The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, spent a couple of hours gabbing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, on Monday. According to the prevailing political wisdom in Washington—and within large sectors of the newly-chastened Bush administration itself—this kind of “dialogue” will somehow transform the situation in Iraq for the better. It will also, the theory runs, lead gradually to the resolution of our other major differences with Iran, such as its implacable pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The prevailing wisdom in Tehran is rather different. There, it seems, such talks merely provide another opportunity to humiliate the United States and underline our inability to stop the Iranian quest for regional dominance. In case anyone didn’t get the memo, the Iranian government charged three Iranian-Americans with spying the day after this grand dialogue convened in Baghdad. As noted by the Washington Post, “The three individuals charged are prominent Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh of the New York-based Open Society Institute, and correspondent Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda.”
None of them, needless to say, is an actual spy. But grabbing hostages has by now become a well-entrenched tradition in Iran—one proven to work over the years in bringing the West to its knees, whether through the seizure of the U.S. Embassy personnel in 1979, numerous Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980′s, or the more recent detention of British sailors in the Persian Gulf.
President Bush seems determined to expend what remains of his dwindling reserves of political capital on his overwhelmingly unpopular (but Senate-supported) immigration bill. Directing his criticism at part of the very coalition that had elected him, he recently explained his reasoning:
I’m deeply concerned about America losing its soul. Immigration has been the lifeblood of a lot of our country’s history. And I am worried that a backlash to newcomers would cause our country to lose its great capacity to assimilate newcomers.
Those are worthy thoughts. But they’re disconnected from middle- and lower-middle-class voters who feel that the very size of the current, largely single-source immigration is forcing them (and not the newcomers) to adapt.
Despite the considerable efforts of Bush and the bi-partisan group of senators backing the bill, public support remains stuck at 26 percent. And Bush’s popularity on this score will only be further weakened by the loud and lusty booing of America’s entrant in the Miss Universe contest by a Mexican audience recently.
When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.
Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, riled up Washington and Brussels earlier this month by declaring that they shouldn’t try to stop Iran from enriching uranium. The United Nations, prodded by the West, had imposed two sets of sanctions on Tehran for continuing enrichment in defiance of a Security Council resolution passed last July. The second set of sanctions was enacted this March, but Tehran has given no indication that it will halt its nuclear program. In response, Western diplomats are now considering a third set of sanctions. (COMMENTARY’s editor-at-large Norman Podhoretz has weighed in on this predicament, as well.)
ElBaradei stated that the UN demand to halt enrichment “has been superseded by events”—the Iranians have already obtained the necessary technology. The international community, he suggested, should engage the Iranians “in a comprehensive dialogue.” ElBaradei also suggested that Tehran be permitted to keep some elements of an enrichment program.
There are any number of fundamental objections to these comments. The chief of the UN’s nuclear watchdog group should not publicly undermine the acts of the world body. ElBaradei may have been handed humanity’s most coveted award, the Nobel Peace Prize, but he still has an obligation to support the Security Council.
Moreover, his suggested approach—“dialogue”—has been tried since 2002, when Iranian dissidents first disclosed the existence of Tehran’s nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak. A half-decade of meetings, talks, and discussions has conclusively demonstrated that the country’s leadership is not interested in good faith negotiations. ElBaradei’s comments also establish incentives for destabilizing the world’s arms-control regime. He is effectively saying to nuclearizing rogue states that the IAEA rewards successful defiance of UN prohibitions and sanctions.
Last Sunday, I had reason to be grateful that places of worship are under the law of the land. At my local Catholic church in Kensington, I found myself helping to restrain a menacing and evidently inebriated young man who had ventured inside, accompanied by his German Shepherd dog.
Swaying slightly, the intruder advanced up the steps towards the altar during the most solemn part of the Mass, the prayers of consecration, and began to wave his arms about, mocking the priest—a newly ordained and rather nervous young Cuban—as he did so. On their knees, the congregation looked on aghast, wondering what the man would do next.
At this point I, together with another layman of military bearing and one of the older altar servers, took it upon ourselves to intervene. The parish priest (not the one celebrating Mass) quickly appeared and together we coaxed the man, uttering threats and racist abuse, out of the building. The police arrived and quietly took him away.
Those wondering why we haven’t seen any domestic incidents of terrorism since 9/11 might turn for some answers to the new Pew Research Center survey of 55,000 Muslims in America. Compared to Muslims in Europe, the survey found, American Muslims are less numerous, wealthier, better educated, more assimilated, and more mainstream in their political and religious views.
