Interview With Claudia Rosett On Middle East And Ground Zero Mosque
September 20, 2010
By Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media recently interviewed Claudia Rosett, the director of the Investigative Reporting Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, about Iraq , Iran , Afghanistan , Israel and the “Ground Zero Mosque” for AIM’s weekly BlogTalkRadio show, Take AIM.
Her work can also be found at The Rosett Report at pajamasmedia.com, and at forbes.com, where she writes a weekly column. Ms. Rosett writes on international affairs, drawing on 27 years of experience as a journalist and editor, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, Latin America, and the Middle East. Since 2002, she has exposed the U.N. Oil for Food scandal, the largest financial fraud in history, and she appeared before four U.S. House Committees and Sub-Committees to testify on U.N.-related corruption. Her work on Oil for Food earned Claudia the 2005 Eric Breindel Award. She served as a member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board in New York from ’97 to 2002; as a reporter, and then bureau chief, of The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau, covering the former Soviet Union; and as an editorial page editor of the Asian Wall Street Journal from 1986 to 1993. Her on-site coverage of China ’s 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising won Ms. Rosett an Overseas Press Club Citation for Excellence. In 1994, she broke the full story of North Korean labor camps in the Russian far east—reporting from the camps. She holds degrees from Yale, Columbia, and the University of Chicago.
Below are excerpts from the interview, which took place on September 2nd. You can listen to the entire interview, or read a transcript of it here.
“But the problem here is, Iraq isn’t a long-established democracy. It still, in the long scheme of things, quite recent, that they began to hold real elections, that they began to have any real freedom to form political coalitions. Remember, for decades it had all been shaped by Saddam, and any sort of vibrant or enterprising political culture had just been snuffed out. People had their tongues ripped out, and were thrown off buildings, for daring to speak up. And the expectation now, that this is all just going to work smoothly, as if it were the United States—that’s unrealistic and, add in that you have a very, very troublesome, meddling neighbor next door—Iran—has designs and interests there, and you’re leaving—you’re sort of looking now to a country that’s still really kind of getting its act together, and in a neighborhood where President Obama has been doing nothing—I mean, we’ve got sanctions on Iran, but they’re not going to stop the nuclear program—to send the message that you don’t mess with America or its allies. So you’re leaving this exposed country where they’ve come far but there’s still all sorts of political complexities that have yet to be worked out. So let me make that simpler: I think there would be a better chance if, instead of treating it as a page that must be turned, President Obama had presented it as a victory that we will go to enormous lengths, and we are absolutely determined, to preserve. That’s the message he should have sent.”
“Again, he seems to think that one of the most important things is to set a deadline for when you’re going to end the war. Wars don’t work that way, okay? You end the war when you win the war. That’s when you end the war. Or you lose the war. But that’s how wars end. And in Afghanistan , credit him that he is staying there, that he has made some effort to try and figure out, ‘Okay, how can we deal with this thing?’ But he doesn’t really talk about ‘victory.’ He doesn’t talk about ‘winning.’”
“They come from completely different worlds. General Petraeus is the man we can thank for leading—along with thanking President Bush for having the will to stick with the surge in Iraq—we can thank General Petraeus for being the man who really carried that out, who was vital in designing it, making it happen, making it work. He knows war, he knows the field, he understands that, and, on the other hand, you have this sort of—I’m sorry to say it, but this is true, and it concerns me greatly—you have this kind of precious product of Occidental College, Columbia, Harvard Law School, community organizing. He has never really dealt with war, he doesn’t really know much about the military. What, I think, he did know, largely consisted of resenting the things they have done, and questioning the missions they were sent on. Again, over and over, we get this sort of distinction: ‘Okay, we’re going to honor the troops, but disparage the wars in which they are giving up their lives.’ These are two different worlds that they come from. One can hope that President Obama will figure it out, but it’s very late in the day, and the cost of a public education for a President of the United States is very, very high.”
“Abbas—the Palestinians’ leadership doesn’t want it. They would be out of business if all the misery and trouble ceased. They’ve fed off it for years. I’m sorry to be this blunt, but there’s this huge shakedown racket that goes on here, and Palestinian leaders have done well out of it—actually, I wouldn’t call them leaders. Palestinian rulers—okay—have done well out of it for a long, long time. The Palestinians themselves have not done so well out of it. And we’re going through this again. President Obama seems to be operating on this premise that if he just shows that he wants to make everybody talk, and he’s just sort of open to everybody having one great collective group hug, and if the Israelis don’t like that—because their real problem right now is, they’re being threatened by the Iranian nuclear program, the Iranian government, and Iran’s pet mascot terrorists in Gaza, and out of Lebanon, Hamas and Hezbollah—that’s really not President Obama’s problem. That seems to be how he looks at it.”
“And the focus on Israeli-Palestinian dealings—that really is something he ought to be leaving to the Israelis and Palestinians right now. He should be focusing on an enormous threat that’s really going to have a significant effect on what we call ‘the world order,’ that being Iran .”
“ Iran has said—its leaders have repeatedly said—they wish to ‘wipe Israel off the map.’ Their media is full of propaganda about hating Jews, getting rid of Israel —they don’t draw a distinction, really, between anti-Semitism, anti-Israeli sentiments, all that. They just want it gone. You can argue, ‘Well, they would prefer to have that enemy out there’—like the Collective Hate in George Orwell’s 1984. But, again, what a perilous, terrible time for the democratic state of Israel . And it would be a great mistake for Americans, especially the President, to read this as some distant threat that is of no great concern to us. It’s a terrible danger to everybody.”
“The name given to this project by Imam Feisal and his wife, Daisy Khan, was ‘Cordoba House,’ which they pitched as an era in which there was great harmony between religions in ancient Spain . Actually, it was the period of the Cordoba Caliphate, the Muslim conquest, when Islam ruled in that part of the world. Okay? When people began pointing this out, they changed the name of the project to ‘Park51,’ which sounds more like a real estate project. And they began saying, ‘It’s not really a mosque, it’s a community center.’ Well, it will have a mosque—and there, too, you can look at it either as a community center with a mosque, or a mosque with a community center attached—but it’s definitely a mosque, right near Ground Zero, with this triumphalist name that they picked.”
“It’s a very complicated problem: How do you actually sort out people who are simply Muslims who are just trying to practice their religion and have a decent life for themselves and their kids, from mosques that are busy breeding really violent terrorist stuff, or busy trying to subvert the freedoms that America is built on? How do you separate that? That’s a complicated question, and what this group, what this trio, has done, Mr. Rauf and his wife, Mrs. Khan, is plant that debate right next to Ground Zero. This is a debate that should be going on a respectful distance away from the place where those Twin Towers came down. It shouldn’t be carried right to the edge. What they’ve done is, force it into the hottest spot it could be, and then Daisy Khan was on TV, a week ago Sunday, calling America a place ‘beyond Islamophobia,’ a place that hates Muslims, a place of bigots.”