Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 2, 2007

Weekend Reading

We’re sorry to see the lively debate on Iraq between Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson end today. You can follow the debate’s fascinating progress below:

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

COMMENTARY has been a major voice in the American debate over foreign policy for more than sixty years. The questions Max and Victor raise about Iraq are contemporary echoes of those that have engaged thinkers in this realm since the end of World War II. Here are a few classic examinations of America’s strategic and political role in the world from our archives to feed your intellectual appetite till Monday. Enjoy.

World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win
Norman Podhoretz

The Struggle for Mastery in Asia
Aaron L. Friedberg

How to Cope with the Soviet Threat
Richard Pipes

Was Woodrow Wilson Right?
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Vietnam: New Light on the Question of American Guilt
Guenter Lewy

We’re sorry to see the lively debate on Iraq between Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson end today. You can follow the debate’s fascinating progress below:

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

COMMENTARY has been a major voice in the American debate over foreign policy for more than sixty years. The questions Max and Victor raise about Iraq are contemporary echoes of those that have engaged thinkers in this realm since the end of World War II. Here are a few classic examinations of America’s strategic and political role in the world from our archives to feed your intellectual appetite till Monday. Enjoy.

World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win
Norman Podhoretz

The Struggle for Mastery in Asia
Aaron L. Friedberg

How to Cope with the Soviet Threat
Richard Pipes

Was Woodrow Wilson Right?
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Vietnam: New Light on the Question of American Guilt
Guenter Lewy

Read Less

Freedom House v. Anatol Lieven

Anatol Lieven—a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Ethical Realism: A Vision of America’s Role in the World—has emerged in recent years as one of the more relentless critics of democratization as a core project of U.S. foreign policy. The latest effort in his anti-democratization campaign is a January 26 column published in the Financial Times in response to Freedom House’s recently released annual index of global political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. (contentions blogger Joshua Muravchik wrote about the Washington Post‘s own attempt to spin this report here.) Lieven levels a number of serious charges at Freedom House and democracy advocates in general. Let’s examine these charges, one by one:

1. Democracy advocates, presumably including Freedom House, have exaggerated the impact of the elections in Iraq.

In its reports and findings on Iraq, Freedom House has consistently stressed the high incidence there of violence, terrorism, and sectarian strife. Freedom House has never described Iraq as a democracy or as a free society, and the country’s rating has remained “not free” throughout the period of occupation.

2. Freedom House distorts its findings to suit the ideological leanings of the American government.

Only someone who has not read Freedom in the World carefully could come to this conclusion. The latest index suggests that, far from being on the march, freedom has entered a period of stagnation, with very little progress in recent years—a conclusion hardly in line with the ideological leanings of the Bush administration.

3. Freedom House gives the United States the highest possible freedom score while judging other countries by the degree of their alliance with America.

The United States does, indeed, receive the highest possible rating—as do practically all the countries of Western Europe. One feels almost ridiculous in pointing out that a number of these countries—for starters, France, Spain, and Germany—have had sharp differences with America over its foreign policy in recent years. At the same time, Freedom in the World gives low scores to such American allies or “partners” as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

4. Freedom House does not appreciate the levels of freedom in China and Russia.

China devotes billions of dollars to the political censorship of the Internet. The authorities regularly imprison journalists, human-rights lawyers, and ordinary citizens seeking redress in cases of official abuse of power. Russia is moving precipitously in the wrong direction in almost every sphere of freedom. (For a detailed look at Russia’s regression, see Leon Aron’s What Does Putin Want? in the December issue of COMMENTARY.) What, exactly, are we meant to appreciate?

5. Freedom House has a narrow and extremist definition of freedom that fails to consider political developments leading to “a real sense of individual rights and personal liberty.”

Again, had Lieven read the report more carefully, he would have learned that Freedom House stresses precisely those institutions that are the key guarantors of “individual rights and personal liberty.” The issues of concern singled out in the report include the global decline in freedom of expression and the press, the widespread failure to create the effective rule of law, and rampant corruption.

