Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 14, 2007

A Bad Deal with Kim Jong Il

A few weeks ago I was at a dinner with a former Bush administration official who expressed concern that, with only two years left in office and with no major achievements to her credit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would feel compelled to strike a diplomatic bargain somewhere. It’s always possible to get a deal, this former appointee noted, if you’re willing to make major concessions to the other side.

These concerns proved well founded when the administration unveiled its new agreement with North Korea. Actually, that’s overstating the case a bit, since this is only a preliminary agreement, with many issues left unresolved. It may well fall apart—as did an earlier “breakthrough” in September 2005. At least I hope it falls apart, since this deal is no bargain from our standpoint.

It is nothing like the treaty struck in 2003 with Muammar Qaddafi, under which the Libyan dictator agreed to the complete dismantling of his program to develop weapons of mass destruction. For the moment, all that Kim Jong Il has agreed to is a “freeze” on activity at his Yongbyon plutonium reactor—what the North Korean news agency is describing as a “temporary suspension.”

The really important issues—will Kim actually dismantle the reactor and give up his existing nuclear arsenal?—will be addressed at some undetermined point down the road. The current agreement doesn’t even mention North Korea’s other nuclear program, using uranium rather than plutonium. In return for these rather paltry concessions, the U.S. and its allies agree to provide fuel oil and other aid to prop up the most bloodthirsty regime in the world.

Isn’t this precisely the kind of “reward” for proliferation that Bush, Rice, Cheney, et al. have spent years denouncing? However much the Bushies may try to spin it, their latest agreement is in essentially the same spirit as the Clinton administration’s 1994 Agreed Framework, which we now know North Korea violated. I only hope this isn’t a prelude to a similar, unenforceable agreement with Iran.

A few weeks ago I was at a dinner with a former Bush administration official who expressed concern that, with only two years left in office and with no major achievements to her credit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would feel compelled to strike a diplomatic bargain somewhere. It’s always possible to get a deal, this former appointee noted, if you’re willing to make major concessions to the other side.

These concerns proved well founded when the administration unveiled its new agreement with North Korea. Actually, that’s overstating the case a bit, since this is only a preliminary agreement, with many issues left unresolved. It may well fall apart—as did an earlier “breakthrough” in September 2005. At least I hope it falls apart, since this deal is no bargain from our standpoint.

It is nothing like the treaty struck in 2003 with Muammar Qaddafi, under which the Libyan dictator agreed to the complete dismantling of his program to develop weapons of mass destruction. For the moment, all that Kim Jong Il has agreed to is a “freeze” on activity at his Yongbyon plutonium reactor—what the North Korean news agency is describing as a “temporary suspension.”

The really important issues—will Kim actually dismantle the reactor and give up his existing nuclear arsenal?—will be addressed at some undetermined point down the road. The current agreement doesn’t even mention North Korea’s other nuclear program, using uranium rather than plutonium. In return for these rather paltry concessions, the U.S. and its allies agree to provide fuel oil and other aid to prop up the most bloodthirsty regime in the world.

Isn’t this precisely the kind of “reward” for proliferation that Bush, Rice, Cheney, et al. have spent years denouncing? However much the Bushies may try to spin it, their latest agreement is in essentially the same spirit as the Clinton administration’s 1994 Agreed Framework, which we now know North Korea violated. I only hope this isn’t a prelude to a similar, unenforceable agreement with Iran.

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Judaism and Nature

Hillel Halkin, eminent author and Zionist thinker, blogged recently about an “enthusiastic article” in the Forward on “eco-Judaism” and Judaism’s (alleged) latent sympathy for environmentalism.

I admire Halkin and applaud him when he asks, regarding the Forward piece, “Why do I find this concept so silly?” But I disagree with his assertion that Judaism has had “very little to say about environmental problems” because “Jews have lived for the better part of their history in the Diaspora,” and that “when it comes to environmentalism,” Judaism’s place is not on the teaching end but “on the learning end.”

I believe, in fact, that there is no other aspect of modern life where Judaism has so much to teach.

True, normative Judaism has nothing to say about environmentalism in the modern sense. No religion does. Until recent generations (except for occasional oddball exceptions), the human population was too small and insufficiently industrialized to have any significant effect on nature, so environmental problems in today’s sense didn’t exist. Also true but in need of qualification is Halkin’s comment about the Jews’ long-term separation from the land: the classical rabbis were in close touch with the land of Israel for centuries after the Diaspora had begun. Of the two Talmuds, the Bavli and the Yerushalmi (or the “Babylonian” and the “Jerusalem”), the latter reflects the scholarship of the once-and-future land of Israel.