Two statistics jumped out at me. First, the Pew center found that there are only 1.4 million Muslims aged 18 or older in the U.S. (there are another 850,000 under 18), or about 0.6 percent of the population. (Other studies have suggested the figure is as high as 6-7 million.) That compares to 10 percent or more in some European countries. Second, only 2 percent of them are low-income, compared to 22 percent in Britain, 18 percent in France and Germany, and 23 percent in Spain. There is simply not a large, alienated Muslim underclass in this country as there is in so many European states.
Should Michael Bloomberg run for President? He was elected mayor on the strength of his reputation as a business executive and a technocrat who gets things done. His popularity is high in New York. But is his sterling reputation as chief executive officer of the city based upon achievement or on the appearance of achievement?
I raise this question in an op-ed in today’s New York Sun. The Sun also published two of my photographs suggesting that appearances of one of the mayor’s signature projects are not what they should be. These photos are only available in the printed edition of the Sun, not on its website. But contentions has them below the jump. The full op-ed can be found here.
Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation to Damascus in defiance of the express wishes of President Bush. In response, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s spokesman praised her “courageous position” and expressed the hope that it would inaugurate a dialogue between “the people of the United States” and the Syrian regime, despite President Bush’s efforts to isolate it. Pelosi explained her unusual action by saying that she was trying to “build some confidence” between Americans and the Assad government.
Apparently she has succeeded, after a fashion. Assad, at least, seems to have gained confidence that he can behave as brutally as he wishes without incurring too much international opprobrium. In the month since Pelosi’s visit, he has ratcheted up repression, all but snuffing out the lingering embers of the “Damascus spring” that followed his accession to power seven years ago. Six prominent dissidents were packed off to prison for sentences ranging from three to twelve years, the longest term being given to Kamal Labwani for “communicating with a foreign country,” i.e., the United States. “It’s back to the 1980′s, to the worst days of his father’s rule,” commented the exiled dissident Ammar Abdulhamid.
Who will be Secretary of State or National Security Adviser in the Hillary Rodham Clinton administration? The answer as of now is still rather unclear. But one woman who might be angling for the job—as we see from her essay, “Undoing Bush: How to Repair Eight Years of Sabotage, Bungling, and Neglect,” (link requires a subscription) in the latest issue of Harper’s—is Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.
Of course, just because she wants such an important job, doesn’t mean she’ll get it. Dean Slaughter may think of herself as a Democratic Condoleezza Rice, but she does not yet have even the minimal level of experience Condi had when Bush tapped her for office. What’s more, she’ll be up against some very power-thirsty competitors. Perhaps, given her interest in international organizations—the subject of her academic research—she will end up as Ambassador to the United Nations, or some such mid-level post.
Whatever her prospects, Slaughter’s Harper’s essay is significant. It casts light on what mainstream Democratic foreign-policy thinkers are talking about at a moment when George Bush has “taken a prosperous nation and mired it in war, replaced our national composure with terror, and left behind him a legacy of damage so profound that repairing it will likely be the work of generations.” Or so the editors of Harper’s say in their preface.
We mark our wedding anniversaries with ever more precious materials—progressing from paper to gold to diamonds—but the process seems to be reversed with our national anniversaries. Over the years, the establishment of the first successful English colony in North America, which took place in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia, has been commemorated with ever diminishing means. This month, the 400th anniversary of the settlement was marked with a curiously stilted ceremony that, by official policy, actually avoided the word “celebration” itself.
One can understand why Native Americans and blacks might find little in this anniversary to celebrate. But it is noteworthy that the angriest attack of all should come from a British newspaper. According to the Guardian, if Jamestown is to be remembered at all, it should be as “the birthplace of African slavery, Native American genocide, and the global tobacco trade,” a veritable trifecta of human misery.
The newspaper has been widely and justly ridiculed for its remarks. African slavery, of course, existed long before 1607. It’s true that the American colonies served as a point of expansion for the international slave market into the New World. But the nation that grew from those colonies, along with its mother country, participated powerfully in the moral critique of slavery that led to its eventual extirpation in the West.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently finished reading Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah, the definitive account of the 1979-1981 Iranian hostage crisis.
