Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 2007

Boot and Hanson, Round Three: Just Enough to Stave Off Defeat

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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Vandals in Berlin

January 27, 1945—the date of the liberation of Auschwitz—is commemorated in Germany as Holocaust Day, and this year it was marked by vandalism. The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was defaced, evidently by neo-Nazis, who treated it as if it were a public latrine. Even more distressing is the revelation that such vandalism has been a constant problem since the memorial’s opening, a problem that has been deliberately downplayed by city authorities, allegedly to discourage copycat acts.

Since the controversial memorial’s site was selected in 1992, fear that it would invite just this sort of vandalism has abounded. It stands at the very epicenter of Berlin, just south of the Brandenburg Gate, around the corner from the new American embassy. But now we see that it is not the location of the memorial but its peculiar design that makes it prone to defacement. Designed by Peter Eisenman, the monument consists of some 2,711 concrete pillars, or stelae, arranged on a rigid geometric grid and spreading out over five acres. The paths between these pillars are so narrow that only one person can comfortably pass between them. Eisenman’s intent, it seems, was to make the viewer’s confrontation with the monument’s bleak, pitiless geometry as intense and solitary an experience as possible. Too solitary, alas: it clearly offers an endless number of secluded corners for mischief.

When the memorial opened two years ago, Eisenman resisted attempts to make it more secure against vandalism, including restrictions on admittance and on behavior within the memorial. He stalwartly argued for the right of children to play on the site, and to jump from pillar to pillar, saying that these activities evoke “the sounds of life” of an urban Jewish neighborhood. A memorable battle he lost in this arena was his objection to the treatment of the concrete pillars with an anti-graffiti coating. Eisenman told reporters that graffiti ranks as a healthy and legitimate creative outlet in his native New York, and that he “didn’t want the graffiti coating” because he considers vandalism “an expression of the city.”

Any thriving city, we should recognize, can express many things. The trick lies in recognizing which of these expressions constitutes a death threat—an obligation all the more incumbent on the Berlin authorities for the tragic gravity of the monument’s origin and purpose.

January 27, 1945—the date of the liberation of Auschwitz—is commemorated in Germany as Holocaust Day, and this year it was marked by vandalism. The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was defaced, evidently by neo-Nazis, who treated it as if it were a public latrine. Even more distressing is the revelation that such vandalism has been a constant problem since the memorial’s opening, a problem that has been deliberately downplayed by city authorities, allegedly to discourage copycat acts.

Since the controversial memorial’s site was selected in 1992, fear that it would invite just this sort of vandalism has abounded. It stands at the very epicenter of Berlin, just south of the Brandenburg Gate, around the corner from the new American embassy. But now we see that it is not the location of the memorial but its peculiar design that makes it prone to defacement. Designed by Peter Eisenman, the monument consists of some 2,711 concrete pillars, or stelae, arranged on a rigid geometric grid and spreading out over five acres. The paths between these pillars are so narrow that only one person can comfortably pass between them. Eisenman’s intent, it seems, was to make the viewer’s confrontation with the monument’s bleak, pitiless geometry as intense and solitary an experience as possible. Too solitary, alas: it clearly offers an endless number of secluded corners for mischief.

When the memorial opened two years ago, Eisenman resisted attempts to make it more secure against vandalism, including restrictions on admittance and on behavior within the memorial. He stalwartly argued for the right of children to play on the site, and to jump from pillar to pillar, saying that these activities evoke “the sounds of life” of an urban Jewish neighborhood. A memorable battle he lost in this arena was his objection to the treatment of the concrete pillars with an anti-graffiti coating. Eisenman told reporters that graffiti ranks as a healthy and legitimate creative outlet in his native New York, and that he “didn’t want the graffiti coating” because he considers vandalism “an expression of the city.”

Any thriving city, we should recognize, can express many things. The trick lies in recognizing which of these expressions constitutes a death threat—an obligation all the more incumbent on the Berlin authorities for the tragic gravity of the monument’s origin and purpose.

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Ball Three

What is the Scooter Libby trial really about?

In announcing the indictment of the vice-presidential aide in October 2005, the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald attempted to make it all perfectly clear, using a baseball analogy:

If you saw a baseball game and you saw a pitcher wind up and throw a fast ball and hit a batter right smack in the head and it really, really hurt them, you’d want to know why the pitcher did that. And you’d wonder whether or not the person just reared back and decided, “I’ve got bad blood with this batter, he hit two home runs off me, I’m just going to hit him in the head as hard as I can.”

You also might wonder whether or not the pitcher just let go of the ball, or his foot slipped, and he had no idea to throw the ball anywhere near the batter’s head. And there’s a lots of shades of gray in between. You might learn that you wanted to hit the batter in the back, it hit him in the head because he moved; you might want to throw it under his chin but ended up hitting on the head.

And what you’d want to do is have as much information as you could. You’d want to know what happened in the dugout. Was this guy complaining about the person he threw at? Did he talk to anyone else? What was he thinking? How does he react? All those things you’d want to know. And then you’d make a decision as to whether this person should be banned from baseball, whether he should be suspended, whether you should do nothing at all and just say, “Hey, the person threw a bad pitch; get over it.”

After nearly a week of testimony the case is not much clearer than this botched analogy, the forensic equivalent of a “wardrobe malfunction.”

The Washington Post described Judith Miller’s testimony yesterday as “potentially damaging” to Libby. And this is surely accurate if one focuses on the word “potentially.” But her testimony was also even more potentially helpful to the defense.

Libby’s lawyers are expected to maintain that his “false” statements to the FBI and to a grand jury were the product of a faulty memory. So far, a number of prosecution witnesses have given testimony that differs significantly from what Libby told FBI investigators and the grand jury. But more importantly they have been shown to have strikingly deficient memories themselves.

Judith Miller had 85 days in the Alexandria jail in which to refresh her recollections about the sequence of events that brought her there. But no sooner was she released and brought before the grand jury, than she was compelled to acknowledge that she had entirely forgotten a critical meeting with Libby in June of 2003. If she could forget such a vital detail, will the jury convict Libby for lying, when the possibility that he simply forgot has been powerfully sketched by Miller and others in the witness parade?

It is possible that Scooter Libby is lying through his catcher’s mask. But my bet is that, if the jury takes seriously the meaning of the words “reasonable doubt,” Patrick Fitzgerald will have been judged to have pitched four balls, and Scooter, now up at bat, will get to walk.

To see key exhibits in the Scooter Libby case, click here.

To see key exhibits in the Baseball Hall of Fame, click here.

What is the Scooter Libby trial really about?

In announcing the indictment of the vice-presidential aide in October 2005, the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald attempted to make it all perfectly clear, using a baseball analogy:

If you saw a baseball game and you saw a pitcher wind up and throw a fast ball and hit a batter right smack in the head and it really, really hurt them, you’d want to know why the pitcher did that. And you’d wonder whether or not the person just reared back and decided, “I’ve got bad blood with this batter, he hit two home runs off me, I’m just going to hit him in the head as hard as I can.”

You also might wonder whether or not the pitcher just let go of the ball, or his foot slipped, and he had no idea to throw the ball anywhere near the batter’s head. And there’s a lots of shades of gray in between. You might learn that you wanted to hit the batter in the back, it hit him in the head because he moved; you might want to throw it under his chin but ended up hitting on the head.

And what you’d want to do is have as much information as you could. You’d want to know what happened in the dugout. Was this guy complaining about the person he threw at? Did he talk to anyone else? What was he thinking? How does he react? All those things you’d want to know. And then you’d make a decision as to whether this person should be banned from baseball, whether he should be suspended, whether you should do nothing at all and just say, “Hey, the person threw a bad pitch; get over it.”

After nearly a week of testimony the case is not much clearer than this botched analogy, the forensic equivalent of a “wardrobe malfunction.”

The Washington Post described Judith Miller’s testimony yesterday as “potentially damaging” to Libby. And this is surely accurate if one focuses on the word “potentially.” But her testimony was also even more potentially helpful to the defense.

Libby’s lawyers are expected to maintain that his “false” statements to the FBI and to a grand jury were the product of a faulty memory. So far, a number of prosecution witnesses have given testimony that differs significantly from what Libby told FBI investigators and the grand jury. But more importantly they have been shown to have strikingly deficient memories themselves.

Judith Miller had 85 days in the Alexandria jail in which to refresh her recollections about the sequence of events that brought her there. But no sooner was she released and brought before the grand jury, than she was compelled to acknowledge that she had entirely forgotten a critical meeting with Libby in June of 2003. If she could forget such a vital detail, will the jury convict Libby for lying, when the possibility that he simply forgot has been powerfully sketched by Miller and others in the witness parade?

It is possible that Scooter Libby is lying through his catcher’s mask. But my bet is that, if the jury takes seriously the meaning of the words “reasonable doubt,” Patrick Fitzgerald will have been judged to have pitched four balls, and Scooter, now up at bat, will get to walk.

To see key exhibits in the Scooter Libby case, click here.

To see key exhibits in the Baseball Hall of Fame, click here.

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Empty Rhetoric on the Surge

“If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. . . . A contagion of violence could spill out across the country. . . . For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is their greatest ally. . . . And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America.”