Anatol Lieven calls himself an “ethical realist.” The “realist” component of this description seems to consist in his support of “benevolent” autocrats the globe over. Where the “ethical” comes in, given his slipshod reporting of the contents of Freedom in the World, remains rather mysterious.

Anatol Lieven—a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Ethical Realism: A Vision of America’s Role in the World—has emerged in recent years as one of the more relentless critics of democratization as a core project of U.S. foreign policy. The latest effort in his anti-democratization campaign is a January 26 column published in the Financial Times in response to Freedom House’s recently released annual index of global political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. (contentions blogger Joshua Muravchik wrote about the Washington Post‘s own attempt to spin this report here.) Lieven levels a number of serious charges at Freedom House and democracy advocates in general. Let’s examine these charges, one by one:

1. Democracy advocates, presumably including Freedom House, have exaggerated the impact of the elections in Iraq.

In its reports and findings on Iraq, Freedom House has consistently stressed the high incidence there of violence, terrorism, and sectarian strife. Freedom House has never described Iraq as a democracy or as a free society, and the country’s rating has remained “not free” throughout the period of occupation.

2. Freedom House distorts its findings to suit the ideological leanings of the American government.

Only someone who has not read Freedom in the World carefully could come to this conclusion. The latest index suggests that, far from being on the march, freedom has entered a period of stagnation, with very little progress in recent years—a conclusion hardly in line with the ideological leanings of the Bush administration.

3. Freedom House gives the United States the highest possible freedom score while judging other countries by the degree of their alliance with America.

The United States does, indeed, receive the highest possible rating—as do practically all the countries of Western Europe. One feels almost ridiculous in pointing out that a number of these countries—for starters, France, Spain, and Germany—have had sharp differences with America over its foreign policy in recent years. At the same time, Freedom in the World gives low scores to such American allies or “partners” as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

4. Freedom House does not appreciate the levels of freedom in China and Russia.

China devotes billions of dollars to the political censorship of the Internet. The authorities regularly imprison journalists, human-rights lawyers, and ordinary citizens seeking redress in cases of official abuse of power. Russia is moving precipitously in the wrong direction in almost every sphere of freedom. (For a detailed look at Russia’s regression, see Leon Aron’s What Does Putin Want? in the December issue of COMMENTARY.) What, exactly, are we meant to appreciate?

5. Freedom House has a narrow and extremist definition of freedom that fails to consider political developments leading to “a real sense of individual rights and personal liberty.”

Again, had Lieven read the report more carefully, he would have learned that Freedom House stresses precisely those institutions that are the key guarantors of “individual rights and personal liberty.” The issues of concern singled out in the report include the global decline in freedom of expression and the press, the widespread failure to create the effective rule of law, and rampant corruption.

Anatol Lieven calls himself an “ethical realist.” The “realist” component of this description seems to consist in his support of “benevolent” autocrats the globe over. Where the “ethical” comes in, given his slipshod reporting of the contents of Freedom in the World, remains rather mysterious.

Read Less

Damage Done

Back in June 2006, the front page of the New York Times carried news of a highly secret CIA-Treasury department intelligence program to track al Qaeda financing that drew on data supplied by a European banking consortium based in Belgium known as SWIFT.

President Bush denounced the newspaper’s disclosure of the classified counterterrorism operation as “disgraceful.” Prior to publication, administration officials had strenuously warned the newspaper not to run the story, arguing, among other things, that it would endanger national security by placing the SWIFT consortium under intense pressure to stop sharing information with U.S. intelligence. 

Bill Keller, his paper already under attack for revealing a highly classified NSA terrorist surveillance program the previous December, promptly issued an equally strenuous rebuttal, noting that “if, as the administration says, the [SWIFT] program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it.” Not long after that, Byron Calame, the Times’s ombudsman chimed in, saying that “So far, SWIFT hasn’t publicly indicated any intention to stop cooperating.” 

Calame subsequently had a change of mind about the wisdom of his paper’s actions, and offered a “mea culpa,” declaring that “I don’t think the article should have been published.” Bill Keller, for his part, issued a lacerating reply to what he called Calame’s “revisionist epiphany.”

