Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 23, 2007

The Norman Podhoretz Lecture: John Bolton

Last week, on May 16, COMMENTARY held its annual dinner at the Union League Club. Giving this year’s Norman Podhoretz Lecture—the dinner’s main event—was our former ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Bolton was given stellar introductions by COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief Neal Kozodoy and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here are a few highlights of Bolton’s speech, on regime change, preventative action, Iran, North Korea, and the general outlook for U.S. foreign policy going into the 2008 elections.

Last week, on May 16, COMMENTARY held its annual dinner at the Union League Club. Giving this year’s Norman Podhoretz Lecture—the dinner’s main event—was our former ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Bolton was given stellar introductions by COMMENTARY’s editor-in-chief Neal Kozodoy and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Here are a few highlights of Bolton’s speech, on regime change, preventative action, Iran, North Korea, and the general outlook for U.S. foreign policy going into the 2008 elections.

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Hillary’s Changing Plumage

Much has already been said about Hillary Clinton’s shifting positions on Iraq. Having once criticized President Bush for not sending enough troops, she now has announced her intent to vote to block war funding. But Hillary’s zigzagging is nothing new. It has been the stamp of her last fifteen years.

She began her political life in the radical student movement of the 1960’s, summarized by her commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1969, in which she declared that the “prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life . . . is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.” (Husband Bill seems to have taken this quest to heart.)

Her New Leftism was not soon outgrown. In 1987, her profile raised by Bill’s status as governor of Arkansas, she assumed the chairmanship of the New World Foundation, a funder of radical Left, pro-Communist, and PLO-linked causes. The foundation had a history of such activities before Hillary took it over, but as I showed in a 1993 article for COMMENTARY, the number of extremist and Communist front groups funded by the foundation multiplied under her leadership.

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Much has already been said about Hillary Clinton’s shifting positions on Iraq. Having once criticized President Bush for not sending enough troops, she now has announced her intent to vote to block war funding. But Hillary’s zigzagging is nothing new. It has been the stamp of her last fifteen years.

She began her political life in the radical student movement of the 1960’s, summarized by her commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1969, in which she declared that the “prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life . . . is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for a more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating mode of living.” (Husband Bill seems to have taken this quest to heart.)

Her New Leftism was not soon outgrown. In 1987, her profile raised by Bill’s status as governor of Arkansas, she assumed the chairmanship of the New World Foundation, a funder of radical Left, pro-Communist, and PLO-linked causes. The foundation had a history of such activities before Hillary took it over, but as I showed in a 1993 article for COMMENTARY, the number of extremist and Communist front groups funded by the foundation multiplied under her leadership.

In 1992, Bill ran for President as a “new Democrat,” code for not-a-liberal, and his emissaries successfully wooed my support. In discussions with leaders of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, I was assured that Hillary, far from tugging Bill leftward, was using her weight to keep the campaign in the middle of the road.

Not long after she and Bill moved into the White House, Hillary turned back to the Left, leading the effort to install some form of national health insurance and inviting Michael Lerner, the unreconstructed 1960’s radical then parading as a “rabbi,” to the White House to give her guidance. Hillary embraced Lerner’s Oz-like “politics of meaning,” even using the phrase in her speeches.

When she set up shop in New York and ran for the Senate, Hillary swung back toward the center, becoming an especially vocal supporter of Israel and, later, a hawk on Iraq. Now she has shed her hawk’s plumage for the white of a dove. All of which leaves us to ponder this question as she runs for President: would it be worse to be governed by Hillary the opportunist or Hillary the true believer?

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Appeasing the Imam?

It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

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It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

Here is Abdal-Hakim’s approving summary of Küng’s treatment of Islam:

Its bearer, the Prophet Mohammed, must be regarded by Christians as a true messenger from God. The Qu’ran is, “in principle,” God’s word. Islam was not imposed at the point of a scimitar; on the contrary, the early Muslim conquests were generally welcomed by Christians and Jews who had been oppressed by Byzantine officialdom. Jihad is not “holy war,” but is comparable to Christian just-war traditions. Islamist terrorism is not organically related to the religion, but is denounced by the religion’s leaders, being the consequence of external factors, chief among them being the creation of the state of Israel.

What a meeting of minds between the “moderate” Muslim and the “liberal” Catholic who asserts the truth of Islam! (Though I think it unlikely that the sheikh will be writing a book any time soon that returns any of these favors.)