This short passage was the heart of George Bush’s State of the Union address, and the words form the heart of his argument about Iraq. Not about whether we should have invaded Iraq in 2003 or whether we conducted the invasion competently—Bush certainly got at least one of those two questions wrong—but about where we go from here.

How do Bush’s critics answer? They give what seem to be pre-programmed Democratic responses. Senator James Webb proposed “an immediate shift toward strong, regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.” What might that “formula” be? That remains to be revealed.

Hillary Clinton, who until recently was building centrist credentials by arguing that we should send more troops to Iraq, now opposes Bush’s plan to do just that. “We’ve been down this road before,” she says. Instead she calls for “a new strategy to produce what we need: a stable Iraq government that takes over for its own people so our troops can finish their job.” What will this “strategy” consist of? She doesn’t say.

Clinton’s main rival—as of now—for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama, proposes to “start bringing our troops home” in order to “bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.” And when might that end be? And what might that end be? On these questions Obama stays mum.

Until the critics respond to Bush by arguing either that American capitulation will not lead to the consequences he sketches or by explaining what alternative “strategy” or “formula” will avert this capitulation, they are playing fast and loose with our nation’s safety. Whether Bush’s surge is sufficient is another question, which I will address in my next post.

“If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. . . . A contagion of violence could spill out across the country. . . . For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is their greatest ally. . . . And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America.”

This short passage was the heart of George Bush’s State of the Union address, and the words form the heart of his argument about Iraq. Not about whether we should have invaded Iraq in 2003 or whether we conducted the invasion competently—Bush certainly got at least one of those two questions wrong—but about where we go from here.

How do Bush’s critics answer? They give what seem to be pre-programmed Democratic responses. Senator James Webb proposed “an immediate shift toward strong, regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.” What might that “formula” be? That remains to be revealed.

Hillary Clinton, who until recently was building centrist credentials by arguing that we should send more troops to Iraq, now opposes Bush’s plan to do just that. “We’ve been down this road before,” she says. Instead she calls for “a new strategy to produce what we need: a stable Iraq government that takes over for its own people so our troops can finish their job.” What will this “strategy” consist of? She doesn’t say.

Clinton’s main rival—as of now—for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama, proposes to “start bringing our troops home” in order to “bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.” And when might that end be? And what might that end be? On these questions Obama stays mum.

Until the critics respond to Bush by arguing either that American capitulation will not lead to the consequences he sketches or by explaining what alternative “strategy” or “formula” will avert this capitulation, they are playing fast and loose with our nation’s safety. Whether Bush’s surge is sufficient is another question, which I will address in my next post.

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Boot and Hanson, Round Two: Wild Cards

Dear Max,

So I think we agree on what the problems are and the preferred solutions, but we are not sure whether the U.S. can implement them all, given a variety of wild cards that we might discuss: (1) the autonomous Iraqi government, (2) the political consensus back home, and (3) the region as a whole

1. We didn’t just establish rule by plebiscite, as some have alleged, but rather we helped to fashion a constitution that is both transparent and independent of us. So we are in a Catch-22 situation: we deal as equals (of sorts) with a new and weak but legitimate government, but that same government has empowered, or at least been too lax with, our enemies. Our leverage, as supporters of democracy, is to threaten to leave, cut off aid, or both. But that in turn might play to those in the Shiite-dominated government, and the region at large, who would like exactly that to happen.

2. The departure of Rumsfeld, Casey, and Abizaid, along with the appointment of General Petraeus, has tempered Democratic opposition. So too, as I suggested in a previous post, has the unspoken fear that there might be a sudden turn-around in Iraq that would embarrass shrill anti-war liberals. Nevertheless, by autumn, the verdict will be in, and if things are not quiet on the ground, the polls will reflect popular frustration, and new resolutions will come fast and furious in the shadow of 2008. Our counter-insurgency efforts might take longer than five years (successful ones usually do), but in this case it will be five years or nothing—and the enemy knows it.

3. If we fail in Iraq, gone is any notion of a comprehensive program for the Middle East based on liberalization and reform, an approach that might break up the wink-and-nod alliance of illegitimate autocracies and jihadists. To salvage things in that event, the U.S. would have to galvanize regional “moderate” dictatorships and corrupt monarchies in Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf against Iran and Syria, withdraw to Kuwait and perhaps Kurdistan, seek to pressure Israel for concessions, and in general return to the sort of realism and appeasement of the 1980′s and 1990′s, whose ultimate dividend was 9/11. I pass over in silence the effects of such a failure on the reputation of U.S. ground forces, moderate Democrats, reformers in the Middle East, and principled Europeans who supported us.

So? I think the answer is that we must constantly and without interruption go on the offensive in Iraq, militarily, politically, and economically, with the understanding that the country, the region, and the entire framework of U.S. foreign policy and American prestige now hang in the balance.

I hope there is that sense of urgency in both Washington and at Centcom, a sense that the ante has been raised and that our success or failure in the next six months will determine the course of our policy and of the region for years to come.

Best,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Max,

So I think we agree on what the problems are and the preferred solutions, but we are not sure whether the U.S. can implement them all, given a variety of wild cards that we might discuss: (1) the autonomous Iraqi government, (2) the political consensus back home, and (3) the region as a whole

1. We didn’t just establish rule by plebiscite, as some have alleged, but rather we helped to fashion a constitution that is both transparent and independent of us. So we are in a Catch-22 situation: we deal as equals (of sorts) with a new and weak but legitimate government, but that same government has empowered, or at least been too lax with, our enemies. Our leverage, as supporters of democracy, is to threaten to leave, cut off aid, or both. But that in turn might play to those in the Shiite-dominated government, and the region at large, who would like exactly that to happen.

2. The departure of Rumsfeld, Casey, and Abizaid, along with the appointment of General Petraeus, has tempered Democratic opposition. So too, as I suggested in a previous post, has the unspoken fear that there might be a sudden turn-around in Iraq that would embarrass shrill anti-war liberals. Nevertheless, by autumn, the verdict will be in, and if things are not quiet on the ground, the polls will reflect popular frustration, and new resolutions will come fast and furious in the shadow of 2008. Our counter-insurgency efforts might take longer than five years (successful ones usually do), but in this case it will be five years or nothing—and the enemy knows it.

3. If we fail in Iraq, gone is any notion of a comprehensive program for the Middle East based on liberalization and reform, an approach that might break up the wink-and-nod alliance of illegitimate autocracies and jihadists. To salvage things in that event, the U.S. would have to galvanize regional “moderate” dictatorships and corrupt monarchies in Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf against Iran and Syria, withdraw to Kuwait and perhaps Kurdistan, seek to pressure Israel for concessions, and in general return to the sort of realism and appeasement of the 1980′s and 1990′s, whose ultimate dividend was 9/11. I pass over in silence the effects of such a failure on the reputation of U.S. ground forces, moderate Democrats, reformers in the Middle East, and principled Europeans who supported us.

So? I think the answer is that we must constantly and without interruption go on the offensive in Iraq, militarily, politically, and economically, with the understanding that the country, the region, and the entire framework of U.S. foreign policy and American prestige now hang in the balance.

I hope there is that sense of urgency in both Washington and at Centcom, a sense that the ante has been raised and that our success or failure in the next six months will determine the course of our policy and of the region for years to come.

Best,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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Class War 101

Yesterday the stock market edged up again, with the Dow Jones Index cruising once more toward record highs. This ought to be good news for Republicans entering the presidential season. But is it really? Although Republicans are loath to be candid on this point, a surging stock market really does disproportionately help the rich and the super-rich. The accompanying growth in income inequality is a big, ripe target for a John Edwards, a James Webb, a Barack Obama, and others who want to frame the next election around themes of rich versus poor.

For a Republican party that wants to attract the votes of Bill O’Reilly’s “folks,” extremes in income inequality aren’t getting easier to defend. Private equity deals are now roaring through Asia, often enriching a relatively small handful of the American financial elite. Until Republican politicians know how to speak with confidence about globalization, capitalism, and wealth creation, Democratic calls to punish the rich can be made without fear of rebuttal.

Even with Robert Rubin and Gene Sperling whispering in her ear, Hillary Clinton, with her hand firmly on the pulse of her pollster, remains likely to join the economic populism gang. In 1996, with Ross Perot breathing down his neck, Bob Dole, a life-long trade advocate, suddenly started talking about trade restrictions and offering second thoughts on NAFTA. There is no reason to believe Hillary is more principled.

Of course, it is not clear what exactly the economic populist proposals will consist of. A new tax on the super-wealthy is probably an inevitable plank of their platform. But in his State of the Union response, Senator Webb spoke about how much more a CEO makes than an average worker. Will he unveil a proposal, beyond raising taxes, to fix that?

What aspiring Democratic and Republican presidential candidates alike should bear in mind is that the evidence of whether class warfare “works” as an electoral strategy is mixed. A much-cited paper by a group of Columbia University professors shows it is not easy to assume that wealth or perceived inequality determines voting preferences.

Yesterday the stock market edged up again, with the Dow Jones Index cruising once more toward record highs. This ought to be good news for Republicans entering the presidential season. But is it really? Although Republicans are loath to be candid on this point, a surging stock market really does disproportionately help the rich and the super-rich. The accompanying growth in income inequality is a big, ripe target for a John Edwards, a James Webb, a Barack Obama, and others who want to frame the next election around themes of rich versus poor.

