I have always laughed at the old joke about how Reform Judaism is “the Democratic party with holidays.” But at the moment, watching the spiritual leaders of the Reform movement repackage left-wing anti-war boilerplate language in the trappings of Judaism, it isn’t so funny.
To see why, pay a quick visit to the Union of Reform Judaism’s website and read the statement that the movement’s leadership wishes to have ratified today at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the URJ’s board of trustees.
The announcement last Tuesday by the State Department that, for a second straight year, the U.S. would decline to seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council inscribes finis on a landmark effort to reform the UN—and suggests that all such efforts are doomed to fail.
In the wake of the oil-for-food scandal and the rending of the Security Council over the Iraq war, Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed a High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change, with an unusually ambitious mandate for UN reform. It issued a report in late 2004, which was largely incorporated in Annan’s own reform package formulated for the UN summit of September 2005. Both the panel and Annan asserted in unusually blunt terms that the longstanding UN Commission on Human Rights had strayed so far from its original purposes that, in Annan’s words, it “cast . . . a shadow on the reputation” of the whole UN. Therefore, it was to be abolished in favor of a new body designed to avoid the faults of the old.
Going into the summit, the U.S. worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Annan toward this goal, combining the clout of Washington with that of the UN establishment, two powerful forces that have often been at cross purposes. Even this alliance, however, proved too weak to achieve its key goals in the design of the new Human Rights Council.
Like so many “small wars,” the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada has been all but forgotten. But the death of Joseph Metcalf III, the vice admiral who commanded the U.S. invasion force, provides an opportunity to recall the impact of this operation.
The Reagan administration was concerned about Grenada because of the presence of Cuban engineers who were building a large airfield that, it was feared, could become a platform for Soviet combat aircraft. The immediate trigger for the invasion was a coup by hardline Marxists in the army who overthrew Maurice Bishop’s government, which was already radical enough. There were fears that the resulting chaos could endanger 1,000 American medical students on the Caribbean island.
An initial landing of 1,500 American troops who went ashore on October 25 met stiffer-than-expected resistance from the Grenadian army and its Cuban allies. The island was not declared secure until November 2. By then some 8,000 American troops had been committed to fight an estimated 1,200 Grenadian soldiers and 780 Cubans. Nineteen U.S. service personnel died. Cuban and Grenadian forces lost 70 men.
• Of the making of books about Miles Davis, the most influential figure in post-1950 jazz, there is no end. The latest one, Richard Cook’s It’s About That Time: Miles Davis On and Off Record (Oxford, 373 pp., $27) is a sort-of-biography that tells the story of the trumpeter’s tempestuous life by describing the making of sixteen of his key albums, with extensive digressions along the way. Though this approach isn’t exactly new—Jack Chambers’s Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis did the same thing at much greater length, discussing all of Davis’s recordings through 1985—Cook’s more concentrated treatment is both readable and accessible, though jazz novices in search of a primer on Davis will likely find it too detailed. If, on the other hand, you know your way around Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain but have yet to sample any of the rock-flavored recordings Davis started making in 1969, the second half of It’s About That Time offers a (mostly) reliable roadmap to that underexplored territory.
The Teapacks are an Israeli pop group, said to be punk-influenced, whose music is no doubt as ghastly as that of all such groups—if music is indeed the right generic description. “Push the Button,” the title of their latest song, is sung in English, French, and Hebrew, and contains the lines, “The world is full of terror/ If someone makes an error/ He’s gonna blow us up to biddy biddy kingdom come.” Also, “I don’t want to die/ I want to see the flowers bloom/ Don’t want to go kapoot-kaboom.” Not likely to be mistaken for Byron or even Shelley, certainly. But it is, nonetheless, this year’s Israeli entry for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Europe is at best a notional, perhaps geographical, concept, lacking unity or a specific character. Each of its component countries cherishes its own culture and language. Constructed in defiance of this reality, the European Union has been trying to evolve a culture that it can pretend is common (in the sense of general participation). The project is hopeless. All that the controlling bureaucrats in Brussels have been able to come up with are little stunts (such as soccer matches or golf teams) to challenge the United States. The Eurovision Song Contest is their prize exhibit, and indeed common—but in the sense of low and vulgar.
Staking out a distinctive position in today’s debate over Iran is no easy matter. Every foreign-policy maven has a formula to suggest or a wider strategy in which to embed our dealings with the Islamic republic. Regime change or containment, carrier groups or sanctions, rhetorical confrontation or bilateral talks, Sunni balancing or Shiite cooptation—what’s the right mix? But most analysts agree on one thing: Iran is a problem, a growing threat, an ambitious and aggressively ideological power with designs on regional domination. Here, then, is where there’s room to make a mark with a bold counterintuitive claim: maybe Iran isn’t so bad.
So says Ray Takeyh in an article entitled “Time for Détente with Iran” in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the Islamic republic has been misunderstood. In the American imagination, “a perception of Iran as a destabilizing force” has been allowed to “congeal,” based on little more than “visceral suspicion.” Whatever Iran may have been in the early days of its Islamic revolution, it is no longer, in Takeyh’s estimation, a “revisionist” or “revolutionary” state. Indeed, its foreign policy has long been “quite pragmatic.” To take advantage of this fact—and to deal with the “manageable challenges” posed by Iran’s nuclear program and its “penchant for terrorism”—the U.S. must accept a “paradigm shift,” offering immediate normalization as the “starting point of talks” and ending the regime’s economic and diplomatic isolation.