And then there is the Bible. Listen to the German Romantic poet and philosopher Johann Herder in The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry: “With what a joyful expression that poet [of the Psalms] surveys the earth!” Herder praises, separately, the Bible’s discussions of plants, animals (“their strength, stateliness, and velocity,” “the acuteness of their senses, their habits of life”), water, oceans, and storms; nowhere is “the poetry of nature” more perfectly expressed, writes Herder, than in the Hebrew Bible.

Reading the Bible, no one can doubt that Jews admire natural beauty. But they do so for one overriding reason: they see God reflected in it. Here Judaism and environmentalism diverge fundamentally. Judaism is always aware of the danger of idolatry and of paganism, which grows straight out of nature-worship; the sun, moon, and stars are the top gods in most pagan pantheons. Judaism abhors paganism, because it has the capacity to turn men into animals, to make them bestial.

Modern environmentalists are often agnostics or atheists, nursing a spiritual vacuum like a broken heart. When today’s environmentalist speaks of the earth as our common mother, or of man as “just another animal,” or of human beings as “children of the earth” (in Judaism, we are children of God), we can hear the grim rumble of paganism approaching like an avalanche, crushing all moral life in its path.

Nature is beautiful—and amoral. It is easy to admire a waterfall; anyone can do it. But no animal, plant, mountain crag, or swift-running brook has ever known how to seek justice, love mercy, or walk humbly with its God.

Hillel Halkin, eminent author and Zionist thinker, blogged recently about an “enthusiastic article” in the Forward on “eco-Judaism” and Judaism’s (alleged) latent sympathy for environmentalism.

I admire Halkin and applaud him when he asks, regarding the Forward piece, “Why do I find this concept so silly?” But I disagree with his assertion that Judaism has had “very little to say about environmental problems” because “Jews have lived for the better part of their history in the Diaspora,” and that “when it comes to environmentalism,” Judaism’s place is not on the teaching end but “on the learning end.”

I believe, in fact, that there is no other aspect of modern life where Judaism has so much to teach.

True, normative Judaism has nothing to say about environmentalism in the modern sense. No religion does. Until recent generations (except for occasional oddball exceptions), the human population was too small and insufficiently industrialized to have any significant effect on nature, so environmental problems in today’s sense didn’t exist. Also true but in need of qualification is Halkin’s comment about the Jews’ long-term separation from the land: the classical rabbis were in close touch with the land of Israel for centuries after the Diaspora had begun. Of the two Talmuds, the Bavli and the Yerushalmi (or the “Babylonian” and the “Jerusalem”), the latter reflects the scholarship of the once-and-future land of Israel.

And then there is the Bible. Listen to the German Romantic poet and philosopher Johann Herder in The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry: “With what a joyful expression that poet [of the Psalms] surveys the earth!” Herder praises, separately, the Bible’s discussions of plants, animals (“their strength, stateliness, and velocity,” “the acuteness of their senses, their habits of life”), water, oceans, and storms; nowhere is “the poetry of nature” more perfectly expressed, writes Herder, than in the Hebrew Bible.

Reading the Bible, no one can doubt that Jews admire natural beauty. But they do so for one overriding reason: they see God reflected in it. Here Judaism and environmentalism diverge fundamentally. Judaism is always aware of the danger of idolatry and of paganism, which grows straight out of nature-worship; the sun, moon, and stars are the top gods in most pagan pantheons. Judaism abhors paganism, because it has the capacity to turn men into animals, to make them bestial.

Modern environmentalists are often agnostics or atheists, nursing a spiritual vacuum like a broken heart. When today’s environmentalist speaks of the earth as our common mother, or of man as “just another animal,” or of human beings as “children of the earth” (in Judaism, we are children of God), we can hear the grim rumble of paganism approaching like an avalanche, crushing all moral life in its path.

Nature is beautiful—and amoral. It is easy to admire a waterfall; anyone can do it. But no animal, plant, mountain crag, or swift-running brook has ever known how to seek justice, love mercy, or walk humbly with its God.