For a Republican party that wants to attract the votes of Bill O’Reilly’s “folks,” extremes in income inequality aren’t getting easier to defend. Private equity deals are now roaring through Asia, often enriching a relatively small handful of the American financial elite. Until Republican politicians know how to speak with confidence about globalization, capitalism, and wealth creation, Democratic calls to punish the rich can be made without fear of rebuttal.

Even with Robert Rubin and Gene Sperling whispering in her ear, Hillary Clinton, with her hand firmly on the pulse of her pollster, remains likely to join the economic populism gang. In 1996, with Ross Perot breathing down his neck, Bob Dole, a life-long trade advocate, suddenly started talking about trade restrictions and offering second thoughts on NAFTA. There is no reason to believe Hillary is more principled.

Of course, it is not clear what exactly the economic populist proposals will consist of. A new tax on the super-wealthy is probably an inevitable plank of their platform. But in his State of the Union response, Senator Webb spoke about how much more a CEO makes than an average worker. Will he unveil a proposal, beyond raising taxes, to fix that?

What aspiring Democratic and Republican presidential candidates alike should bear in mind is that the evidence of whether class warfare “works” as an electoral strategy is mixed. A much-cited paper by a group of Columbia University professors shows it is not easy to assume that wealth or perceived inequality determines voting preferences.

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Bill Keller, Secret Agent

In 1978, back when I was working for him on Capitol Hill, Senator Pat Moynihan propounded what he called “the Iron Law of Emulation.” The basic idea was that organizations in conflict with one another come to resemble one another. Because he was drawing on the work of the 19th German sociologist Georg Simmel, some on his staff used to call it, somewhat mockingly, the Iron Law of Simmelation.

But Moynihan’s point was a good one. And today, with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on the witness stand in the trial of Scooter Libby, we can see the iron law at work in the fiercely adversarial relationship between the Times and the U.S. intelligence community.

The editors and reporters of the New York Times believe they are covering the CIA–and in fact they are–but they are also in competition with the spy agency and the resemblances between the two institutions are striking.

Both, to begin with, have a remarkably similar mission. The CIA is charged with trying to inform its clients (the White House and the rest of the executive branch) about the world around it: what is going on where, what are the looming dangers, what are the facts, and how do reliably do we know them? Much of what the New York Times does is precisely the same, except its client is not the government but the newspaper-buying American public.

Because they are caught up in certain characteristic American dysfunctions, both institutions carry out their functions with mixed results.

The CIA and the Times, for one thing, are both charter members of the cult of “diversity.” In 1995, the spy agency created an internal body called the Resources Oversight Council aimed “at improving the agency’s efforts to hire and provide career development for women, minorities, the deaf, and people with disabilities,” leading the CIA to hire more Hispanics at the very moment when it really needed more Arabic speakers.

The Times has been doing something quite similar, and damage has demonstrably been done. In 2006 the paper announced with much fanfare that an internal body known as “the diversity council” had concluded that “diversity is essential to our business future and our journalism.” But the emphasis on diversity had been in place for decades, and it was to figure in one of the worst debacles (see below) the newspaper ever endured.

Like any large elite organization the CIA and the Times must contend with mediocrity creeping in and gumming up the works. Thus, the CIA has kept incompetents in its ranks, including “anonymous”–a.k.a. Michael Scheuer, its top expert on Osama bin Laden, who despite his insistence on always “checking the checkables,” has enormous difficulty spelling proper names and who characterized bin Laden as “the most respected, loved, romantic, charismatic, and perhaps able figure in the last 150 years of Islamic history.” And “gentle,” too.

The Times, for its part, keeps an impressive daily log of its errors, spelling and otherwise, which despite an army of editors, it cannot seem to contain. For more serious instances of bias and misinterpretation, one need only recall the reporting by Walter Duranty of Stalin’s show trials and artificial famine in the 1930’s, the placement of the Holocaust on the back pages during the 1940’s, its depiction of the North Vietnamese defeat in the Tet offensive as a major victory, or turn to watchdog outfits like CAMERA for an array of contemporary documentation.

Both institutions, over the years, have had worse than bad apples in their ranks. The CIA has suffered outright turncoats like Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who despite internal evaluations of egregious misbehavior was steadily promoted upward until he was in a position to give away the CIA’s most precious assets.

The New York Times has had its outright traitors, too, like the diversity-hire Jayson Blair, whose fictional reporting the paper was to call “a profound betrayal of trust.” During his five-year career progressing from intern to national reporter, the management of the Times received numerous warnings that the rising star was actually a comet waiting to crash. Despite such cautions, Blair steadily advanced, like Aldrich Ames, eventually reducing the Times to what it itself called “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

But in both institutions, it is not deliberate bad faith that typically creates malfunction but something else. The CIA notoriously failed to foresee the attacks of September 11 and then issued an erroneous “slam-dunk” assessment that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The problem was simply that agency analysts placed too much stock in Iraqi émigré sources who were telling them what they wanted to hear. The New York Times’s credulous treatment of Saddam Hussein’s WMD arsenal fell into the same trap.

Judith Miller was front and center. In reporting on Saddam’s burgeoning (but non-existent) WMD program, she too placed too much faith in sources who were telling her what she wanted to hear. Strikingly, in both cases, the chain of command in the CIA and the New York Times failed to ask critical questions, which only became utterly obvious–and the subject of much sanctimonious handwringing–in the incandescent glow of hindsight.

Ironically, one of the factors underpinning such maladaptive behavior is that both institutions operate behind a veil of secrecy. The CIA assiduously keeps both its methods of intelligence gathering and its internal deliberations under wraps: sources and methods, in particular, are treated as ultra-sensitive matters, disclosure of which is punishable by law.

So too with the New York Times, which, even as it calls for greater openness by the U.S. government jealously conceals its own internal workings. As with the CIA, sources and methods are treated by the Times as a matter of extraordinary sensitivity, with some of its operatives ready and willing to go to jail (Judith Miller once again!) rather than reveal who has told them what.

All of which makes the Scooter Libby trial so very compelling. A window is being opened into the internal operations of news- and intelligence-gathering at once. It is only confirming that in many of their essentials, and despite the loud protestations such a claim would elicit from both sides, the iron law of emulation holds. The Times and the CIA are becoming more similar with each passing year.

To apply for employment with the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, click here.

To apply for employment as a New York Times‘s reporter, editor, or deliveryman, click here.

In 1978, back when I was working for him on Capitol Hill, Senator Pat Moynihan propounded what he called “the Iron Law of Emulation.” The basic idea was that organizations in conflict with one another come to resemble one another. Because he was drawing on the work of the 19th German sociologist Georg Simmel, some on his staff used to call it, somewhat mockingly, the Iron Law of Simmelation.

But Moynihan’s point was a good one. And today, with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on the witness stand in the trial of Scooter Libby, we can see the iron law at work in the fiercely adversarial relationship between the Times and the U.S. intelligence community.

The editors and reporters of the New York Times believe they are covering the CIA–and in fact they are–but they are also in competition with the spy agency and the resemblances between the two institutions are striking.

Both, to begin with, have a remarkably similar mission. The CIA is charged with trying to inform its clients (the White House and the rest of the executive branch) about the world around it: what is going on where, what are the looming dangers, what are the facts, and how do reliably do we know them? Much of what the New York Times does is precisely the same, except its client is not the government but the newspaper-buying American public.

Because they are caught up in certain characteristic American dysfunctions, both institutions carry out their functions with mixed results.

The CIA and the Times, for one thing, are both charter members of the cult of “diversity.” In 1995, the spy agency created an internal body called the Resources Oversight Council aimed “at improving the agency’s efforts to hire and provide career development for women, minorities, the deaf, and people with disabilities,” leading the CIA to hire more Hispanics at the very moment when it really needed more Arabic speakers.

The Times has been doing something quite similar, and damage has demonstrably been done. In 2006 the paper announced with much fanfare that an internal body known as “the diversity council” had concluded that “diversity is essential to our business future and our journalism.” But the emphasis on diversity had been in place for decades, and it was to figure in one of the worst debacles (see below) the newspaper ever endured.

Like any large elite organization the CIA and the Times must contend with mediocrity creeping in and gumming up the works. Thus, the CIA has kept incompetents in its ranks, including “anonymous”–a.k.a. Michael Scheuer, its top expert on Osama bin Laden, who despite his insistence on always “checking the checkables,” has enormous difficulty spelling proper names and who characterized bin Laden as “the most respected, loved, romantic, charismatic, and perhaps able figure in the last 150 years of Islamic history.” And “gentle,” too.

The Times, for its part, keeps an impressive daily log of its errors, spelling and otherwise, which despite an army of editors, it cannot seem to contain. For more serious instances of bias and misinterpretation, one need only recall the reporting by Walter Duranty of Stalin’s show trials and artificial famine in the 1930’s, the placement of the Holocaust on the back pages during the 1940’s, its depiction of the North Vietnamese defeat in the Tet offensive as a major victory, or turn to watchdog outfits like CAMERA for an array of contemporary documentation.

Both institutions, over the years, have had worse than bad apples in their ranks. The CIA has suffered outright turncoats like Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who despite internal evaluations of egregious misbehavior was steadily promoted upward until he was in a position to give away the CIA’s most precious assets.