Today, buried in the back pages of the Times, comes news that the European Central Bank has ordered SWIFT to cease providing banking data to the United States for use in investigations of al Qaeda. “Under European Union rules,” the Times reports, “information on money transfers can be used only for banking purposes and not for other uses, like combating terrorism.”

To read Bill Keller’s initial defense of his paper’s actions, click here (link requires registration).

To find out how long it will take before Bill Keller issues a mea culpa of his own, click here.
 

Back in June 2006, the front page of the New York Times carried news of a highly secret CIA-Treasury department intelligence program to track al Qaeda financing that drew on data supplied by a European banking consortium based in Belgium known as SWIFT.

President Bush denounced the newspaper’s disclosure of the classified counterterrorism operation as “disgraceful.” Prior to publication, administration officials had strenuously warned the newspaper not to run the story, arguing, among other things, that it would endanger national security by placing the SWIFT consortium under intense pressure to stop sharing information with U.S. intelligence. 

Bill Keller, his paper already under attack for revealing a highly classified NSA terrorist surveillance program the previous December, promptly issued an equally strenuous rebuttal, noting that “if, as the administration says, the [SWIFT] program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it.” Not long after that, Byron Calame, the Times’s ombudsman chimed in, saying that “So far, SWIFT hasn’t publicly indicated any intention to stop cooperating.” 

Calame subsequently had a change of mind about the wisdom of his paper’s actions, and offered a “mea culpa,” declaring that “I don’t think the article should have been published.” Bill Keller, for his part, issued a lacerating reply to what he called Calame’s “revisionist epiphany.”

Today, buried in the back pages of the Times, comes news that the European Central Bank has ordered SWIFT to cease providing banking data to the United States for use in investigations of al Qaeda. “Under European Union rules,” the Times reports, “information on money transfers can be used only for banking purposes and not for other uses, like combating terrorism.”

To read Bill Keller’s initial defense of his paper’s actions, click here (link requires registration).

To find out how long it will take before Bill Keller issues a mea culpa of his own, click here.
 

Read Less

Boot and Hanson, Final Round: Fixing Our Mistakes

Dear Max,

I wouldn’t necessarily conflate being more aggressive with being more brutal. We can patrol more, embed more advisors, shoot and arrest more insurgents, all without being gratuitously cruel or needlessly overbearing to civilian sensibilities.

Here is what I think happened in Iraq after April 2003. Bolstered by a 70-percent approval rating, and still smarting from all the prewar hysteria from the Left, the Bush administration felt that it could run out the clock, so to speak.

Thus, each time a challenge arose—looting, the Fallujah outbreak, the Sadr uprising—their idea was to finesse the crisis as much as possible. They were afraid to squander the capital of hard-won public support through (unneeded?) escalation, escalation that would increase casualties and only encourage further domestic and international condemnation of the war.

As a result of this policy, public support vanished anyway, in dribs and drabs, each time we did not react strongly and decisively enough to a provocation. The administration thought, apparently, that using more aggressive tactics would only further incite the growing anti-war movement and that the good news of progress in reconstruction would only continue to be ignored by a biased media.

And so with a whimper rather than a bang, our complacency and over-sensitive attention to perceived public opinion made us ever less aggressive and ever more attuned to “force protection”—at precisely the time more and more offensive operations were needed to break the insurgency and win back public opinion.

Now we must shatter that complacency and do in nine months what textbooks warn takes years. It is still not too late; history might still record as a considerable military achievement the removal of Saddam and the creation of a constitutional government in Iraq. The President and the military believe they can pull it off, while the opposition (whose proposals to withdraw are not matched by votes to reduce budget appropriations) remains, to say the least, doubtful. But the American public’s patience will, apparently, tolerate this final effort.

