In the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books, George Soros, the billionaire investor, philanthropist, amateur political scientist, and self-styled “stateless statesman,” has an essay detailing the allegedly malign influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American policy and political discourse. According to Soros, the influence wielded by AIPAC has succeeded in silencing any real criticism of the Bush administration’s stance toward Israel, or of Israel’s toward the Palestinians, to the real detriment of the national interest. Anyone who dares to speak out publicly against this insidious state of affairs is tarred with the epithet “anti-Semite” and summarily drummed out of polite society.
Soros is, of course, hardly the first public figure to bring such charges in recent years—without, incidentally, suffering any visible negative effects. Quite the contrary. In March 2006, the political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, leaped to fame with a lengthy paper on much the same theme in the London Review of Books. (Mearsheimer and Walt criticized not AIPAC alone but a far more nebulous group, the “Israel Lobby,” of which AIPAC constituted one element.) The ranks of such “questioners” have also been swollen lately by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and others, again to a chorus of approbation.
In COMMENTARY, both George Soros and the question of the “Israel Lobby” have received attention of another kind. In “The Mind of George Soros” (March 2004) Joshua Muravchik examined the life, the ideas, and the political megalomania of the financier. More recently, in “Dual Loyalty and the ‘Israel Lobby,’” our senior editor Gabriel Schoenfeld deconstructed the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt and located them within a historical tradition of similarly suspect exercises. We offer these two indispensable articles for your weekend reading.
Last week I attended a reading of the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert’s poems at the New School in downtown Manhattan. At the podium were the poets Edward Hirsch and Adam Zagajewski, Herbert’s translator Alissa Valles, the journalist and dissident Adam Michnik, and New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn. This event marked a long-awaited occasion: the publication of Herbert’s collected works in English. Collected Poems, 1956-1998, in Valles’s sensitive translation, makes an important addition to our understanding of post-war literary modernism, and of post-war poetry in general.
On the occasion of Herbert’s death in 1998, his compatriot, translator, and friend Czesław Miłosz wrote a short, understated poem about their shared art form and how the deceased unfailingly attended it:
He, who served [poetry],
is changed into a thing,
delivered to decomposition
into salts and phosphates,
into the home of chaos.
Changed into a thing: a line Herbert himself would have seen as no small compliment. A battered son of Eastern Europe who saw his country repeatedly swapped by Hitler and Stalin, Herbert was understandably preoccupied with the permanent and stable. His poetry is a lasting monument to the safety of objects, to what he once called “a predatory love of the concrete.” Flowers, diamonds, armchairs, stools–these rarely let one down in the flux of life, and through them mankind can fashion a saner metaphysics than through appeals to History and the inevitable forces of “progress.”
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius offers up a profoundly confused column this morning about the U.S. Attorneys scandal.
He begins by noting the extraordinary public service that many career federal workers perform for the country, and he’s absolutely right. But then he turns to accusing the Bush administration of ignoring, abusing, and demeaning such people, using as his example the e-mails sent by Justice Department political appointees regarding the eight U.S. Attorneys dismissed by the administration. Those e-mails, he argues, offer an example of political appointees disparaging civil servants.
The only problem is that the U.S. Attorneys who were the subjects of the e-mails he quotes were themselves political appointees, not career civil servants. U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President, generally at the urging of other elected officials from the President’s party. They stay in office only as long as the President wants them to. A number of Presidents have started their terms by firing all of the nation’s U.S. Attorneys and hiring their own people in their place. (Bill Clinton did that, for instance, firing among others a U.S. Attorney investigating Clinton himself in Arkansas, as Rep. Lamar Smith points out in today’s USA Today.) So the e-mails Ignatius quotes are actually examples of politicals talking about politicals, and do nothing to make the case he wants to push. On the contrary, they show that political appointees, too, do difficult and important work for the country.