The New York Times has had its outright traitors, too, like the diversity-hire Jayson Blair, whose fictional reporting the paper was to call “a profound betrayal of trust.” During his five-year career progressing from intern to national reporter, the management of the Times received numerous warnings that the rising star was actually a comet waiting to crash. Despite such cautions, Blair steadily advanced, like Aldrich Ames, eventually reducing the Times to what it itself called “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

But in both institutions, it is not deliberate bad faith that typically creates malfunction but something else. The CIA notoriously failed to foresee the attacks of September 11 and then issued an erroneous “slam-dunk” assessment that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The problem was simply that agency analysts placed too much stock in Iraqi émigré sources who were telling them what they wanted to hear. The New York Times’s credulous treatment of Saddam Hussein’s WMD arsenal fell into the same trap.

Judith Miller was front and center. In reporting on Saddam’s burgeoning (but non-existent) WMD program, she too placed too much faith in sources who were telling her what she wanted to hear. Strikingly, in both cases, the chain of command in the CIA and the New York Times failed to ask critical questions, which only became utterly obvious–and the subject of much sanctimonious handwringing–in the incandescent glow of hindsight.

Ironically, one of the factors underpinning such maladaptive behavior is that both institutions operate behind a veil of secrecy. The CIA assiduously keeps both its methods of intelligence gathering and its internal deliberations under wraps: sources and methods, in particular, are treated as ultra-sensitive matters, disclosure of which is punishable by law.

So too with the New York Times, which, even as it calls for greater openness by the U.S. government jealously conceals its own internal workings. As with the CIA, sources and methods are treated by the Times as a matter of extraordinary sensitivity, with some of its operatives ready and willing to go to jail (Judith Miller once again!) rather than reveal who has told them what.

All of which makes the Scooter Libby trial so very compelling. A window is being opened into the internal operations of news- and intelligence-gathering at once. It is only confirming that in many of their essentials, and despite the loud protestations such a claim would elicit from both sides, the iron law of emulation holds. The Times and the CIA are becoming more similar with each passing year.

To apply for employment with the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, click here.

To apply for employment as a New York Times‘s reporter, editor, or deliveryman, click here.

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Boot and Hanson, Round Two: Step by Step

Dear Victor,

Though a virtue in interpersonal relations, agreeableness is not necessarily a good thing in an online exchange, where a clash of views is often needed to spark excitement. Yet, at the risk of putting readers to sleep, I have to confess that my reaction upon reading your initial posting was: ditto.

You write that we need not only to increase the number of troops but also to change how they operate. I agree. You stress the need to win a military victory before we can carry out sociopolitical reforms. Here too I agree—and more importantly so does David Galula, author of the classic how-to book Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964). One of his primary admonitions: “Which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is most likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population’s stand.”

Unfortunately, lack of support for the war effort on the home front makes it ever more difficult to convey the impression to Iraqis that we are the winning side. But at least we can do a better job of protecting civilians and threatening aggressors. A higher troop-to-civilian ratio is a prerequisite for this. But beyond that we need to take other important steps:

• Get troops out of their giant forward operating bases, where they have been sealed off from the population. They need to establish a 24/7 presence in embattled neighborhoods—a strategy successfully carried out in such smaller Iraqi cities as Tal Afar and Qaim.

• Conduct a census of the Iraqi population, starting with Baghdad, then issue biometric ID cards to everyone, and equip security forces with wireless data devices linked to a central registry. Most American police departments have such a setup. But we have been mysteriously remiss in bringing this basic technology to Iraq, making it difficult to identify insurgents.

• Stop the “catch and release” policy which you rightly decry. It is obvious that more violent offenders need to be incarcerated, but it’s not easy to see how to accomplish this goal given the limited resources of the Iraqi legal system and its American military counterpart. Simply arresting a lot more people (the strategy tried by some U.S. units in 2003-04) isn’t the answer, since they may be innocent. We need better intelligence to identify the bad guys; we should impose martial law in order to keep them locked up for the duration of the conflict.

• Increase support for the Iraqi army. We need to dramatically increase the number of U.S. advisers embedded in Iraqi units. (Currently the total is about 4,000; we probably need closer to 20,000.) We also need to provide more armored vehicles and heavier weapons to the Iraqi army while expanding its overall size. The police are so compromised by corruption and sectarian loyalties that it’s not clear they can be at all useful; the army at least shows some promise.

If anyone can pull off the impossible it’s David Petraeus, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up unduly. The best we can hope for in the next year is to get Baghdad to the state it was in back in 2003—hardly ideal but certainly better than today. Then we have to build on that achievement, somehow, to increase longterm stability—all the while avoiding the implosion of our overstretched armed forces and the complete collapse of support on the home front.

Yikes!

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Victor,

Though a virtue in interpersonal relations, agreeableness is not necessarily a good thing in an online exchange, where a clash of views is often needed to spark excitement. Yet, at the risk of putting readers to sleep, I have to confess that my reaction upon reading your initial posting was: ditto.

You write that we need not only to increase the number of troops but also to change how they operate. I agree. You stress the need to win a military victory before we can carry out sociopolitical reforms. Here too I agree—and more importantly so does David Galula, author of the classic how-to book Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964). One of his primary admonitions: “Which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is most likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population’s stand.”

Unfortunately, lack of support for the war effort on the home front makes it ever more difficult to convey the impression to Iraqis that we are the winning side. But at least we can do a better job of protecting civilians and threatening aggressors. A higher troop-to-civilian ratio is a prerequisite for this. But beyond that we need to take other important steps:

• Get troops out of their giant forward operating bases, where they have been sealed off from the population. They need to establish a 24/7 presence in embattled neighborhoods—a strategy successfully carried out in such smaller Iraqi cities as Tal Afar and Qaim.

• Conduct a census of the Iraqi population, starting with Baghdad, then issue biometric ID cards to everyone, and equip security forces with wireless data devices linked to a central registry. Most American police departments have such a setup. But we have been mysteriously remiss in bringing this basic technology to Iraq, making it difficult to identify insurgents.

• Stop the “catch and release” policy which you rightly decry. It is obvious that more violent offenders need to be incarcerated, but it’s not easy to see how to accomplish this goal given the limited resources of the Iraqi legal system and its American military counterpart. Simply arresting a lot more people (the strategy tried by some U.S. units in 2003-04) isn’t the answer, since they may be innocent. We need better intelligence to identify the bad guys; we should impose martial law in order to keep them locked up for the duration of the conflict.

• Increase support for the Iraqi army. We need to dramatically increase the number of U.S. advisers embedded in Iraqi units. (Currently the total is about 4,000; we probably need closer to 20,000.) We also need to provide more armored vehicles and heavier weapons to the Iraqi army while expanding its overall size. The police are so compromised by corruption and sectarian loyalties that it’s not clear they can be at all useful; the army at least shows some promise.

If anyone can pull off the impossible it’s David Petraeus, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up unduly. The best we can hope for in the next year is to get Baghdad to the state it was in back in 2003—hardly ideal but certainly better than today. Then we have to build on that achievement, somehow, to increase longterm stability—all the while avoiding the implosion of our overstretched armed forces and the complete collapse of support on the home front.

Yikes!

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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Clash of Civilizations

Daniel Freedman of It Shines for All has posted a must-watch video of Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes and Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservativism: Why We Need It, taking on London’s pro-Islamist mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone and Birmingham city councillor and anti-war activist Salma Yaqoob in a debate on the clash of Western and Islamic civilization. contentions blogger Daniel Johnson attended the event and covered it for the New York Sun.

Daniel Freedman of It Shines for All has posted a must-watch video of Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes and Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservativism: Why We Need It, taking on London’s pro-Islamist mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone and Birmingham city councillor and anti-war activist Salma Yaqoob in a debate on the clash of Western and Islamic civilization. contentions blogger Daniel Johnson attended the event and covered it for the New York Sun.

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Bookshelf

• It’s been a long time between books for Hilton Kramer, whose last collection was published six years ago and who hasn’t brought out a volume of art criticism since 1985. The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1985-2005 (Ivan R. Dee, 368 pp., $27.50) contains 55 essays and reviews, the most substantial of which are a series of pieces dealing with the history of and prospects for abstract art. In between these essays are sandwiched a goodly number of columns originally published in the New York Observer in which Kramer comments pithily on many of his favorite artists (Helen Frankenthaler, Alex Katz, Fairfield Porter) and some of his least favorite (Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol). Like Clement Greenberg before him, Kramer is a master of the short review, and it is a pleasure to see how he manages to say so much in so little space.

Kramer is best known for his unfavorable reviews, and in recent years he has spent an ever-increasing share of his time commenting on politics. As a result, too many younger readers are unaware that he is one of the best critical advocates we have. I saw several of the shows reviewed in The Triumph of Modernism when I was first starting to take a serious interest in art, and I vividly remember how reading what Kramer had to say about such critically undervalued modern painters as Porter, Arthur Dove, and Richard Diebenkorn helped give shape to my inchoate excitement. For all his gifts as a demolition man, it is this aspect of his work that continues to mean the most to me. Nothing is harder to write than a good review, and nobody writes better ones than Hilton Kramer.