And yet, not even this obeisance before Islam is enough. Küng is a theologian notorious for scathing attacks on his own church leadership, particularly the last pope and the present one, and has nothing but praise for “the Other.” But Murad denounces his book’s “huge crop of factual errors,” its “disengagement from Muslims,” and its repetition of “old myths” that “will make this book useless to historians of ideas despite some moments of profound and, some would say, long-overdue insight.”

It is reasonable to conclude from this rebuff that Küng’s attempt at appeasement is not only intellectually disreputable but almost entirely ineffectual. It seems that nothing other than an abjuration of Küng’s minimalist Catholicism in favor of a full-scale embrace of Islam—in short, conversion—would satisfy Abdal-Hakim Murad. The literal meaning of “Islam” is “submission,” and that is what it demands from the infidel—nothing more but certainly nothing less.

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The Ten Commandments of the New York Times

The New York Times has “a comprehensive set of ethical guidelines, but if they were reduced to Ten Commandments, the first two would certainly be Don’t Lie and Don’t Do Anything Illegal”—or so says Matthew Purdy, the “investigations editor” at the newspaper. Purdy is responsible for leading the reporters and other editors who, among other things, try to unearth highly classified U.S. government secrets, often with great success.

“[W]e go to great lengths to follow the law while reporting aggressively,” says Purdy, and he cites an example:

Evidence that emerged during a terrorism trial in London that ended recently showed the authorities there had surveillance on two of the July 7, 2005, transit bombers at least a year before those deadly attacks, but had not followed up on those suspects. This was urgent information, but a British court order prohibited publication until the trial was over. We, like our brethren in the British press, held the story for months until the verdicts were in.

But, of course, Purdy is here talking about British law, which his newspaper does seem to scrupulously observe—even going so far as to block British readers from reading certain stories on its website. (The Times‘s own story about this extraordinary practice, “Times Withholds Web Article in Britain,” can be viewed here, though the link may require registration.)

But what about U.S. law?

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The New York Times has “a comprehensive set of ethical guidelines, but if they were reduced to Ten Commandments, the first two would certainly be Don’t Lie and Don’t Do Anything Illegal”—or so says Matthew Purdy, the “investigations editor” at the newspaper. Purdy is responsible for leading the reporters and other editors who, among other things, try to unearth highly classified U.S. government secrets, often with great success.

“[W]e go to great lengths to follow the law while reporting aggressively,” says Purdy, and he cites an example:

Evidence that emerged during a terrorism trial in London that ended recently showed the authorities there had surveillance on two of the July 7, 2005, transit bombers at least a year before those deadly attacks, but had not followed up on those suspects. This was urgent information, but a British court order prohibited publication until the trial was over. We, like our brethren in the British press, held the story for months until the verdicts were in.

But, of course, Purdy is here talking about British law, which his newspaper does seem to scrupulously observe—even going so far as to block British readers from reading certain stories on its website. (The Times‘s own story about this extraordinary practice, “Times Withholds Web Article in Britain,” can be viewed here, though the link may require registration.)

But what about U.S. law?

As Purdy surely knows, among other things, the United States has a statute on the books—Section 798 of Title 18—that makes it a crime to publish classified information pertaining to communications intelligence. The Times has flagrantly violated this provision, as when it published James Risen and Eric Lichtblau’s December 16, 2005 article disclosing a top-secret National Security Agency program to intercept al-Qaeda communications, a story that numerous government officials, including Jane Harman, then the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, say caused serious harm to American counterterrorism efforts.

The Times‘s position seems to be that Section 798 is unconstitutional, although none of its reporters, editors, or lawyers has ever come out and actually said so. A debate can certainly be had about the constitutional status of Section 798. But as I point out in a sharp exchange with another Times editor in the current issue of the New Republic (which continued here for another half-round), it is up to Congress to pass laws and the courts then determine whether they are unconstitutional. Journalists, even powerful ones like the editors of the Times, are not free to pick and choose the statutes they wish to observe and then claim immunity from prosecution for violating the others.

Yes, the Times does go to “great lengths,” as Matthew Purdy says, to observe the law—British law, that is. Its adherence to American law is a different story. If nothing else, our newspaper of record has thus found a very imaginative way to observe its own Ten Commandments.

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