong repressive force that is likely to crush the student rebellion if the local police prove to be inadequate.

Trump’s Rapid Response

Trump tweeted out his support for the protests Saturday morning:

Trump is right that simmering resentment over the costs of Iran’s aggressive foreign policy have led protesters to call for more spending at home and less on support of radical groups abroad.

Some of the new protests have specifically denounced the regime’s extensive corruption and its costly involvement in regional conflicts, such as those in Syria and Iraq.

In Mashhad, some chanted, “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran,” a reference to what protesters say is the regime’s focus on exporting the revolution, rather than responding to domestic needs.

They also denounced Iran’s theocratic leaders: “The people are begging; the clerics act like God.”

Washington must continue to drive up the long-term political, economic, and military costs of Iran’s military interventions in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It should underscore that the regime’s economic mismanagement, corruption, and support for terrorism and Islamic revolution, which provoked sanctions, have exacerbated Iran’s economic problems.

U.S. policy should also highlight and denounce the regime’s repression and human rights abuses. But the protests might soon be quelled, dissolve into competing camps led by rival leaders, or be hijacked by hostile anti-Western forces, as many of the Arab Spring revolts were hijacked.

Washington should support the right of Iranians to challenge the heavy-handed repression and corruption of a tyrannical regime, but it should hold off on endorsing specific opposition leaders or movements until their character and goals are assessed.

Until then, the Trump administration should do its best to publicize and promote the legitimate political and economic grievances of frustrated Iranians and support their efforts to recover freedom from an Islamist dictatorship that depends on thugs to suppress its own people.

The post What the US Should Do as Protests Escalate in Iran Against the Islamist Regime appeared first on The Daily Signal.

The New York Times Left Socialism’s Role Out of Its Report on Venezuela’s Devastation

Kudos to The New York Times–yes, The New York Times–for running an excellent, detailed story on the mass starvation and economic catastrophe taking place in Venezuela.

As the Times notes, Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves in the world, yet is going through a starvation crisis exacerbated and hidden by its own government.

Common items like baby formula are almost unattainable for the average person and the crisis is deepening.

Alas, missing from the Times analysis is nearly any discussion of the reality that Venezuela is a socialist country once praised by America’s liberal elite.

In fact, only a single mention of the ruling Socialist party near the end of the piece can be found.

Venezuela was once praised by left-wing pundits—including in the Times’ opinion section—for being a model of glowing success.

In fact, scoffing at claims of Venezuela’s alleged mismanagement under then-president Hugo Chavez, one New York Times contributor wrote in 2012:

Since the Chávez government got control over the national oil industry, poverty has been cut by half, and extreme poverty by 70 percent. College enrollment has more than doubled, millions of people have access to health care for the first time and the number of people eligible for public pensions has quadrupled.

Less than half a decade later, the collapse has come. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who once published an op-ed in the New York Times, has made himself a dictator as the country faces run-away inflation reminiscent of Zimbabwe.

Venezuela’s inflation spiked to 4,115 percent at the end of 2017, according to a CNN Money report, leading more than one economist to conclude that the country’s economy is in a “death spiral.”

So how did Venezuela get here?

The answer is that socialism, as always, ends with running out of other people’s money.

James M. Roberts, the research fellow in freedom and growth at The Heritage Foundation, wrote about how dysfunctional policies such as nationalizing industries and redistribution schemes have destroyed a once thriving country.

The private economy has been almost completely wrecked, and is now unable to meet even the most basic demands of the population.

But it isn’t just socialist policies that have led to this catastrophe. Venezuela is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and has very little economic freedom.

Roberts wrote: “Venezuela’s score in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index makes it the most corrupt country in the Western Hemisphere, and helped drag the country to the bottom of The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom, too.”

As Heritage’s Latin American policy analyst, Ana Quintana, noted in The Hill, Venezuela’s leaders have managed to secure for themselves absolute power and wealth through repressive government actions and turning their country into a criminal enterprise.

Their leaders are “directly involved in corruption, the drug trade, human rights violations, and support for terrorist groups,” Quintana wrote.

For instance, the current Venezuelan vice president, Tareck El Aissami, was designated by the U.S. Treasury as  drug kingpin with connections to Islamist terrorist organizations. He’s been hit with heavy sanctions by the Trump administration, but is a good example of the kinds of problems that pervade Venezuela’s government.

He’s only one of many.

Despite egalitarian socialist rhetoric, Venezuela’s ruling class has managed to both enrich itself and protect that wealth at the expense of the public.

With outright corruption rampant, promises of material care by a by a benevolent state can seem appealing as an alternative to “capitalism” when capitalism is simply defined as cronies in government working with cronies in big business for their own benefit.

Alas, like in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” the new overlords end up being just like the old ones, or worse.

The rule of law and a free economy have generally combined to form the secret sauce of a flourishing economy.

Lacking both, Venezuela has somehow squandered a gold mine–or oil reserves to be more literal—in its downward descent into bankruptcy, tyranny, and mass starvation. Being oil rich has only masked the deep dysfunction under the surface of the Venezuelan regime.

Perhaps this should be a sobering wake-up call to millennials who in worryingly large numbers say they’d rather live under socialism or communism rather than capitalism.

Socialism’s failures in the last century should be enough to disabuse Americans of any notion that this broken political philosophy, which runs counter to human nature, is in any way the answer to our problems.

But if history fails to be a guide, then the modern demonstration of yet another socialist country immolating itself, starving its people, and destroying any measure of real democracy should be evidence enough.

The post The New York Times Left Socialism’s Role Out of Its Report on Venezuela’s Devastation appeared first on The Daily Signal.