• Rare is the scholar who can write intelligibly for a popular audience. Daniel J. Levitin, a rock musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has mastered that priceless skill, and in This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (Dutton, 314 pp., $24.95) he summarizes with charm and flair the current state of research into the psychology of musical perception and cognition. Levitin believes that the human brain is biologically hardwired to find meaning in music, a conclusion sharply at odds with that of a growing number of evolutionary psychologists who have decided that it is a fundamentally meaningless form of what Steven Pinker calls “auditory cheesecake.” I expect you’ll be inclined to disagree with them after reading This Is Your Brain on Music, though, and not just because you want to. To be sure, Levitin’s style is so relentlessly breezy that it hardly seems possible that he could be a bona fide scientist, much less an important one. He is, though, and you can trust him to give you the lowdown on what happens inside your head when you listen to Mozart—or Stevie Wonder.

• It’s been a long time between books for Hilton Kramer, whose last collection was published six years ago and who hasn’t brought out a volume of art criticism since 1985. The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1985-2005 (Ivan R. Dee, 368 pp., $27.50) contains 55 essays and reviews, the most substantial of which are a series of pieces dealing with the history of and prospects for abstract art. In between these essays are sandwiched a goodly number of columns originally published in the New York Observer in which Kramer comments pithily on many of his favorite artists (Helen Frankenthaler, Alex Katz, Fairfield Porter) and some of his least favorite (Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol). Like Clement Greenberg before him, Kramer is a master of the short review, and it is a pleasure to see how he manages to say so much in so little space.

Kramer is best known for his unfavorable reviews, and in recent years he has spent an ever-increasing share of his time commenting on politics. As a result, too many younger readers are unaware that he is one of the best critical advocates we have. I saw several of the shows reviewed in The Triumph of Modernism when I was first starting to take a serious interest in art, and I vividly remember how reading what Kramer had to say about such critically undervalued modern painters as Porter, Arthur Dove, and Richard Diebenkorn helped give shape to my inchoate excitement. For all his gifts as a demolition man, it is this aspect of his work that continues to mean the most to me. Nothing is harder to write than a good review, and nobody writes better ones than Hilton Kramer.

• Rare is the scholar who can write intelligibly for a popular audience. Daniel J. Levitin, a rock musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has mastered that priceless skill, and in This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (Dutton, 314 pp., $24.95) he summarizes with charm and flair the current state of research into the psychology of musical perception and cognition. Levitin believes that the human brain is biologically hardwired to find meaning in music, a conclusion sharply at odds with that of a growing number of evolutionary psychologists who have decided that it is a fundamentally meaningless form of what Steven Pinker calls “auditory cheesecake.” I expect you’ll be inclined to disagree with them after reading This Is Your Brain on Music, though, and not just because you want to. To be sure, Levitin’s style is so relentlessly breezy that it hardly seems possible that he could be a bona fide scientist, much less an important one. He is, though, and you can trust him to give you the lowdown on what happens inside your head when you listen to Mozart—or Stevie Wonder.

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Beam Me Up, Scooter

Former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer was on the witness stand in the Scooter Libby trial today and gave testimony that the New York Times says “could prove very damaging” to the former vice-presidential aide. Testifying under a grant of immunity, Fleischer told the court that Libby was the first person to tell him that Ambassador Joseph Wilson had been sent on a mission to Niger by the CIA at the suggestion of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, who was herself, Libby disclosed to him, an employee of the CIA’s counterproliferation division.

Libby is contending that the false statements he gave to the FBI and to a grand jury–about how he learned the identity of Wilson’s wife, and to whom he passed on this knowledge–were the product of a faulty memory and do not amount to the perjury or obstruction of justice with which he has been charged. But according to Stacy Schiff, a guest op-ed columnist at the Times, Libby is reputed to have a prodigious memory and “remembers all 79 Star Trek episodes. And their titles, too.” His memory lapses, she says, amount to what is technically known as the “‘Honey, I was too busy preparing the family tax return to think clearly when you asked about the lap-dancers’ defense.”

For their part, Libby’s attorneys had hoped U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton would allow them to call an expert on human memory, who would help them make their case that “memory does not function like a tape recorder” and “a person is less likely to remember information if he is paying attention to several things at once.” For this purpose, the defense team had hired Daniel L. Schacter, professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of The Seven Sins of Memory and  Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind and the Past.  But Walton has ruled against them. No memory expert will appear in court.

Still, will a jury vote to convict? Even if a convincing case is made that Libby lied to investigators, it will be exceptionally difficult for prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that he was prevaricating rather than merely confused. One does not need an expert in memory to persuade a jury that as events recede into the past they become more difficult to remember, or that what appears salient in retrospect might have been quite unremarkable at the time it originally occurred. 

As far as Star Trek is concerned, even if Libby does know all 79 episodes by heart–and this has not yet been demonstrated–it would not logically follow that he would remember every word of every conversation he held in a busy White House in the middle of a war. Like many Trekkies, he more likely viewed each of the episodes multiple times and talked about them at length with others who shared his particular passion, generating a much more firmly imprinted memory than one left by what was said in an offhand way over lunch with a colleague. 

Still, if Libby takes the witness stand in his own defense, as he is expected to do, he is going to have to walk a very fine line between remembering too little, thus sounding evasive, and remembering too much, thus undermining the core of his own defense.
 
For a full listing of the special counsel’s exhibits in the case, click here.

For a full listing of all 79 Star Trek episodes, click here.

Former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer was on the witness stand in the Scooter Libby trial today and gave testimony that the New York Times says “could prove very damaging” to the former vice-presidential aide. Testifying under a grant of immunity, Fleischer told the court that Libby was the first person to tell him that Ambassador Joseph Wilson had been sent on a mission to Niger by the CIA at the suggestion of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, who was herself, Libby disclosed to him, an employee of the CIA’s counterproliferation division.

Libby is contending that the false statements he gave to the FBI and to a grand jury–about how he learned the identity of Wilson’s wife, and to whom he passed on this knowledge–were the product of a faulty memory and do not amount to the perjury or obstruction of justice with which he has been charged. But according to Stacy Schiff, a guest op-ed columnist at the Times, Libby is reputed to have a prodigious memory and “remembers all 79 Star Trek episodes. And their titles, too.” His memory lapses, she says, amount to what is technically known as the “‘Honey, I was too busy preparing the family tax return to think clearly when you asked about the lap-dancers’ defense.”

For their part, Libby’s attorneys had hoped U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton would allow them to call an expert on human memory, who would help them make their case that “memory does not function like a tape recorder” and “a person is less likely to remember information if he is paying attention to several things at once.” For this purpose, the defense team had hired Daniel L. Schacter, professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of The Seven Sins of Memory and  Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind and the Past.  But Walton has ruled against them. No memory expert will appear in court.

Still, will a jury vote to convict? Even if a convincing case is made that Libby lied to investigators, it will be exceptionally difficult for prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that he was prevaricating rather than merely confused. One does not need an expert in memory to persuade a jury that as events recede into the past they become more difficult to remember, or that what appears salient in retrospect might have been quite unremarkable at the time it originally occurred. 

As far as Star Trek is concerned, even if Libby does know all 79 episodes by heart–and this has not yet been demonstrated–it would not logically follow that he would remember every word of every conversation he held in a busy White House in the middle of a war. Like many Trekkies, he more likely viewed each of the episodes multiple times and talked about them at length with others who shared his particular passion, generating a much more firmly imprinted memory than one left by what was said in an offhand way over lunch with a colleague. 

Still, if Libby takes the witness stand in his own defense, as he is expected to do, he is going to have to walk a very fine line between remembering too little, thus sounding evasive, and remembering too much, thus undermining the core of his own defense.
 
For a full listing of the special counsel’s exhibits in the case, click here.

For a full listing of all 79 Star Trek episodes, click here.

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An Exchange on Iraq

contentions is delighted to welcome Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson—two of the country’s most distinguished military historians (and contributors to COMMENTARY)—for a week-long discussion of the state of the Iraq war and its regional and global implications.

contentions is delighted to welcome Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson—two of the country’s most distinguished military historians (and contributors to COMMENTARY)—for a week-long discussion of the state of the Iraq war and its regional and global implications.

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Boot and Hanson, Round One: Grim and Grimmer

Dear Victor,

Remember that inspired 1994 flick Dumb and Dumber? If I were to make a movie about the Middle East today it would have to be called Grim and Grimmer—and it would be a tragedy, not a farce.

There hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer since the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon and the elections in Iraq in 2005. In fact both achievements have been undermined in the past year by relentless violence on the part of anti-democratic militias—Hizballah in Lebanon and various Sunni and Shiite factions in Iraq. Lebanon is on the verge of a civil war (as is the Palestinian Authority) and Iraq is already in the early stages of its own civil war.

I am especially crestfallen to see how the situation in Iraq has deteriorated over the past few years. According to the UN, over 34,000 Iraqi civilians died violently last year, more than 36,000 were injured, and more than 470,000 were displaced from their homes. It is scant comfort to say that the violence is confined to four or five provinces out of eighteen. Even if that were true (and recent fighting in Karbala and Najaf undermines the claim), it would be like saying of 9/11, “What’s the big deal? Only two American cities were struck. Hundreds of others remained safe.”

I really, truly hope that Bush’s plan to send reinforcements and to place them under General David Petraeus—one of our most capable officers—can reverse the slide. U.S. troops should be able to increase security in those areas of Baghdad where they establish outposts and do active patrolling. In fact there are already reports that Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdist army is going to ground to avoid a clash with U.S. soldiers. The real challenge will be to make any decrease in violence sustainable in the long term—especially if we don’t have the political will to keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Baghdad for decades to come. Our only chance is to commit more resources to building up the Iraqi army (the police are a hopeless cause at the moment). But the likelihood is that the Iraqi Security Forces will come apart if we start to draw down our troops—as a majority of Congress seems to be pining for.