I am tired of reading the latest declarations of moral outrage from politicians and pundits blaming Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Abizaid, etc., for “their” three-year-long occupation that ruined “our” perfect three-week war. What happened in Iraq pales when compared to the horrifying mistakes our government and military made in the Civil War, in World War I and World War II, in Korea and Vietnam. What would this generation of politicians and journalists have said after Cold Harbor and the Battle of the Wilderness, after the two-year-long nightmare of the fall of France, after our World War II losses in the Atlantic, after the debacle in Greece, after the surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk? One can only imagine.

All that matters now is correcting our mistakes, countering the defeatists, and defeating the insurgents. We have to keep firmly in mind the correct notion that a functional democracy in Iraq would be the worst nightmare of jihadists the world over, of Iran, Syria, and the royal Gulf “moderates.” Allowing Iraq to devolve into the Lebanon of the 1980’s or the Afghanistan of the 1990’s, on the other hand, would restore al Qaeda’s lost sanctuary and provide a new base of operations for Iranian-backed terrorists. To paraphrase one commentator, such a failure would inflict “1,000 Mogadishus”-worth of damage on the reputation of the U.S. military and on a nascent and necessary U.S. Middle East policy, a policy seeking to transcend the dangerous (and cynical) “realism” of the past.

Best,
Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IV

Dear Max,

I wouldn’t necessarily conflate being more aggressive with being more brutal. We can patrol more, embed more advisors, shoot and arrest more insurgents, all without being gratuitously cruel or needlessly overbearing to civilian sensibilities.

Here is what I think happened in Iraq after April 2003. Bolstered by a 70-percent approval rating, and still smarting from all the prewar hysteria from the Left, the Bush administration felt that it could run out the clock, so to speak.

Thus, each time a challenge arose—looting, the Fallujah outbreak, the Sadr uprising—their idea was to finesse the crisis as much as possible. They were afraid to squander the capital of hard-won public support through (unneeded?) escalation, escalation that would increase casualties and only encourage further domestic and international condemnation of the war.

As a result of this policy, public support vanished anyway, in dribs and drabs, each time we did not react strongly and decisively enough to a provocation. The administration thought, apparently, that using more aggressive tactics would only further incite the growing anti-war movement and that the good news of progress in reconstruction would only continue to be ignored by a biased media.

And so with a whimper rather than a bang, our complacency and over-sensitive attention to perceived public opinion made us ever less aggressive and ever more attuned to “force protection”—at precisely the time more and more offensive operations were needed to break the insurgency and win back public opinion.

Now we must shatter that complacency and do in nine months what textbooks warn takes years. It is still not too late; history might still record as a considerable military achievement the removal of Saddam and the creation of a constitutional government in Iraq. The President and the military believe they can pull it off, while the opposition (whose proposals to withdraw are not matched by votes to reduce budget appropriations) remains, to say the least, doubtful. But the American public’s patience will, apparently, tolerate this final effort.

I am tired of reading the latest declarations of moral outrage from politicians and pundits blaming Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Abizaid, etc., for “their” three-year-long occupation that ruined “our” perfect three-week war. What happened in Iraq pales when compared to the horrifying mistakes our government and military made in the Civil War, in World War I and World War II, in Korea and Vietnam. What would this generation of politicians and journalists have said after Cold Harbor and the Battle of the Wilderness, after the two-year-long nightmare of the fall of France, after our World War II losses in the Atlantic, after the debacle in Greece, after the surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk? One can only imagine.

All that matters now is correcting our mistakes, countering the defeatists, and defeating the insurgents. We have to keep firmly in mind the correct notion that a functional democracy in Iraq would be the worst nightmare of jihadists the world over, of Iran, Syria, and the royal Gulf “moderates.” Allowing Iraq to devolve into the Lebanon of the 1980’s or the Afghanistan of the 1990’s, on the other hand, would restore al Qaeda’s lost sanctuary and provide a new base of operations for Iranian-backed terrorists. To paraphrase one commentator, such a failure would inflict “1,000 Mogadishus”-worth of damage on the reputation of the U.S. military and on a nascent and necessary U.S. Middle East policy, a policy seeking to transcend the dangerous (and cynical) “realism” of the past.

Best,
Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IV

Read Less




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