Among other things, it serves as another reminder, as if any were needed, that no matter how nicely (or not) we treat prisoners captured in the Global War on Terror, our enemies will seldom reciprocate. The embassy workers seized by the Iranians were repeatedly beaten, coerced into signing statements denouncing their country, paraded before the world’s TV cameras, and threatened with execution—all war crimes, all expressly forbidden by the U.S. armed forces interrogation manual, and all made even worse by the fact that the victims were not combatants but embassy personnel with diplomatic immunity. They were also denied adequate quarters, exercise, letters from loved ones, medical care, and other comforts that detainees at Guantanamo take for granted.
Of course the prisoners held in earlier wars by the Japanese, North Koreans, and North Vietnamese endured far worse. Read Faith of My Fathers by John McCain and Mark Salter, for an account of life in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. The book’s descriptions of torture are as harrowing as its accounts ofPOW resistance to torture, including that of McCain himself, are inspirational.
Amnesty International is beating its anti-American drum again. In 2005, AI’s secretary-general Irene Khan called the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo “the gulag of our time.” Aside from defaming the U.S., this grotesque metaphor belittled the martyrdom of the millions of victims of the real gulags, most of whom did not survive the experience and none of whom were terrorists. Rather, they were sent to their doom for such offenses as being “the wife of an enemy of the people.”
On Wednesday, AI issued its 2007 report, and Khan was back at it. “One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights,” she said. Which “democratic states”? As Khan continued, with characteristic restraint, “the U.S. administration’s doublespeak has been breathtakingly shameless. It is unrepentant about the global web of abuse it has spun in the name of counterterrorism.”
But who is doing the doublespeak? The war against terrorism is the supreme human-rights struggle of our time. This is so because the first human right is the right to life, and scores of innocents every day have it brutally snatched from them by terrorists. It is so, too, because the regimes that succor terrorists are themselves among the world’s most repressive and because the jihadists and other radicals who carry out terrorism aim to become rulers themselves. If they succeed, they will show their subjects no more mercy than they do their victims today. And the war on terror is doubly a campaign for human rights because the Bush administration has “shamelessly” built its anti-terror strategy around the objective of promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
Republicans hoping that the two new biographies of Hillary Clinton (one with a first printing of 275,000, the other of 175,000) will throw the Democrats’ strongest candidate into a tailspin may be disappointed. I’ve yet to get my hands on either of the books, which will be published later this week. But to judge by the leaks to date, neither A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Carl Bernstein, nor Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth (who was one of the first to write about the Whitewater scandal) and current Timesman Don Van Natta Jr., is likely to have an effect on the race.
The books appear to contain interesting details about Bill Clinton’s affairs, including one so serious that he nearly divorced Hillary to marry the other woman. And there are said to be juicy quotes, in particular one from George Stephanopoulos on Hillary’s Jesuitical lying about Travelgate. But these are familiar tropes.
Back in 2005, Andrew Bacevich, a professor at Boston University, a longtime student of American military affairs, and a veteran of both Vietnam and the first Gulf war, came out with a book called The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. By my lights, it was quite wrongheaded, stridently attacking the Bush administration for imprudently promoting democracy in the Middle East at the point of a gun, which he contended was actually a disguise for advancing some narrower and more traditional geopolitical interests, and was entered into without weighing the costs and the second-order effects.
Suppose the music world had a violinist with the elegance and eloquence of the legendary Arthur Grumiaux (1921–1986), yet all too few listeners seemed to care? This unlikely scenario is apparently the case for the Taiwan-born Cho-Liang Lin (b. 1960), long a New York City resident. Lin made a series of resplendent recordings of concertos by Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Prokofiev, all conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen—plus Camille Saint-Saëns’s Concerto No.3 led by Michael Tilson Thomas, and a French chamber music program with pianist Paul Crossley.
Lin’s tone is sunny and life-enhancing (like that of his idol, the late French violinist Zino Francescatti) in this series of CD’s made for Sony, which has since dropped Lin and allowed many of his CD’s to languish out of print. This is surely in part because Lin refuses to dabble in “crossover” music (unlike his friend the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who remains a Sony headliner). Lin told me a few years ago with characteristic modesty: “I’d be thrilled to play jazz, blues, and bluegrass with ease, but it’s not in my blood, I’m afraid.” What is in his blood is classical music; Lin concertizes constantly and runs music festivals in Taipei and La Jolla, the latter a chamber-music extravaganza.