Things aren’t going much better in the rest of the region. From Afghanistan to Iran to Egypt to the Palestinian Authority, the forces of freedom seem to be in serious jeopardy. Everywhere despots are ascendant.

I realize that there are setbacks in any long-term struggle and that the war on Islamist terrorism will not proceed any more smoothly than World War II or the cold war. Still, it’s hard not to be a bit depressed at the moment.

To keep some perspective, I’ve been reading Field Marshal William Slim’s classic World War II memoir, Defeat Into Victory. It’s reassuring to read of the terrible setbacks suffered by the Allied forces in Burma in 1942—far, far worse than anything that has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan—while knowing that just a few hundred pages later all will be redeemed by the attainment of total victory.

Cordially,

Max

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Victor,

Remember that inspired 1994 flick Dumb and Dumber? If I were to make a movie about the Middle East today it would have to be called Grim and Grimmer—and it would be a tragedy, not a farce.

There hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer since the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon and the elections in Iraq in 2005. In fact both achievements have been undermined in the past year by relentless violence on the part of anti-democratic militias—Hizballah in Lebanon and various Sunni and Shiite factions in Iraq. Lebanon is on the verge of a civil war (as is the Palestinian Authority) and Iraq is already in the early stages of its own civil war.

I am especially crestfallen to see how the situation in Iraq has deteriorated over the past few years. According to the UN, over 34,000 Iraqi civilians died violently last year, more than 36,000 were injured, and more than 470,000 were displaced from their homes. It is scant comfort to say that the violence is confined to four or five provinces out of eighteen. Even if that were true (and recent fighting in Karbala and Najaf undermines the claim), it would be like saying of 9/11, “What’s the big deal? Only two American cities were struck. Hundreds of others remained safe.”

I really, truly hope that Bush’s plan to send reinforcements and to place them under General David Petraeus—one of our most capable officers—can reverse the slide. U.S. troops should be able to increase security in those areas of Baghdad where they establish outposts and do active patrolling. In fact there are already reports that Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdist army is going to ground to avoid a clash with U.S. soldiers. The real challenge will be to make any decrease in violence sustainable in the long term—especially if we don’t have the political will to keep tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Baghdad for decades to come. Our only chance is to commit more resources to building up the Iraqi army (the police are a hopeless cause at the moment). But the likelihood is that the Iraqi Security Forces will come apart if we start to draw down our troops—as a majority of Congress seems to be pining for.

Things aren’t going much better in the rest of the region. From Afghanistan to Iran to Egypt to the Palestinian Authority, the forces of freedom seem to be in serious jeopardy. Everywhere despots are ascendant.

I realize that there are setbacks in any long-term struggle and that the war on Islamist terrorism will not proceed any more smoothly than World War II or the cold war. Still, it’s hard not to be a bit depressed at the moment.

To keep some perspective, I’ve been reading Field Marshal William Slim’s classic World War II memoir, Defeat Into Victory. It’s reassuring to read of the terrible setbacks suffered by the Allied forces in Burma in 1942—far, far worse than anything that has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan—while knowing that just a few hundred pages later all will be redeemed by the attainment of total victory.

Cordially,

Max

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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Boot and Hanson, Round One: Victory Before Peace

Dear Max,

The surge, in my opinion, could very well work—if it is the catalyst for a change in tactics. In COMMENTARY and elsewhere, many observers have noted that the number of troops, per se, has not been, historically, the sole arbiter of military success. If the administration sends more soldiers to Iraq without new, clear directives, it will only breed more Iraqi dependency, create more targets for insurgents, and cost America more prestige.

But if we change our way of doing business tactically, operationally, and psychologically—stop the arrest-and-release insanity, eliminate key militia leaders and disband their followers, expand the rules of engagement, accelerate cash payments for salaried Iraqis, patrol the borders, all while maintaining the veneer of Iraqi autonomy—even at this 11th hour we could entice the proverbial bystanders (a majority of the country) to cast their lot with the perceived winners: namely, us.

And if we can kill more insurgents, we can still overcome what has been our chief obstacle throughout this war—the lingering idea that Iraq was simply to be liberated, without its military (and paramilitary organizations) first being conquered and humiliated. It is hard, as we have seen, to achieve full reconstruction (which is what is entailed in bringing constitutional government, a market economy, and civil rights to Saddam’s Iraq) when “peace” means killing thousands of terrorists under postmodern rules of engagement before the world’s hypercritical television audience.

So where does that leave us? In a race of sorts. On the one side, the Democrats realize that anger over the perceived stasis in Iraq has brought them the Congress and possibly the White House in 2008. On the other side, the administration’s personnel changes, the surge, and a belated public-relations counteroffensive have bought six months to a year (at most) to secure and quiet Baghdad. Democratic critics claimed that they wanted more troops, Rumsfeld’s resignation, and mavericks like General Petraeus in charge—thinking, probably, that President Bush would probably never accede. Now that he has, it will take a few weeks for the Democrats to re-triangulate and refashion credible new opposition to their own earlier demands. (And they must tread carefully while doing it: if the surge works as planned, the Democrats will end up looking foolish on the eve of the 2008 election.)

Meanwhile, the terrorists know that the more carnage they inflict and Americans they kill, the more this window of time closes. So in fine American fashion (consider Grant and Sherman’s onus of turning the tide of the Civil War in 1864, or the assumption that Ridgeway was to save post-Yalu Korea), our national subconscious has decreed: “OK, General Petraeus. Preserve Iraqi democracy and don’t lose any more Americans in the process. You have less than a year. By the way: we’ll be passing hourly televised judgment on your progress!”

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Max,

The surge, in my opinion, could very well work—if it is the catalyst for a change in tactics. In COMMENTARY and elsewhere, many observers have noted that the number of troops, per se, has not been, historically, the sole arbiter of military success. If the administration sends more soldiers to Iraq without new, clear directives, it will only breed more Iraqi dependency, create more targets for insurgents, and cost America more prestige.

But if we change our way of doing business tactically, operationally, and psychologically—stop the arrest-and-release insanity, eliminate key militia leaders and disband their followers, expand the rules of engagement, accelerate cash payments for salaried Iraqis, patrol the borders, all while maintaining the veneer of Iraqi autonomy—even at this 11th hour we could entice the proverbial bystanders (a majority of the country) to cast their lot with the perceived winners: namely, us.

And if we can kill more insurgents, we can still overcome what has been our chief obstacle throughout this war—the lingering idea that Iraq was simply to be liberated, without its military (and paramilitary organizations) first being conquered and humiliated. It is hard, as we have seen, to achieve full reconstruction (which is what is entailed in bringing constitutional government, a market economy, and civil rights to Saddam’s Iraq) when “peace” means killing thousands of terrorists under postmodern rules of engagement before the world’s hypercritical television audience.

So where does that leave us? In a race of sorts. On the one side, the Democrats realize that anger over the perceived stasis in Iraq has brought them the Congress and possibly the White House in 2008. On the other side, the administration’s personnel changes, the surge, and a belated public-relations counteroffensive have bought six months to a year (at most) to secure and quiet Baghdad. Democratic critics claimed that they wanted more troops, Rumsfeld’s resignation, and mavericks like General Petraeus in charge—thinking, probably, that President Bush would probably never accede. Now that he has, it will take a few weeks for the Democrats to re-triangulate and refashion credible new opposition to their own earlier demands. (And they must tread carefully while doing it: if the surge works as planned, the Democrats will end up looking foolish on the eve of the 2008 election.)

Meanwhile, the terrorists know that the more carnage they inflict and Americans they kill, the more this window of time closes. So in fine American fashion (consider Grant and Sherman’s onus of turning the tide of the Civil War in 1864, or the assumption that Ridgeway was to save post-Yalu Korea), our national subconscious has decreed: “OK, General Petraeus. Preserve Iraqi democracy and don’t lose any more Americans in the process. You have less than a year. By the way: we’ll be passing hourly televised judgment on your progress!”

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Read Less

Does Israel Need a President?

Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t need the one it has now. Whether because his term of office runs out next July or because, before that, he will be impeached by the Knesset for criminal sexual conduct, Moshe Katzav will not be around much longer. Campaigning has already begun for the Knesset’s election of a new president, who will probably be either the main candidate of the Center and Left, Shimon Peres, or the main candidate of the Right, Likud politician and former speaker of the Knesset Ruvi Rivlin, but it is not clear that the country needs either of them, either.

It’s not that their qualifications are unimpressive. Peres can boast the longest losing streak of any major politician in the world—he has been defeated in something like six consecutive national and party elections since he was last prime minister in 1986, including a failed bid against Katzav for the presidency—and definitely deserves to be elected to something. Rivlin is a friendly man with no criminal record and would never consider raping a secretary. Either man, it is generally conceded, would make a fine president.

But does Israel need a president at all? In favor of continuing the office—the quality of whose occupants has gone steadily downhill from the days of the first of them, the great Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann—are two arguments: 1) someone is needed to accept the credentials of foreign diplomats, to present government awards, and to give speeches at ceremonial functions when no one else is available; and 2) it is comforting to have a head of state who is above the political fray, even if the fray decides everything and the head of state nothing.