Read Less

German Anti-Americanism, Then and Now

Germans are often said to be obsessed by their Nazi past. This week Germany has been reminded of another nightmare it would prefer to forget: the Marxist terrorism of the 1970’s and 80’s. The release on parole of an apparently unrepentant Brigitte Mohnhaupt, one of the most notorious members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang (also known as the Red Army Faction) has polarized German public opinion once again, just as it did during the fall of 1977, when she played a key role in the kidnapping and murder of the banker Juergen Ponto and the industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer.

In one respect, Mohnhaupt was a prophetic figure: she foreshadowed the extreme anti-Americanism that would grip Germany in the new century. In 1981, in the most spectacular of many attacks on American troops by Baader-Meinhof terrorists, the car carrying General Frederick Kroesen, the U.S. commander in Europe, and his wife was attacked by Mohnhaupt with a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire near Heidelberg. The Kroesens survived with minor injuries, thanks to their armor-plated Mercedes.

Today’s German anti-Americanism takes a less violent form, but it has succeeded where the terrorists failed: the American military presence in Germany, once the largest outside the United States, has mostly been relocated elsewhere. Gerhard Schröder’s Red-Green coalition, which ruled Germany from 1998 until 2005, included several ministers who had once been sympathetic to the terrorists.

For me, however, Mohnhaupt’s release raised another ghost from the dead: Alfred Herrhausen, chairman of Deutsche Bank, who was one of the last of the Red Army Faction’s victims. I met Herrhausen in Moscow during a state visit with Chancellor Kohl in December 1988, less than a year before Herrhausen’s car was blown up by Mohnhaupt’s comrades. He was in Moscow to negotiate a gigantic loan to Russia with Gorbachev—a deal so important to the Russians that in their eyes Herrhausen even overshadowed Chancellor Kohl.

Read More

Germans are often said to be obsessed by their Nazi past. This week Germany has been reminded of another nightmare it would prefer to forget: the Marxist terrorism of the 1970’s and 80’s. The release on parole of an apparently unrepentant Brigitte Mohnhaupt, one of the most notorious members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang (also known as the Red Army Faction) has polarized German public opinion once again, just as it did during the fall of 1977, when she played a key role in the kidnapping and murder of the banker Juergen Ponto and the industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer.

In one respect, Mohnhaupt was a prophetic figure: she foreshadowed the extreme anti-Americanism that would grip Germany in the new century. In 1981, in the most spectacular of many attacks on American troops by Baader-Meinhof terrorists, the car carrying General Frederick Kroesen, the U.S. commander in Europe, and his wife was attacked by Mohnhaupt with a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire near Heidelberg. The Kroesens survived with minor injuries, thanks to their armor-plated Mercedes.

Today’s German anti-Americanism takes a less violent form, but it has succeeded where the terrorists failed: the American military presence in Germany, once the largest outside the United States, has mostly been relocated elsewhere. Gerhard Schröder’s Red-Green coalition, which ruled Germany from 1998 until 2005, included several ministers who had once been sympathetic to the terrorists.

For me, however, Mohnhaupt’s release raised another ghost from the dead: Alfred Herrhausen, chairman of Deutsche Bank, who was one of the last of the Red Army Faction’s victims. I met Herrhausen in Moscow during a state visit with Chancellor Kohl in December 1988, less than a year before Herrhausen’s car was blown up by Mohnhaupt’s comrades. He was in Moscow to negotiate a gigantic loan to Russia with Gorbachev—a deal so important to the Russians that in their eyes Herrhausen even overshadowed Chancellor Kohl.

Herrhausen looked every inch the king of German capitalism, with seats on the supervisory boards of many of the Federal Republic’s major corporations. He had been raised in one of the Nazi Lebensborn colonies, where future members of the SS were groomed to become the master race. This biographical accident helped to account for the pathological loathing of Herrhausen by the Left, which formed the necessary background to his murder.

I could not help thinking of Walther Rathenau, the German Foreign Minister in the Weimar Republic, who shocked the West by signing the Rapallo Treaty with Bolshevik Russia in 1922. Rathenau, too, had been a great capitalist—he was the head of A.E.G., then the largest electrical company in Europe—and he, too, was first demonized and then assassinated.

The difference, of course, was that Rathenau was a Jew, and his murderers were anti-Semites of the extreme Right. Herrhausen’s assassins, the Red Army Faction, pioneered the left-wing form of anti-Semitism—they collaborated with Palestinian terrorists in “anti-Zionist” operations, including the kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Showing, once and for all, that despite the Red Army Faction’s pretense that the Federal Republic was merely the Third Reich in another guise, the terrorists had far more in common with the Nazis than with their victims.

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