Five Best Thursday Columns

Iran's act of war, Slovakia's stand, and Whitey's neighbor

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Louis Freeh on an undeserved terrorism designation "The Obama administration has bent to the will of Tehran's mullahs and their Iraqi allies on a key issue," writes former FBI director Louis Freeh in The New York Times. The State Dept. currently keeps the Mujahedeen Khalq, an exiled Iranian opposition group of 3,400 unarmed members now in Iraq, on its list of official terrorist organizations. This classification gives Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki justification to brutally murder many of the group's members. "Mr. Maliki has now given the Mujahedeen Khalq until Dec. 31 to close the camp and disperse its residents throughout Iraq." The U.S. added the group to its terrorist list in 1997, and as FBI director at the time, Freeh concluded the move was mostly a political overture to the Iranian regime. "For better or worse, the State Department often makes politically motivated designations, which is why the Irish Republican Army was never put on the list," he writes. "Since leaving office, I have carefully reviewed the facts and stand by the conclusion that the Mujahedeen Khalq is not a terrorist organization and should be removed from the State Department's list immediately." Britain, the E.U., and independent terrorism experts have agreed. In 2001, the group renounced violence and in 2003 it handed over its weapons to Americans in Iraq. Fifteen months after a court order required the State Dept. to clarify what evidence it has for its classification, the Department. is still reviewing the case. "The reason is clear: there is no evidence."

Fred Hiatt on South Korea's ambitious president South Korea's president Lee Myung-bak will address a joint session of Congress Thursday afternoon, and his life story should tell legislators something about Korea's stunning rise in the past 60 years, writes Fred Hiatt in The Washington Post. U.S. jets accidentally killed two of Lee's siblings during the Korean war. He grew up without enough food and paid for college by carting garbage at 4 a.m. "Like his country, Lee traced an improbable, driven path from desperate poverty to surprised prosperity" beginning when he graduated and joined Hyundai, then a construction company with only 90 employees. After he built it into a company with 170,000 workers, he went into politics, eventually wining the presidency in 2007. Today South Korea is a world leader, combating international piracy, committing resources to Afghanistan, fighting malaria in Africa, and exporting products and culture to the world. "Yet with the basic goals of Lee's generation achieved, many younger Koreans seem uncertain of what comes next." Public opinion polls show anxiety about rising inequality, an overly competitive educational system, and a high suicide rate. Lee's approval rating is at 30 percent, and that's higher than his opposition. The society is rapidly aging as the birth rate remains low and the life expectancy rises. "Lee has tried to set new ambitions for South Korea as a 'global, mature country' with a devotion to green energy and other innovation," Hiatt says, but as his term limit arrives, he can only encourage the country to maintain the drive that led to his rise for so much longer.
Reuel Marc Gerecht on Iran's act of war If the facts put forward by the Justice Department are true about a plotted Iranian attack on U.S. soil, it confirms that Iran's regime "is becoming more dangerous, not less, as it ages," writes former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht in The Wall Street Journal. Since 1989, the rise of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has kept a conservative theocracy in power. Their most recent attempt to attack America at home is troubling because the regime has typically feared "American outrage." "Khamenei, who many analysts have depicted as a cautious man in foreign affairs, has been a party -- probably the decisive party -- to every single terrorist operation Iran has conducted overseas since Khomeini's death." Khamenei is "the undisputed ruler of Iran" and has been ever since he cast aside the president who installed him, Rafsanjani. Some hope the assassination plot came from a "faction within the regime" but this would be to ignore the autocracy that Khamenei successfully installed. "Lord help Qasim Soleimani -- the man who likely has control over the Revolutionary Guards' elite dark-arts Qods Force, which apparently orchestrated this assassination scheme -- if he didn't clear the operation with Khamenei. He will lose his job and perhaps his life." The latest plot indicates Khamenei no longer fears serious American military retaliation. We are withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq and we have not aggressively punished Iran's advancing nuclear program. The White House will probably respond with sanctions, but those won't be enough, Gerecht says. "The White House needs to respond militarily to this outrage. If we don't, we are asking for it."
Juliette Kayyem on naming Whitey's tipster Many have argued this week over The Boston Globe's decision to print the name of the tipster who led the FBI to longtime fugitive Whitey Bulger this summer. But before the Globe named Anna Bjornsdottir, a former Icelandic beauty queen, there was little mystery as to her identity, writes Globe columnist Juliette Kayyem. Shortly after Bulger's arrest, a law enforcement source told media that an Icelandic neighbor of Bulger's in his southern California community turned him in. "Did anyone think there were two?" Kayyem asks. The legal system, in relying on tipsters to solve cases, ensures two things: First that no one will exact revenge on a tipster. Second, the government will reward the tipster for the risk and inconvenience of coming forward. On the first point, the FBI never worried about violence against Bjornsdottir, as Bulger's gang has long since been dismantled. On the second point, the FBI rewarded Bjornsdottir with $2 million for the risk that her privacy might be violated. Government officials had to think about how much her privacy was worth, and because it is "they who will have to persuade future tipsters to come forward, and to compensate them," there was incentive for them to protect her. "But for some reason -- perhaps the strange symbiotic relationship between law enforcement and the Bulger legacy, or the fun of having the evil Whitey meet his match in an Icelandic beauty queen -- someone in the FBI bureaucracy apparently got careless." Bjornsdottir probably knew she risked losing her privacy, but she probably didn't know the FBI wouldn't even attempt to maintain it, instead offering up hugely identifying details about her to the press. "Her privacy was sacrificed for a good yarn well before we knew her name."
Mats Persson on Slovakia's stand Richard Sulik, leader of a Slovakian opposition party that opposes Euro-zone bailouts, "has emerged as Brussels's public enemy No. 1," writes Mats Persson in The Wall Street Journal. His party's "refusal to back changes to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) led to the collapse of the Slovak coalition government on Tuesday." Thus has it been labelled "a central European tea party." Persson notes the arguments that favor approving the EFSF (which a new Slovakian coalition will likely approve later this week.) It will strengthen Europe's banks. But it is also easy to see why Slovakia isn't anxious to help Greece solve its problems. "Going into this crisis, average earnings in Slovakia stood at €8,700 per year, while in Greece they were around €23,900." Slovakia has also been forced to undergo painful reform in the transition from communism to democracy in order to earn membership to the EU and euro-zone. "By streamlining its tax code, labor market, and social welfare and pension systems, it reduced unemployment, attracted foreign investors and created a base for long-term economic growth." Their public and private banks were liquidized and restructured, and now "Slovakia is now being asked to provide loan guarantees to bail out countries that failed to enact similar reforms. You can see the potential for moral hazard on a huge scale." Huge central European banks will not have to restructure "even though this is an absolutely necessary part of any long-term solution to the crisis." Europe isn't learning, continuing to give Greece the next tranche of bailout funds though it hasn't met its mark for austerity measures. "Moving forward, it is encouraging that euro-zone leaders are now considering ways to manage a hard Greek default while finally looking at ways to recapitalize euro-zone banks," but they should keep in mind the need for conditions. Without imposing consequences, they will only encourage future economic disaster.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.