Against it, on the other hand, is one argument alone, but a strong one: it is an expensive institution to maintain, what with the president’s salary, budget, expense account, pension, assistants, aides, drivers, junkets, Jerusalem mansion, and now, in addition, private jail cell.

Does Israel need a president? Does England need a king?

Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t need the one it has now. Whether because his term of office runs out next July or because, before that, he will be impeached by the Knesset for criminal sexual conduct, Moshe Katzav will not be around much longer. Campaigning has already begun for the Knesset’s election of a new president, who will probably be either the main candidate of the Center and Left, Shimon Peres, or the main candidate of the Right, Likud politician and former speaker of the Knesset Ruvi Rivlin, but it is not clear that the country needs either of them, either.

It’s not that their qualifications are unimpressive. Peres can boast the longest losing streak of any major politician in the world—he has been defeated in something like six consecutive national and party elections since he was last prime minister in 1986, including a failed bid against Katzav for the presidency—and definitely deserves to be elected to something. Rivlin is a friendly man with no criminal record and would never consider raping a secretary. Either man, it is generally conceded, would make a fine president.

But does Israel need a president at all? In favor of continuing the office—the quality of whose occupants has gone steadily downhill from the days of the first of them, the great Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann—are two arguments: 1) someone is needed to accept the credentials of foreign diplomats, to present government awards, and to give speeches at ceremonial functions when no one else is available; and 2) it is comforting to have a head of state who is above the political fray, even if the fray decides everything and the head of state nothing.

Against it, on the other hand, is one argument alone, but a strong one: it is an expensive institution to maintain, what with the president’s salary, budget, expense account, pension, assistants, aides, drivers, junkets, Jerusalem mansion, and now, in addition, private jail cell.

Does Israel need a president? Does England need a king?

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Mr. Wynn’s Elbow

The strangest art story of the year grows stranger yet. Last October, Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas developer and art collector, accidentally shoved his elbow through Picasso’s Le Rêve (The Dream), the single most valuable work in his collection. Among the eyewitnesses were Barbara Walters and Nora Ephron, who amusingly detailed the mishap on her blog. In a bizarre coincidence, Wynn had agreed only the day before to sell Le Rêve to Steven Cohen, a hedge-fund tycoon, for $139 million. Now that deal is off and Wynn is suing Lloyd’s of London, the painting’s insurers, for its drop in value, which he puts at $58 million dollars. (He has blamed the accident on a medical condition that deprived him of his peripheral vision.)

In most accounts, the story has been played for laughs—the casino billionaire who is all elbows. The painting’s erotic subject matter has also drawn comment: it shows Marie-Thérèse Walther, the artist’s young mistress. It was painted in 1932, long after Picasso’s Cubist heyday, but some of its value can be ascribed to the light it casts on his personal life. Less has been said, however, about the peculiar sequence of events: one day the purchase agreement for the painting is signed, establishing its market value, and the next day the painting is mutilated before a large gathering of witnesses, instantly reducing its value and—in Wynn’s view—earning him a check for the difference.

Equally strange are the mechanics of the damage to the painting. An elbow thrust, however fierce or well-aimed, is not likely to puncture a linen canvas. Paintings are not stretched tight as a drum and have a certain degree of give, and the tendency of the fabric when struck by a blunt instrument is to dent or else to give way where it is nailed to the stretcher. In order to confirm this, I asked a painter friend to take a taut canvas and see if he could pierce it with his elbow. Working with heavy cotton duck canvas (a weaker fabric than the Belgian linen that Picasso likely used), he was only able to put a bowl-shaped depression into the canvas, despite repeated attempts.

The insurers will be investigating this case carefully. Perhaps they’ll ask to take a cast of Mr. Wynn’s elbow.

The strangest art story of the year grows stranger yet. Last October, Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas developer and art collector, accidentally shoved his elbow through Picasso’s Le Rêve (The Dream), the single most valuable work in his collection. Among the eyewitnesses were Barbara Walters and Nora Ephron, who amusingly detailed the mishap on her blog. In a bizarre coincidence, Wynn had agreed only the day before to sell Le Rêve to Steven Cohen, a hedge-fund tycoon, for $139 million. Now that deal is off and Wynn is suing Lloyd’s of London, the painting’s insurers, for its drop in value, which he puts at $58 million dollars. (He has blamed the accident on a medical condition that deprived him of his peripheral vision.)

In most accounts, the story has been played for laughs—the casino billionaire who is all elbows. The painting’s erotic subject matter has also drawn comment: it shows Marie-Thérèse Walther, the artist’s young mistress. It was painted in 1932, long after Picasso’s Cubist heyday, but some of its value can be ascribed to the light it casts on his personal life. Less has been said, however, about the peculiar sequence of events: one day the purchase agreement for the painting is signed, establishing its market value, and the next day the painting is mutilated before a large gathering of witnesses, instantly reducing its value and—in Wynn’s view—earning him a check for the difference.

Equally strange are the mechanics of the damage to the painting. An elbow thrust, however fierce or well-aimed, is not likely to puncture a linen canvas. Paintings are not stretched tight as a drum and have a certain degree of give, and the tendency of the fabric when struck by a blunt instrument is to dent or else to give way where it is nailed to the stretcher. In order to confirm this, I asked a painter friend to take a taut canvas and see if he could pierce it with his elbow. Working with heavy cotton duck canvas (a weaker fabric than the Belgian linen that Picasso likely used), he was only able to put a bowl-shaped depression into the canvas, despite repeated attempts.

The insurers will be investigating this case carefully. Perhaps they’ll ask to take a cast of Mr. Wynn’s elbow.

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In Re: James Webb

Unlike most of the men and women who populate the higher reaches of American politics, James Webb, the new Democratic Senator from Virginia, is a genuinely interesting person—and one who thinks and feels with some passion. Rare among U.S. Senators, he appears to have made decisions not solely directed toward maintaining his “political viability.” In his youth, he followed family tradition and joined the Marines. As a junior officer he was wounded in combat in Vietnam. Back home he worked on Capitol Hill and wrote a series of novels centered around military life in the 1960′s and 70′s. An Annapolis grad, he served as Reagan’s last Secretary of the Navy.

In my own youth, I happened to work in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Warfare, which was set up in the aftermath of Vietnam to ensure that our forces would be ready for the next round of unconventional warfare. Early on an officer helpfully gave me a copy of the Marine commandant’s reading list, which I commend to anyone who wants to understand how the military thinks about itself. In addition to the expected Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and Mao, I found Webb’s novels on the list. They were far more readable than most of the other books, so I read them all. (For the record, my colleagues preferred Pat Conroy.)

Notwithstanding former Senator George Allen’s attempt to discredit Webb by publishing some of his novels’ sex scenes, the books contained a lot of extremely astute observation about living and striving among the D.C. political class. His heroes were all acutely articulate about the betrayal of soldiers by politicians during Vietnam—a war that Webb insisted was winnable well up until the end, had we wanted to do what it took. Indeed, he took the perspective of the eternal junior officer, brave and honorable, up against the perfidies of cynical and jaded politicians and generals who were no better than pols.

His real-life actions had the same impassioned cast: he resigned with great righteousness as Secretary of the Navy over a fairly minor cut in the planned “600-ship Navy.” As if the lower number challenged his honor. He appears to have left the GOP in similar pique.

It was a clever choice by the Democratic leadership to have the newly elected Senator Webb give the Democratic response to the State of the Union address. He is a solid orator with an impressively deep voice and the ability to formulate standard Democratic ideas in less clichéd language. Predictably he advocated the same economic populism that got him elected two months ago. On the higher-stakes matter of Iraq, the Senator carefully listed all of the members of his family who have served in the armed forces, announced that he had warned in advance that the war was a mistake, and demanded an immediate pullout of a large number of troops. His emotions were barely restrained. But neither feelings nor honorable military service and sacrifice are the ultimate arbiters of the rightness of a military policy, or the virtue of a hasty retreat.

Now that he is a powerful United States Senator it is past time for James Webb to stop thinking of himself as the only honest man in the room. Junior officers lead platoons. There are reasons that they don’t make the big decisions—and lacking the ability to think dispassionately is one of them.

Unlike most of the men and women who populate the higher reaches of American politics, James Webb, the new Democratic Senator from Virginia, is a genuinely interesting person—and one who thinks and feels with some passion. Rare among U.S. Senators, he appears to have made decisions not solely directed toward maintaining his “political viability.” In his youth, he followed family tradition and joined the Marines. As a junior officer he was wounded in combat in Vietnam. Back home he worked on Capitol Hill and wrote a series of novels centered around military life in the 1960′s and 70′s. An Annapolis grad, he served as Reagan’s last Secretary of the Navy.

In my own youth, I happened to work in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Warfare, which was set up in the aftermath of Vietnam to ensure that our forces would be ready for the next round of unconventional warfare. Early on an officer helpfully gave me a copy of the Marine commandant’s reading list, which I commend to anyone who wants to understand how the military thinks about itself. In addition to the expected Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and Mao, I found Webb’s novels on the list. They were far more readable than most of the other books, so I read them all. (For the record, my colleagues preferred Pat Conroy.)