New Yorkers most recently heard Lin on May 22 under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the concerts of which have been exiled during Alice Tully Hall’s renovation to the garage-like acoustics—totally inappropriate for chamber music—of the Time Warner Center’s chilly Rose Theater, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Even so, alongside the accomplished violist Paul Neubauer and others in works by Ernö Dohnányi and Antonín Dvořák, Lin’s qualities of crystalline clarity and passionate involvement shone through.
Tu or vous? Du or Sie? In English, the second person singular has long since ceased to be a source of political controversy—though in the days when Quakers insisted on calling their social superiors “Thee” and “Thou,” it mattered very much. In French and German, it still matters.
Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows in Berlin last week on his first official visit by presuming to tutoie Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor: “Chère Angela . . . J’ai confiance en toi.” (Dear Angela . . . I have confidence in you.) Frau Merkel, who addressed him as “Lieber Nicolas” (Dear Nicolas), responded with the formal Sie, at least in public. The French press noted the disparity and gently mocked Mr. Sarkozy—though not nearly as harshly as they did Tony Blair. Blair once dared to tutoie Jacques Chirac, who liked to stand on his dignity as a head of state, deserving deference from mere heads of government. The British prime minister was firmly put in his place. What sounded to British ears like Mr. Chirac’s pomposity was, however, approved of by the French. His Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand was once asked if he would mind if he were addressed as tu: “Si vous voulez” was his reply.
In 1982, COMMENTARY published in English for the first time The Rebbetzin, a 1974 novella by the Lithuanian writer Chaim Grade (1910-1982). Born in Vilnius, Grade began his intellectual life as a student of the noted Torah scholar Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, but by his late twenties had become one of his city’s most admired writers. The introduction accompanying COMMENTARY’S original publication of the story notes that Grade “specialized in exploring the inner life of East European Jewry between the two world wars—a period when such modernizing forces as secularism, socialism, and Zionism were in active and often ugly conflict with one another and with traditional religious beliefs and practices. No other writer rendered that world and its conflicts more vividly or with more intimate authority than Grade.” Set in Lithuania in the late 1920′s or early 1930′s The Rebbetzin takes as its subject the trials and tribulations of the aging rabbi Koenisgberg, his wife Perele, and their adult children. This weekend, we offer The Rebbetzin in its entirety, as translated from the Yiddish by Harold Rabinowitz and Inna Hecker Grade.
It hasn’t received much attention, but added at that last minute to the recent immigration reform bill was a provision called the DREAM Act, which has strong bipartisan support from such disparate backers as John Kerry and Orrin Hatch. This legislation would create a fast-track toward citizenship for a select group of undocumented immigrants—those who entered the U.S. before age 16, have no criminal record, graduate from high school, and then complete two years either in the military or in college.
This is a good step but doesn’t go nearly far enough for my liking. The essential principle of the DREAM Act—that you can earn citizenship through productive behavior—ought to be expanded. We should offer citizenship to anyone who is willing to serve a set term in the U.S. armed forces—say, four years. This is a proposal that I’ve made in several articles over the past few years, and one that could address a number of problems at once. It could lessen our current recruiting difficulties, increase the knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within the armed forces, and provide a fresh path to assimilation for a self-selected group of highly motivated immigrants.
On May 17, two trains, one moving south and the other north, crossed the demilitarized zone, the strip of land that divides the two Koreas. The last time a train traveled through what is now the DMZ was in 1951 during the Korean war.
“It is not simply a test run,” proclaimed South Korea’s unification minister, Lee Jae-jeong. “It means reconnecting the severed bloodline of our people.” But the reconnection lasted for only a few hours. There are no plans for regular service, or even further tests. There will be no more train runs until the south comes up with even more piles of cash. Seoul underwrote the entire cost of about $600 million to remove mines from the DMZ, reconnect the rail lines, and build stations. The work was completed in 2003, but no test run occurred until this month because of North Korea’s intransigence. To permit the trains to make their short runs last week, the south had to fork over another $86.5 million in aid to Pyongyang.
“I cannot understand why we should give rice, flour, fertilizer, and everything else the North Koreans want when they don’t do anything for us,” said Hong Moo-sun, a South Korean who demonstrated against last week’s test. Many foreigners would agree with Hong, especially because North Korea’s missile tests last July and nuclear detonation in October implicitly threatened the south. Yet there is a perfectly logical reason why the South Korean government engages in diplomacy that appears to be utterly inexplicable: the quest for political popularity.