Notwithstanding former Senator George Allen’s attempt to discredit Webb by publishing some of his novels’ sex scenes, the books contained a lot of extremely astute observation about living and striving among the D.C. political class. His heroes were all acutely articulate about the betrayal of soldiers by politicians during Vietnam—a war that Webb insisted was winnable well up until the end, had we wanted to do what it took. Indeed, he took the perspective of the eternal junior officer, brave and honorable, up against the perfidies of cynical and jaded politicians and generals who were no better than pols.

His real-life actions had the same impassioned cast: he resigned with great righteousness as Secretary of the Navy over a fairly minor cut in the planned “600-ship Navy.” As if the lower number challenged his honor. He appears to have left the GOP in similar pique.

It was a clever choice by the Democratic leadership to have the newly elected Senator Webb give the Democratic response to the State of the Union address. He is a solid orator with an impressively deep voice and the ability to formulate standard Democratic ideas in less clichéd language. Predictably he advocated the same economic populism that got him elected two months ago. On the higher-stakes matter of Iraq, the Senator carefully listed all of the members of his family who have served in the armed forces, announced that he had warned in advance that the war was a mistake, and demanded an immediate pullout of a large number of troops. His emotions were barely restrained. But neither feelings nor honorable military service and sacrifice are the ultimate arbiters of the rightness of a military policy, or the virtue of a hasty retreat.

Now that he is a powerful United States Senator it is past time for James Webb to stop thinking of himself as the only honest man in the room. Junior officers lead platoons. There are reasons that they don’t make the big decisions—and lacking the ability to think dispassionately is one of them.

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What Kind of Anti-Semite Is He?

Poor Jimmy Carter! “This is the first time that I’ve ever been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-Semite and a coward and a plagiarist. This is hurting me.”

This plaint, issuing from a podium at Brandeis University (where else?) and from a man who won election to the presidency of the United States and oversaw the Iran hostage crisis, seems somewhat disingenuous. The “first time?” But you have to attend to the middle term, “anti-Semite,” inserted so casually among the others. Lying, bigotry, cowardice, and plagiarism speak to the deeds and character of the accused. Casting oneself as the victim of charges of anti-Semitism involves a third party, and can be a way of reinforcing the original attack against them.

Good people weep for the hardships of troubled populations. It was noble—and Christian—to feel sorry for the starving children in Europe in the 1930′s, and no less so to sympathize with the Palestinians today.

But there are those who, through “lying and bigotry and cowardice,” turn those sympathies into blaming Jews for failing to alleviate hardships that Jews did not cause in the first place and are powerless to prevent.

It was not Jimmy Carter who formed the Arab League to prevent the emergence of Israel and who then dedicated the work of the League to Israel’s destruction. It was not Jimmy Carter who refused partition and insisted on maintaining generations of Palestinians as refugees. Neither was it Carter who instituted the economic boycott of Israel, introduced the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, or sponsored terrorism as an “unsponsored” weapon against Israel. Carter did not translate, disseminate, and dramatize the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for audiences in the multi-millions. He did not generate the anti-Semitism that sweeps and informs the Arab world. He is not an active anti-Semite. But he became its apologist, he echoes its accusations, using its terminology and advancing its cause.

Let us then make the distinction between anti-Semites who generate anti-Semitism and those who sustain it. And let him whom the shoe fits wear it.

Poor Jimmy Carter! “This is the first time that I’ve ever been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-Semite and a coward and a plagiarist. This is hurting me.”

This plaint, issuing from a podium at Brandeis University (where else?) and from a man who won election to the presidency of the United States and oversaw the Iran hostage crisis, seems somewhat disingenuous. The “first time?” But you have to attend to the middle term, “anti-Semite,” inserted so casually among the others. Lying, bigotry, cowardice, and plagiarism speak to the deeds and character of the accused. Casting oneself as the victim of charges of anti-Semitism involves a third party, and can be a way of reinforcing the original attack against them.

Good people weep for the hardships of troubled populations. It was noble—and Christian—to feel sorry for the starving children in Europe in the 1930′s, and no less so to sympathize with the Palestinians today.

But there are those who, through “lying and bigotry and cowardice,” turn those sympathies into blaming Jews for failing to alleviate hardships that Jews did not cause in the first place and are powerless to prevent.

It was not Jimmy Carter who formed the Arab League to prevent the emergence of Israel and who then dedicated the work of the League to Israel’s destruction. It was not Jimmy Carter who refused partition and insisted on maintaining generations of Palestinians as refugees. Neither was it Carter who instituted the economic boycott of Israel, introduced the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, or sponsored terrorism as an “unsponsored” weapon against Israel. Carter did not translate, disseminate, and dramatize the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for audiences in the multi-millions. He did not generate the anti-Semitism that sweeps and informs the Arab world. He is not an active anti-Semite. But he became its apologist, he echoes its accusations, using its terminology and advancing its cause.

Let us then make the distinction between anti-Semites who generate anti-Semitism and those who sustain it. And let him whom the shoe fits wear it.

Read Less

Weekend Reading

Welcome to Weekend Reading, a new feature at contentions: thought-provoking selections from the COMMENTARY archive to help tide you over until Monday. One of the great pleasures of being a part of COMMENTARY lies in our ability to give our readers glimpses into the magazine’s fascinating past. This weekend we’d like to offer you a handful of stories that first appeared in our pages (in three cases, for the first time in English) and that are among the acknowledged greats of the 20th century. Enjoy.

First Love
Isaac Babel

Looking for Mr. Green
Saul Bellow

Forevermore
S. Y. Agnon

Idiots First
Bernard Malamud

Yentl the Yeshiva Boy
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Envy; or, Yiddish in America
Cynthia Ozick

Welcome to Weekend Reading, a new feature at contentions: thought-provoking selections from the COMMENTARY archive to help tide you over until Monday. One of the great pleasures of being a part of COMMENTARY lies in our ability to give our readers glimpses into the magazine’s fascinating past. This weekend we’d like to offer you a handful of stories that first appeared in our pages (in three cases, for the first time in English) and that are among the acknowledged greats of the 20th century. Enjoy.

First Love
Isaac Babel

Looking for Mr. Green
Saul Bellow

Forevermore
S. Y. Agnon

Idiots First
Bernard Malamud

Yentl the Yeshiva Boy
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Envy; or, Yiddish in America
Cynthia Ozick

Read Less

Compromised Memorial

New York’s World Trade Center memorial is again the subject of controversy. Two years ago I criticized the design in the New Criterion for its remorseless Zen minimalism, and for offering only negations. The design, I wrote, “with its drumbeat of void, absence, falling, is filled with the presence of death and nowhere aware of the context of that death.” To some extent this was inevitable, given that the design plan mandated that the footprints of the fallen towers be retained, but the choices made by the designer, Michael Arad, have only tended to enhance its overwhelming sense of despair.

One choice in particular—how to list the names of the victims—was especially upsetting to the bereaved families. Arad rejected any systematic order, either alphabetical or by affiliation; instead he proposed to place the names in random order, making no distinction between World Trade Center employees, hijacked passengers, and first-responders. After two years of furious protest by police, fire, and rescue units, which felt that their sacrifices were of a different order, a compromise was made, in which names would be grouped according to where victims died, and crucial bits of information—such as airline flight number or fire house—would be provided.

This compromise has now drawn the ire of other survivors, who fear that separate classes of victims are being established, with their loved ones enjoying less status than those who sought to rescue them. It is a painful dilemma, and one sympathizes with both factions. Unfortunately, it does not lend itself to an elegant and elegiac solution like that of the Vietnam veterans memorial in Washington, where the names are inscribed in the sequence in which they died. One wonders if a better designed monument, one that offered hope and solace and not merely gloom, might have provoked less squabbling. As it is, the void of the memorial offers little comfort beyond the incised names themselves. Small wonder, then, that they are contested so bitterly.

New York’s World Trade Center memorial is again the subject of controversy. Two years ago I criticized the design in the New Criterion for its remorseless Zen minimalism, and for offering only negations. The design, I wrote, “with its drumbeat of void, absence, falling, is filled with the presence of death and nowhere aware of the context of that death.” To some extent this was inevitable, given that the design plan mandated that the footprints of the fallen towers be retained, but the choices made by the designer, Michael Arad, have only tended to enhance its overwhelming sense of despair.

One choice in particular—how to list the names of the victims—was especially upsetting to the bereaved families. Arad rejected any systematic order, either alphabetical or by affiliation; instead he proposed to place the names in random order, making no distinction between World Trade Center employees, hijacked passengers, and first-responders. After two years of furious protest by police, fire, and rescue units, which felt that their sacrifices were of a different order, a compromise was made, in which names would be grouped according to where victims died, and crucial bits of information—such as airline flight number or fire house—would be provided.

This compromise has now drawn the ire of other survivors, who fear that separate classes of victims are being established, with their loved ones enjoying less status than those who sought to rescue them. It is a painful dilemma, and one sympathizes with both factions. Unfortunately, it does not lend itself to an elegant and elegiac solution like that of the Vietnam veterans memorial in Washington, where the names are inscribed in the sequence in which they died. One wonders if a better designed monument, one that offered hope and solace and not merely gloom, might have provoked less squabbling. As it is, the void of the memorial offers little comfort beyond the incised names themselves. Small wonder, then, that they are contested so bitterly.

Read Less




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